Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Chazal and NASA

Did Chazal (the Sages of the Talmud) have supernatural knowledge of the natural world? Do their statements prove Torah MiSinai? One alleged "proof" to this effect is regarding the length of the lunar month.

The argument goes as follows: In the Gemara, Rabban Gamliel says that the average length of the lunar month is 29.530594 days. NASA, with years of research using satellites, telescopes, laser beams and supercomputers, calculated the mean length of the lunar month as 29.530588 days. The difference between this figure and that used by the Sages is only 0.000006! How could Chazal have calculated it to such accuracy? They must have had supernatural sources of knowledge.

This sounds amazing!

But is it true?

I've spent 25 years researching such alleged proofs based on incredible statements by Chazal. I approached them initially with a very trusting (and naive) perspective that since they are proposed by dynamic and brilliant rabbis, they must be true. Much to my dismay, every time I looked into such arguments, I found that they fell into one of three categories:

A) They were ambiguous statements that could be read in all kinds of different ways

B) They were things that non-Jews also knew, and do not require supernatural sources of information

C) They were things that are not actually true.

The lunar cycle argument is no different.

First, let us consider whether the claim is, on the outset, reasonable. Recall that Chazal did not know where the sun goes at night. Accordingly, it does not seem that they had supernatural sources of knowledge for astronomy.

Still, one could argue that perhaps the supernatural knowledge was only for particular things. So let's look at what Rabban Gamliel actually said, and the context in which he said it:

"The Sages taught in a baraita: Once the sky was covered with clouds, and the form of the moon was visible on the twenty-ninth of the month. The people thought to say that the day was the New Moon, and the court sought to sanctify it. Rabban Gamliel said to them: This is the tradition that I received from the house of my grandfather: The monthly cycle of the renewal of the moon takes no less than twenty-nine and a half days, plus two-thirds of an hour, plus seventy-three of the 1,080 subsections of an hour." (Rosh HaShana 25a)

Looking at the Gemara, we see that it is being misrepresented. Rabban Gamliel was not giving the average length of the lunar month. Instead, he was giving the minimum length of the lunar month. He explicitly says this ("takes no less than") and it's also the context, in which he was responding to a question about whether it could be Rosh Chodesh already. The lunar months actually vary in length by several hours, because the speed of the moon’s rotation around the earth is not uniform. And as a minimum length of the month, Rabban Gamliel's figure is several hours off.

But in any case, not only do we no longer have Rabban Gamliel's statement being scientifically accurate, we have an innate problem. The duration that he gives as being the minimum length of the month is actually the mean length of a lunar month, as used in the Jewish calendar! Several Acharonim already recognized this problem. It is therefore presumed that what we have here is a textual interpolation (see Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community. A history of the Jewish calendar second century BCE – tenth century CE, Oxford, 2001, p. 201). What Rabban Gamliel originally said - which makes sense as a response to the situation discussed in the Gemara - was that the monthly cycle is no less than 29 days. Much later, someone added the additional units of time to the text, mistakenly thinking that it should be "corrected" to the mean value.

There is no way to know when this textual interpolation took place. But what we do know is that, whenever after Rabban Gamliel the average length of the lunar month was known, the exact same figure was known in antiquity by other peoples - and even earlier.

The exact duration of the month found in the Gemara was already given by Ptolemy, in base-sixty notation, in the 2nd century CE. He in turn was quoting Hipparchus, from the second century BCE - nearly two hundred years before Rabban Gamliel. And Hipparchus in turn had received this value from the ancient Babylonians! There have even been discoveries of Babylonian cuneiform tablets which contain this number.

In summary: Rabban Gamliel's statement, as the minimum length of the month, is not actually correct. As a later interpolation of the mean length of the month, which was employed in the rabbinic calendar, it is correct - but the same value was already known much earlier by the Greeks and even earlier by the Babylonians.

So not only is this not a proof of Torah MiSinai - it's actually a worse problem. The people using this as a "proof of Torah" argue that such knowledge can only come from a Divine source! So, according to them, this is proof that the Babylonians had supernatural knowledge of the natural world, and evidence that their religion was the One True Religion! 

Fortunately for the rest of us, they are mistaken. You don't actually need supernatural sources of knowledge to come up with this figure. The Babylonians were simply very meticulous astronomers. By measuring the duration between eclipses, one can figure out the mean length of the lunar month. (See here for an extremely technical discussion.)

