Monday, March 16, 2020

Who Really Believes That "Torah Protects"?

Does learning Torah protect against coronavirus?

According to the Gedolim last week, absolutely! Rav Sholom Ber Sorotzkin, rosh yeshivah of Ateres Shlomo, went to discuss the coronavirus situation with Rav Chaim Kanievksy and Rav Gershon Edelstein. He was told that although coronavirus is dangerous, cancelling yeshivah studies is much more dangerous, since Torah study, as done in the yeshivah framework, is the greatest protection against sickness.

Since then, things have changed a bit. True, charedim are still congregating in larger numbers than anyone else, but they don't have Facebook or the internet, so it's understandable that they are less panicked. Meanwhile, Rav Chaim kept on being besieged by concerned rabbanim, politicians, and community leaders. And now, charedi yeshivos are dramatically changing their policies, changing from having hundreds of yeshivah students in a Beis Medrash to groups of no more than ten. And meanwhile, in the US, Agudas Yisrael (after some initial equivocating) is very open to canceling yeshivah studies. So much for "cancelling yeshivah studies being more dangerous than being exposed to coronavirus."

Of course, this is all too reminiscent of the fraudulent claim, frequently made, that Torah protects from terrorism and military threats. It's fraudulent not just because it doesn't protect, but because the people making this claim don't even really believe it anyway.

This was particularly well illustrated recently in a video of Rav Asher Weiss. As a rare person who is widely respected in both charedi and dati-leumi circles, he recently went to speak at the Hesder yeshivah in Sderot. During his talk, a siren suddenly went off, warning of an incoming rocket. Rav Weiss stopped and asked if the room was protected. After apparently being reassured that it was, he said, "We are studying Torah, and this is the best protection possible." It might have been convincing had that been the first thing that he said, but, tellingly, it wasn't.

When it gets real, most people, even charedim, even Gedolim, do not believe that Torah protects against military threats; that's why during the Gaza wars, the charedi yeshivos in the South fled. The same goes for coronavirus; as long as it's just a mild concern, they say that Torah protects, but as things get more serious, the yeshivos will empty. Nobody really thinks that Torah protects against sickness; that's why charedim make just as much hishtadlus as anyone else (if not more so) to get the best doctors when they are sick.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky might actually be different. He might be one of the few people who really does believe that Torah protects against both military threats and coronavirus. But then, he also believes that a dried pig's testicle, pulverized and ground up, will help a woman conceive (and you can eat the right testicle to get a son, and the left testicle to get a daughter). I record this not to denigrate him (and in any case, repeating someone's beliefs is not a denigration). Rather, it is to point out that he has a completely different worldview than most people.

Torah preserves us as the Jewish nation. But it doesn't protect against terrorists or disease. For corona, you need things like prevention, vaccines and doctors. For military threats, you need an army. Pretty much everyone thinks that way, even if they profess to believe otherwise.

See too this post: Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect.   

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37 comments:

  1. Silly Rabbi, everyone knows that NOT TALKING IN SHUL is what prevents all diseases!

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    1. No, no, SAYING 100 BROCHOT EACH DAY is what prevents all diseases!

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    2. Not talking in shul is a segula for having a better, more kavana filled davening.

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  2. Actually, the claim that Torah protects from terrorism and illness is not only daft but unhelpful in encouraging people to be more religious or observant. When people like me hear these rabbonim make such claims, our reaction is basically to ask ourselves why on earth we should pay any heed to anything else they say and we tend to extend this, possibly unfairly, to other rabbonim who encourage greater observance but don’t make such daft claims.

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  3. Yes, I agree with you that the Torah will not protect charedim from coronavirus or on-coming rockets. True, charedi Jews do not have Facebook or the internet but other Jews (even secular Jews) need to warn them. We are at the point where people need to act as if there is no G-d. People should not sit back passively, pray, and read religious texts, as if expecting G-d to preform a miracle and protect them from coronavirus. If you have a broken leg, prayer won’t fix it, the doctors will. As you said, most charedim communities understand that the Torah does not really protect them. The Torah does bind Jews together over a millennium.