Now, if you're a person that likes these kinds of proofs, and you're thinking that I'm just a bitter, cynical person, consider this: I used to be just as starry-eyed a believer in these proofs as you. The reason why I became cynical is precisely because I was taken in by such proofs which turned out to be fundamentally flawed. As Rambam says, the problem with using flawed proofs is that when people discover the flaws, they lose confidence in everything you present. If you use such "proofs" with other people, you'll just be turning others into cynics.

Don't try to "prove" Judaism with gimmicks. It doesn't work and it can backfire badly. Instead, present the extraordinary history of the Jewish People, culminating in our miraculous return to our homeland, along with the incredible meaningfulness and value of a Torah-observant lifestyle. 


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Monday, May 23, 2022

The Latest Conspiracy Theory

Here's a nauseating claim made by someone in a comment to my post about Meron:

Have you researched the possibility that it was the government or police that was responsible for the deaths? There are countless write ups about this. Some say that the reason they were killed was so that people would say “chareidim are irresponsible” and use it as a pretext to take away power from their ideological enemies.
Why were the CCTV cameras disabled before the event?
Why were the bleachers damaged purposely in the days before the tragedy?
Why did people pour water on the slope and make it slippery?
Why did the police block off some of the exits?
Why were the police brutalising chareidim before the tragedy? On video btw.
All these need answering too.
Now, there are different ways of responding to such offensive stupidity. One is to respond, point by point, to each of the claims:
Q. Why were the CCTV cameras disabled before the event? 
A. They weren't. There is plenty of camera coverage.

Q. Why were the bleachers damaged purposely in the days before the tragedy? 
A. They weren't. They may well have been in poor condition, but that's just because of general incompetence in maintenance.
Q. Why did people pour water on the slope and make it slippery? 
A. They didn't. Water was spilled, not deliberately poured.
Q. Why did the police block off some of the exits? 
A. To try (possibly very incompetently) to make some order in the chaos.
Q. Why were the police brutalising chareidim before the tragedy?
A. Fights between police and charedim happen all the time. (It's generally because of extremist charedim that misbehave, as can be seen in plenty of videos from this week alone.)

But this point-by-point rejoinder neglects the larger issue here. This conspiracy theory about a secret government/ police plan to kill large numbers of charedim in order to make them look bad and remove power from them (whatever that means) suffers from the same basic problem as every conspiracy theory, whether regarding the Holocaust, Jewish control, Covid, the vaccine, or the "stolen" US election.

The basic logical flaw in all conspiracy thinking is that it negates both Occam's Razor and Hanlon's Razor. Occam's Razor states that a simple explanation for events is much more likely to be true than a complicated explanation. Hanlon's Razor, which is based on Occam's Razor, states that one should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Conspiracy theories look for the most complicated, sinister explanation of events instead of the simplest explanations. But the reality is that most events can be very simply explained by ordinary phenomena. In particular, it's always much more reasonable to attribute problems to the prevalent problem of human incompetence than to deliberate, malicious, complicated plans to create them. Conspiracies, on the other hand, require levels of organization and cooperation and secret-keeping which human beings are just not very good at, as anyone responsible for managing large teams of people can attest. 

Note too that the comment about Meron uses a tactic popular among conspiracy theorists, of making a list of (alleged) questions. Asking questions is a good thing when the questions are based on fact and the person asking actually wants the answers. But in these cases, it's a sneaky way of spreading disinformation while maintaining an appearance of intellectual honesty. The conspiracy theorist who presents a list of questions is not looking for the most plausible answers - he is looking to plant a wild accusation in people's minds. Presenting this in the form of questions means that when people ridicule it, the conspiracy theorist can accuse them of just trying to shut down open debate and suppress truth. (See this excellent article about the problem, and this article about how this disingenuous technique is used to great effect by Tucker Carlson.)
There are all kinds of psychological mechanisms which make conspiracy theories appeal to people. It's appealing to think that you have access to "suppressed" or "secret" information. And it can actually be psychologically reassuring to believe that events, including harmful events, are not random or unplanned (or, in the case of Meron, the result of charedi unwillingness to take professionalism seriously), but are the calculated result of a plan - even if it being planned by evil forces. And in the modern world of social media and electronic communication, it's very easy for people thus inclined to hook up with many other such people to reinforce their attitude.
It wasn't that long ago that conspiracy theories were a joke, fodder for a TV show called The X-Files, and nobody took them seriously. It's a pity that this flawed line of thinking is making a resurgence.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

A Legendary Event!

I'm very excited to be running "A Biblical Feast of Exotic Legends" in Beverly Hills next month. We have an incredible menu lined up of kosher unusual foods never before served in the US! This event in particular involves an extraordinary amount of culinary and halachic ingenuity, not to mention amazing efforts to procure certain items that are exceedingly difficult to source! 

The annual benefit supports our core educational activities: the Museum's visitor experience and publications. The Museum's work nurtures a Jewish identity that embraces the natural world and its connection to Israel. For more details, see www.BiblicalFeast.org or email advancement@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Meron: One Year Later

Last year, the terrible tragedy at Meron cost 45 lives, along with the subsequent tragedy at Karlin-Stolin that cost further lives. I wrote a series of posts analyzing different aspects of the tragedies:

The Message Of Meron: The Need to Think Big - About how charedi leadership acts as though they are living in a shtetl rather than thinking about the issues that are of importance with large populations.

The Truth Becomes Clear - But Who Will Listen? - About how safety protocols at Meron were disregarded by charedi politicians who do not care for such things.

The Writing Was On The Wall  - About how previous attempts to remove Meron from the religious authorities who were not running it with sufficient professionalism and safety were opposed by charedi Gedolim.

Denying the Reality of Physics - About how some of the charedi "soul-searching" in the wake of Meron exposed the very anti-rationalist mindset that contributed to the tragedy in the first place.

The Horses of Chelm - A parable.

Die and Don't Learn?! - About the subsequent tragedy at Karlin-Stolin, and charedi reactions that fail to understand the importance of being part of a system of civic law.

Meron: Those Responsible, And Those Responding - About the Askanim, politicians and Gedolim who were responsible for ensuring that Meron did not conform to safety regulations - and the people in the charedi community who recognize this and are furious about it.

Meron: The Unavenged - About charedi and Likud political opposition to forming a State Commission of Inquiry.

How to Avoid Teshuva for Negligent Homicide - About how certain charedi rabbinic leaders and their enablers avoid acknowledging the cause of the tragedy

The Shocking News Report You Missed - About the appalling extent of illegal construction at Meron that was subsequently revealed.

A year later, with Lag B'Omer approaching, there are still people who are making the same terrible mistakes. 

The safety consultant for this year's event at Meron just resigned. He said that his warnings that the site wasn’t prepared to handle the number of people expected tomorrow were ignored. He also charged that decisions were being influenced by outside interests and political considerations. If this is what is happening this year, after all the deaths of last year, and with a non-charedi government, can you imagine what it was like beforehand?!

Meanwhile, Rav Yitzchak Kirschenbaum of Yeshivas Toldos Aharon announced at a large rally that everyone should go to Meron regardless of government attempts to limit the number of participants.

To this day, there are people who believe that the tragedy happened because of police mismanagement at the time. Or that the tragedy was just "one of those things" that inevitably happens occasionally at mass events. Or that it was because of problems of tzniyus, as you can see in the picture of a poster adorning the streets.

Meron was an accident waiting to happen. And it was that way because the movers and shakers in charedi society do not know or care to know about responsibilities which involve professional planning, science, and large-population considerations. It's exactly the same as what we see regarding chareidi negligence towards the economy, towards the IDF, towards Covid. If even 45 people being killed didn't wake everyone up, what hope is there?


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Monday, May 16, 2022

Chicken Wars: Return of the Zealots

The Chicken Wars started back in 2017, when there was warning of "The Bantam Menace." A group of zealots argued that no chickens sold today are kosher, since they have been hybridized with unknown types that lack a mesorah. They formed a Braekel Alliance, claiming that the Braekel - an unusual and expensive heritage breed - is the only kosher type. Naturally, the entire kosher poultry empire decided to strike back, insisting that not only are regular chickens kosher, but also that Braekels are not kosher. The Braekel Alliance was crushed.