    Iran is a perfect example of when people rely on G-d; results in tragedy.

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  4. Funny how Charedi politicians never felt that Torah study protects them from Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman, the gezeiros of the Tzionim. Why do they demonstrate and lobby? Let them just go and learn and all will be well, no?

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  5. This article provides a false premise. Torah Jews believe in no uncertain terms that Torah protects against any threat. That, however, doesn’t mean that a person is allowed to assume risks and endanger himself or others. Ein Somchin Al Haness - One may not count on a miracle - is equally as important a rule as having trust in the KB”H. Whether rabbis should rule that the present situation represents Pikuach Nefesh and declare that learning should be done at home or over the phone, has nothing to do with whether Torah protects us - because Torah will protect us if it’s studied at home as well.

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    1. Not a false premise - responding in kind.

      Sure, we all believe that in the merit of Torah and Mitzvos we will continue to survive, but we all need to do things physically as well. The communities that claim that Torah alone is enough are NOT doing things that are recommended/necessary, merely "hiding behind" the platitude. The third and fourth sentences of your post seem to agree with this idea...

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    2. Learning at home, while of immense value, is usually of lesser quality than learning with others.

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  6. I think that there's a qualitative difference between Hishtadlus and "Torah protects". Nobody would (or should) disagree that an appropriate amount of Hishtadlus is always necessary, but that does not preclude the additional hashgacha Torah provides after such measures are taken. It's sort of like the dialectic relationship between Halacha and spirituality- we must, first and foremost, follow Halacha as a submission to the Divine Will, but that doesn't mean that the ultimate goal is something spiritually greater. G-d expects Hishtadlus first, but after that, Torah is also essential.

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    1. Quite right and there is something else like the obligation to build a mahake even though only the one predestinated to fall will fall nonetheless you must do it because as Rashi says a bad thing goes through a bad person, in this regard someone who doesn't care about the other's security.

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    2. I am willing to agree. Unfortunately, among some (or even many) Haredim this principle is not consistently applied. The Haredim are generally following the government dictates about COVID-19, like most Israeli citizens. (There are of course some exceptions). Yet the majority do not apply this same principle of hishtaldut towards serving in the army and / or work (for the male cohort). To me this is evidence that it is more than just the purity of Torah learning that motivates them. COVID-19 is dangerous as much to them as non-Dati Jews, but the Haredim think they can be safe (from war) and be economically "OK" by relying on the EFFORTS of OTHERS. So yes hishtaldut, if a situation directly affects them, but NO hishtaldut when they can outsource their needs to others. To me that is a definition of selfishness. It is also motivated in part by their leaders wanting to keep control of their followers. If their followers were to move to other frameworks such as the army, and/or work they may discover that they don't necessarily have to listen to all of the dictates of the Gedolim and / or their political representatives, and that could mean a real loss of power in the Yeshvot and at the ballot box. That is the definition of a cynical world view.

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    3. What are your claims based on? While I'm sure they're based on something, I find that taking the problems to the extremes like you're claiming is the ultimate definition of a cynical world view.I don't deny the facts are at least partially true, but the conspiracy theories you're extrapolating is just slanderous. As for the Gedolim, by and large I think that what I wrote above more or less reflects their positions. So the Dati needs to work on the Torah part a little more and the Chareidim need to focus on Hishtadlus a little more. Let's focus on our own problems, especially in these times when we should especially be cutting down on machlokes and Lashon Hara.