But the zealots were not finished. Within the last few weeks, it's all started up again. This time there is no attempt (that I know of) to push for the Braekel, but there is a concerted effort to ban all chicken. There are pashkevilim and flyers and booklets and letters being circulated, all insisting that today's chickens are not kosher. The zealots have amassed support from a growing list of rabbonim, headed by Rav Moshe Shaul Klein, who runs Rav Wosner's Beis Din and is a major Posek Halacha in Israel. 

It's easy to ridicule this, but it is no laughing matter. I've met people who haven't eaten chickens or eggs or anything made with egg derivatives (such as mayonnaise) in years. Many people are very easy to frighten about kashrut risks, and it's always easier to be strict than to do something that risks being perceived as lenient.

The problem is that virtually nobody really understands this topic. The zealots are indeed correct that all commercially available chickens have been hybridized with unknown types. To understand why this doesn't have any ramifications for kashrut requires a thorough understanding of three things: scientific taxonomy, chicken history, and halachic taxonomy. And almost nobody has studied these three things and how they interact with each other.

Consequently, I am very keen to get my booklet Chicken Wars: The Raging Controversies over Kosher Chickens into circulation, in both its English and Hebrew versions. They are now available as a free digital download on the website of The Biblical Museum of Natural History, but we are also looking for someone to sponsor the printing and distribution of them. It's important to spread correct information about this before it gets any more out of hand. If you'd like to be involved in this project, please write to advancement@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org.

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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Problematic Contemporary Halakhists

How should Jews react to the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, such that various states in America are at liberty to ban abortion? The OU released a very cautious statement explaining that they can neither applaud nor condemn it, since Judaism's position is complicated, varies from case to case, and does not neatly line up with either the pro-life or pro-choice position. Rav Jeremy Wieder of YU, in an interview on the always-excellent Orthodox Conundrum podcast (Spotify/ Apple), says that a repeal is unfortunate, because the consequences of abortion being unavailable even in cases where halachically necessary are more serious than the consequences of it being available even when not halachically permitted. 

Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich, author of Contemporary Halachic Problems, on the other hand, unreservedly applauds the repeal, in a very disturbing article published on Cross-Currents. His article is deeply problematic for several reasons:

1) Detachment from Reality

Since even the more conservative halachic authorities permit (and even require) abortion in certain cases, what happens if a woman in an anti-abortion state needs one? R. Bleich claims that the Orthodox community will create a fund to finance such a person flying to a state that permits it, after receiving permission from the fund's Posek. Does this really sound plausible? Some teenage girl from a frum family, raped by her rosh yeshiva uncle, is going to come forward to a rabbinic committee and testify that she was raped? And then she will be given thousands of dollars to fly to a different state and receive medical care and recuperate there? 

And where is this money going to come from? Who exactly is going to be raising it? It won't be R. Bleich, unless the Posek for the fund ignores the views of most halachic authorities and takes the exact same extreme stringent view on this topic as R. Bleich does!

2) Callousness

The sheer callousness of R. Bleich's essay is jarring. There is no expression of sympathy for the girls and women who really need abortions and will now have the greatest difficulty in getting one. And if they do get one, in many cases it will be out of their home state and away from their homes and families. I'll quote from a friend of mine in the US who is a community activist:

"All I'm saying is that if you've never been asked to find a rav for a chassidish girl scared that her brother impregnated her while raping her so she could ask for a heter to get an abortion, maybe shut up about it.
"Maybe if you've never been involved in a case where someone was raped by a family member and because they're not allowed to drive they have to beg their mother to get them a pregnancy test because their period was late after being raped, I don't really want to hear your opinions.
"Maybe if you've never had anyone crying to you on the phone about how terrified they are of being pregnant because they know they won't survive it and can't afford an abortion, stick your "principled conservative" nonsense somewhere else.
"Spend a few years doing the work I do and you'll realize really quickly why easy access to abortion is critical."

3) Racism

I was horrified to read the following paragraph:

"No Jewish woman is likely to die in the wake of its repeal. Abortion for medical need will continue to be available in most, and probably all, jurisdictions. If any lives are lost it will be because of inability to afford the expense of travel, not because of constitutional impediment."

Great, so no Jewish woman is likely to die. Only non-Jewish women, who don't have the financial support network of a Jewish community, will die. And so there's no reason not to celebrate the repeal.

If Cross-Currents is not sensitive to the inherent callousness of such a statement, I would have thought that they would at least have the sense to think about the ramifications of such a thing appearing in print.

4) Intellectual Dishonesty

And now we get to the meat of the problem - R. Bleich's sheer intellectual dishonesty in his halachic presentation. 

"Rambam, Noda bi-Yehuda, R. Chaim Soloveichik and R. Moshe Feinstein (and, at least in one pronouncement, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate as well) – and that list is far from exhaustive – unequivocally found feticide to be a non-capital form of homicide justifiable only if the fetus itself poses a threat to the mother."

Actually, the truth is that far from Rambam's view being "unequivocally" as R. Bleich claims, there are many scholars who interpret Rambam's view differently. A dozen other rabbinic authorities, including such luminaries as R. Yechezekel Landau, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, understand Rambam to mean that the fetus is less than a full human life. According to these views, abortion is not homicide - and it therefore may be permitted even in certain cases where there is no mortal threat to the mother. R. Bleich knows about all these other views, since he's written about them himself - how can he now pretend that they don't exist?

Furthermore, Rambam is hardly the only Rishon to weigh in on this matter. He's not even the majority view. Most Rishonim and Acharonim are of the view that a fetus is not a "nefesh" and thus abortion is not a form of homicide. Precisely for this reason, there is great debate as to what the nature of the prohibition of abortion is, and whether it is a Biblical or rabbinic prohibition; some rate it as chavalah, wounding the mother, while others see it as an extrapolation from the prohibition against wasting seed. And according to those who take the latter view, there is consequently much greater scope for leniency. Again, R. Bleich knows this - why is he presenting such a distorted picture here? (There's an excellent discussion of the whole topic by Rav Eliezer Melamed, now in English translation at this link.)

R. Bleich continues:

"Rabbi Feinstein was an extremely pleasant, sweet, mild-mannered and tolerant person. Yet, when confronted by a much more permissive responsum of a respected rabbinic figure he did not hesitate to write in response, “May his Master forgive him.” 

Yes, that is true. However, it is also true that there was a respected rabbinic figure who felt that it was Rabbi Feinstein that was badly mistaken here. I'm referring, of course, to the one that Rabbi Feinstein was arguing with, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, the Tzitz Eliezer. On what grounds does R. Bleich simply dismiss him, not even mentioning him by name, merely because Rav Moshe Feinstein disagreed with him? Furthermore, there were many other Poskim who respected Rav Waldenberg's approach, and would send women to him to receive a heter for abortion. How can R. Bleich simply dismiss them all and refuse to acknowledge their existence?

R. Bleich continues further:

"As far as non-Jews are concerned, there is not even a scintilla of controversy. Abortion is an even more grievous offense under the provisions of the Noachide Code.”

Again, this is a distortion. Yes, the punishment in cases of forbidden abortion is more strict for non-Jews, and yes, there are some halachic authorites who take a more stringent approach  regarding abortion in general with non-Jews. But there are others who disagree. Rav Eliezer Melamed writes as follows: "It appears that regarding the permission for abortion in a case of serious illness, the rules of Jews and Noachides are the same, and whenever it is permitted for a Jew to have an abortion, it is equally permissible for a Noachide."

Now, R. Bleich certainly does not need to agree with Rav Melamed. But it is dishonest and wrong to claim that he doesn't exist!


If you've been following R. Bleich's various positions over the last few years, as discussed in several posts here, all this will unfortunately come as no surprise. 

Several years ago, R. Bleich wrote an article about Chazal and science in which he ignored the existence of views which say that Chazal could have based halacha on scientific error. I wrote a letter to Tradition pointing out the existence of such views. R. Bleich wrote a twenty-page response, dripping with condescension, futilely attempting to justify why he had pretended that those views do not exist, and claiming that it is impossible and unacceptable to say that Chazal mistakenly believed in spontaneous generation - either they didn't believe in it, or it really exists! You can read the comments of Professor Lawrence Kaplan and myself regarding R. Bleich's article at this link.

(Note that R. Bleich's refusal to acknowledge that Chazal's knowledge of science was deficient has very serious ramifications. It means that his ruling against organ donation, based on his "deductions" about Chazal's view on brain death, is fundamentally mistaken.)