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    4. There are no "conspiracy theories" involved. Simple evidence and logic is operating here. Less than 50% of all Charedi men work. With their generally larger families they, more than other families in Israel, need two incomes to make ends meet based on the simplest cost of living calculations. If the money is not coming from them then it needs to come from somewhere else. That is either donors or the Israeli tax system. No matter what, that means that it comes from others. In the case of the Israeli tax system, that means that the money is being taken out of a severely constrained system (because of Israel's defense budget) that if the Haredim worked (i.e. the men as we know that most Haredi women do work) it would mean less pressure on the Israeli tax system and that more money could be apportioned to those who really cannot work (because of disability or temporary unemployment). It also would mean that entire families would not be forced to live in poverty due to the father / husband's wrongly conceived judgment. So much for the selfishness. Now as for the cynical part, the Gedolim are smart enough to see the economic stress of their followers and that this situation is only getting worse. They are also smart enough to know that work is a solution. Nonetheless, they force / influence a large number of followers to stay within the confines of the Yeshiva world. Part of this is because of sincere belief that this is a holier environment. But they also know that different frameworks allow the strengthening of a worldview. This doesn't just operate for the Haredim; it is well know for all institutions and the people who inhabit them. Institutions influence a world view. Freed of the Yeshiva, an average Haredi would undergo a mindset change, and for some of the Gedolim this would undermine their authority. This is all based, as I said above on logic and evidence. If you can't follow it that is your problem, but there is plenty of direct and well as indirect evidence to support it. Imagine if you will if the Haredi parties only managed to receive half the number of Knesset seats they had now. You think that wouldn't hurt their influence in society? Yes, the Gedolim and political leaders are scared about this; and men escaping an environment that puts them in poverty is a threat to their power because they might vote for other parties that are more in line with their new economic worldview once they started working. The loss of even one Knesset seat would be considered a crushing blow to the Haredim. If the Haredim turned to mass employment the Haredi parties would certainly lose some seats. That is a cynical worldview, at least in part based on a need for power, which does nothing to help so many who are in economic distress.

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  7. about Rav Asher Weiss, slightly incorrect framing of the situation, he asks if the room is מוגן first, and after that he made the Torah protects remark

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  8. What's the source for pig testicles being kosher?

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  9. Even granting that Torah learning protects, surely that is all Torah learning and not just that done in the large beis midrash of Chareidi yeshivot and kollelim. Even assuming they don't want to (or can't because they lack equipment) move on line, surely the yungeleit can learn at home in chavruta over their kosher cellphones.

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  10. Rabbi: Do you know Rabbi Ks source for "... a dried pig's testicle, pulverized and ground up, will help a woman conceive (and you can eat the right testicle to get a son, and the left testicle to get a daughter)?:a dried pig's testicle, pulverized and ground up, will help a woman conceive (and you can eat the right testicle to get a son, and the left testicle to get a daughter?"

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  11. Replies
    1. Does barburim as in stuffed geese come from the word barbarian? As in the act of stuffing geese is barbaric?

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    2. Not really. The only use we have of "barburim" in Tanach is in I Kings 5:3, where barburim were included in the description of Melech Shelomo's daily portions. There Rashi (possibly based on Targum Yonatan) refers to them as "tarnegolim p'tumim" - fattened roosters (also mentioned in the famous shabbos song). Radak suggests that these are simply birds indigenous to Barbera. If Radak is correct; however, then I can't imagine the modern translation - swan - would be correct as swan arenot found in Africa. Geese are, but they likely came from china, though I do not know whether this happened by the time Melech Shelomo reigned and whether there was a distinct enough species that would be referred to as the Barbera variety.

      Be this as it may, with regard to this latter interpretation, the words "Barbur" and "barbur" are used in the gemara, referencing either someone from Babera or merely a foreigner. This is likely based on or at least related to the Greek word "barbaros," which means foreign. This is similar to how we use "bar" in Aramaic, which means outside or excluded, so barbur would be "very excluded" or, in a word "foreign." They are interrelated and it is entirely possible the Greeks referred to Barbera as such because it was a foreign land to them.