A few years later, R. Bleich made the incredible statement that Rambam - the rationalist par excellence - does not "explicitly deny" the possibility that certain people can "employ metaphysical or transnatural powers to achieve physical ends." As I pointed out at the time, it's also the case that Rabbi Bleich does not explicitly deny the possibility that he considers me to be the Gadol HaDor, but I still wouldn't ascribe that belief to him! Is Rabbi Bleich unaware of Rambam's deep philosophical opposition to the notion of changing the natural order through supernatural means, or is he in denial of it? Neither reflects well on him.

Then, there was a bizarre interview with R. Bleich about methodology of psak, in which he claimed that "there is no such thing as a machmir and a meikil. Anyone who talks in that language is not a posek." He also claimed that neither he nor any legitimate posek could ever change their approach over time. I discovered that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ztz"l had long been bothered by such statements by R. Bleich, and wrote an article in which he emphatically pointed out that major Poskim such as Rav Chaim of Volozhin both used the terminology of machmirim and meikilim, and admitted to changing their approach over time. (Though I suppose that if R. Bleich can negate the existence and legitimacy of countless Rishonim and Acharonim and contemporary Poskim regarding abortion, he can do the same for Rav Chaim of Volozhin.)

The problem is this. Since R. Bleich teaches in YU, is very knowledgeable about certain areas of secular knowledge, and writes in a highfalutin style, many people in the Centrist and Modern Orthodox community assume that he is a great authority who shares their basic epistemology and worldview, rather than recognizing that this enlightened exterior conceals an anti-rationalist worldview and intellectually dishonest approach no different from the standard traditionalist charedi Gedolim. In the case of brain death, this has led to organs being unavailable for those who desperately need them, and now it may lead to women who desperately need abortions being unable to obtain them. It's unfortunate to have to expose the flaws in his approach, and it will doubtless lead to people slamming me as being "disrespectful", but it's important, and potentially even life-saving.

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Lufthansa vs. Torah on Collective Responsibility

Everyone, even Lufthansa, acknowledges that they were wrong to prevent all charedi-looking Jews from taking a connecting flight due to the actions of some of those Jews. What they should have done was try their best to identify which people exactly were disobeying instructions and taken action only against those people. Fortunately, there is enough outrage to ensure that this will not happen again, and there's no need to dwell on that here. 

(I would be hesitant, however, to classify Lufthansa's actions as antisemitic. We have to be very careful about using that accusation; if it is used incorrectly, or even accurately but too broadly, then it weakens its power. It was a terrible mistake when people condemned actress Emma Watson of being an antisemite for voicing empathy for Palestinians. And in the case of Lufthansa, the employee herself said she would have done the same with Africans. Punishing all people with distinct cultural identity together for the crimes of a few is wrong, but not necessarily antisemitic, even if the people happen to be Jewish.)

While there is no shortage of people taking effort to address Lufthansa's wrongdoing, the same cannot be said for addressing the problems with the behavior of certain charedi Jews. I initially wrote an ill-advised, mistaken and widely misunderstood post, which I deeply regret, but I will try to do a better job now.

What does Judaism say about collective punishment? As with many things, the answer is not black-and-white. Historically there has been much discussion on this topic, in the context of Shimon and Levi's actions with the community of Shechem, the destruction of the Ir HaNidachas (idolatrous city), the Eglah Arufah, as well as the Plague of the Firstborn. You can find a useful overview of various different opinions at this link. But while specific interpretations of these episodes vary, the underlying values are fairly constant. 

It is generally considered wrong for the innocent to suffer for the crimes of others. (An exception, in both Torah and contemporary international law, exists in cases such as war, where there is no practical way to avoid this.) Accordingly, Lufthansa should not have punished the innocent Jews for the crimes of others.

However, classical Jewish thought simultaneously maintains that not everyone who does not physically commit the actual crime is free of blame. There is such a thing as communal responsibility. Even if humans (as opposed to God) cannot exact communal punishment, it is up to all of us to take on communal responsibility. Everyone has a responsibility to make sure that bad behavior is stigmatized and protested and punished.

Now, let us consider the case of charedi Jews ignoring Covid rules on airplanes. It was extremely disturbing to see how many people strenuously objected to my talking about it. They claimed that it was "lashon hara" or a sign of "self-hating Jews" or even "antisemitism"! 

There are two points to be addressed here: First, is it true that there is a disproportionate problem of charedi misbehavior on airlines? And second, even if it is true, should it be discussed?

With regard to the former, of course it's true. Anyone who denies it has either not flown much with charedim or is being dishonest. No, of course it's not everyone who is charedi. And of course there are also people in other cultural communities that do this too. But it is a much more prevalent problem with charedim than with other groups. 

Every cultural group has its own strengths and weaknesses. Los Angeles is full of junctions with 4-way stop signs, which work great in LA, but which would never work in England or Israel, for completely opposite reasons - in England, nobody would ever move, and in Israel, nobody would ever stop. Dati-Leumi society has an above-average problem with nationalistically motivated violence. Secular Israeli society has an above-average problem with people stealing stuff from hotels in foreign countries. No, it's not everyone, or even most people in these societies who are guilty of these things. But it's a significantly higher proportion than in other societies.

Charedi society in general, and chassidic society in particular, has its strengths - family values, commitment to tradition, enormous intracommunal charitability, etc. - and its weaknesses, which include a widespread disregard for civil law and wider societal etiquette. This is manifest in all kinds of ways. There's the notorious disregard for driving regulations, which I have seen in England, Israel and the US. There's the terrible disregard for engineering regulations, which led to 45 dead in Meron and 2 in Stolin. There's the obvious and very widespread disregard for Covid regulations, which many attempt to ideologically justify. And there's the various problems on airplanes, whether it's not sitting down when instructed, delaying entire flights out of personal misplaced religious prioritizing not to sit next to women, blocking aisles while making a minyan, leaving litter strewn around, faking Covid tests, and not wearing masks. All these things occur much more with charedim in general, and chassidim in particular, than with other groups. These are facts. (You can read some distressing and typical stories here.) 

Furthermore, it's not as though this is a surprising or unexpected phenomenon. The reasons for it are perfectly obvious (and even create a certain sympathy for it). Rules are only followed when one sees oneself as being part of the system which institutes the rules. Charedim in general, and chasidim in particular, do not see themselves as being part of that system. You can even find respected halachic journals presenting views that it's legitimate to disregard civil law and to steal from the state. To some extent, it's a cultural hangover from centuries of suffering when the government really was the enemy. They don't see secular rules as having any authority. Rules are for goyim.

Likewise, they see no need for conforming with social norms. You only conform with social norms if you are part of that society. Charedim, on the other hand, and especially chassidim, follow a general societal model of isolationism. They couldn't care less about what others say, because they consider themselves to be separate from (and above) everyone else. And safety rules are to do with physics and science and experts and professionalism, all of which are very far removed from the chassidish worldview.

The phenomenon is a fact and exists for obvious reasons. But is it wrong to talk about it? Isn't it lashon hara

As discussed in a post titled When Lashon Hara Is A Mitzva, the Chafetz Chaim is probably rolling in his grave at how his teachings have been used to perpetuate serious societal problems. The concept of the prohibition of lashon hara is to make the world a better place. Instead, people use and abuse it to suppress criticism of bad behavior, which thereby results in it being perpetuated.

There are different ways of stopping bad behavior. Ideally, there is a system of Batei Din that executes perfect justice, but in the world in which we live, that just doesn't happen. Likewise, rabbinic leadership accomplishes many things, but is very far from stopping all bad behavior, especially with certain types of wrongdoings. Just as happened with sexual and emotional abuse, the leadership of the charedi and chassidic world is simply not interested in cracking down on the problems discussed here.

So, there are two ways this can go. The rest of us can likewise turn a blind eye and shout "lashon hara" if people discuss it. And the behavioral problems will continue and get worse. And, sooner or later, the wider non-Jewish community will be discussing that which we refused to discuss, and will take actions that we do not like. Just as happened with abuse, and just as happened with the neglect of yeshivas to give their students an education that enables them to get a job. Refusing to publicly acknowledge our problems and call them out does not counter antisemitism - it fuels it.

Alternatively, we can all loudly protest these things, for all to hear. We can pressure Mishpacha and Ami to not only write articles about the terrible behavior of certain Lufthansa employees, but also about the terrible behavior of many people in the frum community. We can create a community which calls out and socially stigmatizes such behavior. In the short run, this may cost us some PR points, and may make some of us uncomfortable, instead of the martyring sentiment of complaining about the terrible antisemitic goyim. But in the long run, that is the only way to cure such problems, and to prevent worse ones.

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Chazal and NASA

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