      As it relates to the practice of fattening geese, the halachic literature never refers to such practices as barbaric. Indeed, halacha's only objection to the practice, to the extent it has one, is the concern of inadvertently creating a status of treipha through the fattening process. It never questions the practice as, for instance, tzaar baalei chayim. Modern sensibilities may consider such practices as barbaric, but the bird's name most definitely does not come from an association of such practices being barbaric.

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  12. R' Natan,

    R' Chaim Kanievsky never said that he believes in the segulah of the pig. On the Hebrew cover of that segulah book the author writes that, among other sources, he includes some segulos that R' Chaim told him. That doesn't mean that R' Chaim went through and approved all of the 277 segulos in the book.

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  13. To quote a staunch rationalist from a month ago, "Yes, Am Yisroel's existence depends on Torah learning as well - in fact, more so than it depends on the IDF (since the IDF only ensures the survival of Jews in Israel, whereas Torah is the lifeblood of the Jewish People everywhere)."
    Repeating someone's beliefs is not a denigration ;-)

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  14. The Torah says "וידעתי היום וגו' כי ג'ון הוא האלהים אין עוד" the levels of nature and Providence aren't contradictory, and the commandment of מעקה demonstrates that. It is self evident that building a fence around your terrace is a common sense precaution to prevent somebody from falling from it, nonetheless the Torah ordered it even though only הנופל the one predestinated by Providence to fall is concerned, and the same logic underlines all kinds of השתדלות , you must act rationally and nonetheless pray and study the Torah and observe it, not in order to succeed but to affirm the אחדות השם. When the Jenner vaccination was introduced in Ukraine Rav Nachman declared it was a positive commandment to travel with a child to Odessa in order to vaccinate him, he also said that God was leading is world better and better, which I interpret so, in regard to the decline of faith and piety He initiated more scientific knowledge to find more reliable means to cure and prevent diseases in order to allow us to fulfil the obligation of proclaiming His Unity in the material and spiritual realms.

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  15. ברכות דף ה עמוד א אמר ר"ל כל העוסק בתורה יסורים בדילים הימנו שנאמר ובני רשף יגביהו עוף ואין עוף אלא תורה אמר ליה רבי יוחנן הא הא אפילו תינוקות של בית רבן יודעים אותו שנאמר ויאמר אם שמוע תשמע לקול ה אלקיך והישר בעיניו תעשה כל המחלה אשר שמתי במצרים לא אשים עליך כי אני ה רופאך

    Rashi there explains that even children know that Torah protects and that is clear from the pasuk that says that hashem won't place upon you any of the sicknesses that he afflicted Egypt with. I guess you don't do daf yomi.


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    1. COVID-19 is a new mutation, and thus was not present in מצרים at the time the Torah was written.

      I guess you don't do much of anything.

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  16. It is important to note that the Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, by using observation, he observed that diseases are not divine punishments, demons, evil eyes, or superstitious black cats but are caused by tiny bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. He gave the world the famous Hippocratic Oath, which emphasized the importance of medical ethics and careful physician treatment. Thus, he was able to resolve many illnesses and produced good health. Maimonides would sometimes follow his teachings, and at other times, he would question them, going as far as to question medical tradition.

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  17. Amazing. During animal sacrifices in the ancient temple times, the Bible lists special spices to be used when the animal is burned. Fairly recently, it had been thought that these spices functioned as a means to cover the bad odors. Today we know the biblical mandate required these spices as a means to overcome bacteria, viruses, and other microbes produced (flowing from the blood) when an animal is slaughtered and burned. The properties in the spices helped protect the person from diseases. This was shown to be true by modern scientific studies. Thus, had the Chinese cooked their animals more carefully, the way the Torah prescribed, it is possible that coronavirus could have been avoided altogether. In any event, it is now revealed that the Torah teaches divine preventative medicine.

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    1. I'm willing to bet several trillion dollars that no such studies exist, or that the studies have no conclusive findings.

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    2. Eh... I'm not so sure. (Normally I agree with what Reb Hill has to say, but this makes me queasy.)

      I'm all there to support an understanding of mitzvos based on psychology (eat prey, not predator, as "you are what you eat") and on strategies to remain a unique People (kashrus and tattoos and shaatnez as strategies to minimize similar behavior as the surrounding nations and to minimize socializing) but trying to shoehorn in scientific understandings leads to Shlomo HaMelech's problem. The famous "oh I understand the reason and therefore now the commandment is irrelevant" is pigs and trichinosis. I suppose ketores ingredients might have some antibiotic properties, but c'mon - burning a citronella candle near your barbecue barely keeps away mosquitoes, let alone Salmonella and Clostridium!

      I remember an email my grandmother A"H sent around years ago about being amazed at how produce had physical similarities to the organs in the human body that their nutrition supported. It was interesting on a superficial level, but once you get past the little line "this is good for the kidney because it enhances blood flow" you realize that each fruit had ramifications everywhere in the body and not just the organ, that the "benefit" to the organ was sometimes a rather minimal one compared to something the fruit was more famous for, and sometimes it was based off of a legend that was completely false. I fear the explanation of incense here fits that mold: sure, maybe it helps a little with food preservation, but neither is that its primary purpose nor is it very good at that task.

      [The false legend was the carrots help vision misinfo thing that the British used in WWII to hide the existence of radar; the cross-section of a carrot looks like an eye = => Hashem made the carrot resemble the eye because it keeps the eye healthy)

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    3. All scientific findings can be found in chapter six of Dr. Michael Lebowitz’s book called “G-d’s Preventive Medicine.”

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    4. While I am not completely opposed to chiropractic treatment as other regular MDs are, I definitely have issues with a chiropractor, a practitioner of alternative medicine, making up medical understandings of things. Available on Amazon is the first page of his book, so that is all I read, but one who uses John Harvey Kellogg as a reference (played by Anthony Hopkins in the peculiar movie "The Road to Wellville") is not exactly the most reliable source for such things.

      We have Taamei Mitzvos for many - most - of the things we are supposed to do. Cramming in additional pseudoscientific explanations is unnecessary. It is analogous to trying to scientifically understand the pesukim about Brias HaOlam, for those who have read RNS's books, and while I love me some Gerald Schroeder, I admit that R' Slifkin's choice for understanding works better. And Dr. Schroeder is an actual physicist, not an "alternative" scientist.

      Some of Dr. Leibowitz's stuff might make sense, of course, just because - like quarantining people with tzaraas because it was "really" an infection - but otherwise, as I said above, it makes me queasy. Enjoy it if you like, and be inspired if you like. To me, it's less Rational and more Rationalizing.

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    5. I love Anthony Hopkins. His role in the Two Popes was great. I also like Dr. Schroeder's books. Though I found a small mistake in an essay. He wrote that Maimonides believed in evolution because the nefesh or neshamah was placed in Adam who had a father and a mother like you and me (I agree with this). I disagree with his next statement. As a result, other Homo sapiens called pre-Adam hominids existed according to Rambam. I can never locate where Rambam said this. Although Maimonides would probably accept the theory today. He accepted the investigative scientific methodology of Aristotle. He rejected the somewhat mystical notions of Plato. So he relied on science. Other than that, I agree with much of what he wrote.

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  18. The technical term for this is 'getting high off your own supply'.

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  19. Given the recent outbreak of measles (in years past) and Corona (now) in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, it should be blindingly obvious to all, that whether or not Torah protects, the so-called "Gedolim" do not protect. Quite the opposite.

    May Hashem and his Torah protect us all (from the disease and from the frum).


    "Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him."

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  20. Tell them Torah protects after they get sick and ask for money and preferred treatment.
    "Tzedek tzedek tirdof, lema'an tichye."

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