Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Learning Torah vs. Living Torah

In this forum I've discussed a few explanations for why there is a disturbingly high proportion of people in the charedi community, including rabbinic leaders, who disregard Covid precautions. One is that there is a non-scientific mindset which genuinely does not grasp the connection between ignoring precautions and contracting Covid. Another is that there is a feeling that the precautions are an anti-charedi decree being imposed by outsiders, which must therefore be resisted. But Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, has suggested a third explanation. (The article, originally posted at TorahWeb, appears to have been taken down, perhaps because of some unfortunate comments made about the roles of Jews and non-Jews.)

Rav Schachter begins by expressing how disturbed he is about the high rate of infection in the charedi community, caused in part by the relative disregard for precautions. He notes that in classical halachic literature, pikuach nefesh is regarded as being of tremendous importance. "Halacha tells us that even if there is a sfeik sfeika, a very slight risk, of sakonah, still that slight safeik is sufficient to be docheh Shabbos and Yom Kippur and most of the mitzvos of the Torah. So the question begs itself, how could it possibly be that the number of infections in the Chareidi community due to COVID is twice as high as what it should have been, proportionally? ...This entire attitude that many otherwise very observant Jews have to totally ignore the recommendations of the medical community regarding the risks of COVID is in total contradiction to the Jewish tradition of psak halacha. The religious Jews always placed more value on human life than doctors did." 

A powerful question indeed. Rav Schachter boldly suggests the following partial answer:

My impression is that part of the explanation is a result of the derech ha'limud adopted in many of the yeshivas. There is a big emphasis on pilpul, sevoros, chakiros, and ha'veh a'minas in the Gemarah. The Gemarah considers the highest level of learning to be one who learns l'asukei sh'meitza aliba d'hilchosa - to reach a final conclusion as to what the halacha is. When I was a student in the Yeshiva, one of the talmidim asked a rebbe after we learned a whole piece of Gemarah that was relevant to halacha l'meisa - halachic practice, "so how do we pasken?" The rebbe, who was a European, responded in Yiddish, "call up the Agudas Harabonim and ask them". In the Lithuanian yeshivas in Europe learning halacha l'meisa was frowned upon. They misinterpreted the idea of learning Torah l'shmo to mean that one should not focus his learning arriving at a conclusion as to what the halacha is. It is well known that the Chazon Ish worked hard to correct this misunderstanding and influence the yeshivas to concentrate more on halacha l'maaseh.

Many students in the yeshivas today are trained to raise all logical possibilities about the halacha - maybe it's like this and maybe it's like that; on the one hand and on the other hand, etc. Rav Avigdor Nevenzal pointed out that the Malbim (in his commentary on Mishlei 1:7) understands that "אויל" is a specific type of a fool who is always raising questions and doubts, that maybe it's like this and maybe it's like that. The basic mitzvah of talmud Torah is to be familiar with all of the 613 mitzvos and all of their details. Answering a question Rav Akiva Eiger has on a Tosofos is comparable to eating the icing on a second piece of cake as part of dessert. The primary goal and focus of limud ha'Torah is to know halacha l'maaseh how to keep all the mitzvos ha'Torah. In my opinion much of the tragedy of the high infection rate among the Chareidi population is due to the faulty derech ha'limud which eschews focusing on the correct thing to do halacha l'maaseh, and instead focuses on pilpul and ha'veh a'minas. Just as in learning Torah they are preoccupied with sevaras that do not correspond to halacha l'ma'aseh, similarly in dealing with COVID they come up with, and act based on, ideas that simply don't correspond to reality.

Let us all return to the traditional style of learning that was practiced for so many centuries and merit the promise of the Torah, "וחי בהם" ולא שימות בהם.

Now, for those who are critical of the charedi response to Covid (or of charedi society in general), having someone like Rav Hershel Schachter issue a critique is welcomed, and there is an immediate desire to agree with what he says. But, in all honesty, I must say that I do not see how the high rate of Covid infections in the charedi community is due to acting on ideas not corresponding to reality which in turn can be traced to a derech limmud. To my mind, if there is a connection between the derech halimmud and the Covid response, then it is slightly different; that there is no attempt to match up their general societal actions with the laws and values of the Torah. 

That's how a charedi rally against conscription in the IDF sought to summon attendants from yeshivos with the rallying cry of "Shall your brothers go out to fight, and you remain here?" - without any self-awareness that this verse is actually about everyone joining the army! All the Torah discussion about fighting in wars, working for a living, even kindness to animals is only ever done in an abstract way, with no thought of translating this into how society should function today. The same is true with how pikuach nefesh, a principle of great importance in halachic literature, is not implemented in practice (along with other principles such as concern for chillul Hashem and eivah).

The basic problem of learning in an abstract way rather than in a way that corresponds to reality, was forcefully made several years ago in a tremendous essay by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Hirsch Fried in Hakirah, titled "Is there a Disconnect between Torah Learning and Torah Living?" The answer that he gave was, of course, that yes, there is tragically a great disconnect between the two. People can intricately learn topics in the Gemara about paying for damages and yet not make any connection to themselves damaging other people's property. There is often little attempt to translate the laws and values of the Torah into our daily lives.

I think that this relates to a much broader point about charedi vs. non-charedi conceptions of Torah. The charedi mindset is that Torah is primarily something to be studied in depth, as an end unto itself. The non-charedi (especially dati-leumi) mindset is that Torah is primarily a guide to how to improve society. 

This difference is perfectly expressed in the contrast between the charedi and non-charedi perceptions of who is a Gadol. The charedi perception is that the Gadol is the one who is secluded and totally immersed in Talmud study. His environment is completely removed from the world, and even his study focus and teachings are primarily focused on abstract Talmudic issues. Thus, Rav Chaim Kanievsky is the ultimate Gadol B'Torah. The dati-leumi perspective, on the other hand, could not be more different, and is expressed by Rav Eliezer Melamed as follows:

"Gadlut beTorah (Torah greatness, eminence) necessitates an all-embracing, fully accountable handling of serious issues facing the generation, including: the attitude towards Am Yisrael in all its diversity and various levels – both religious, and non-religious; the attitude towards mitzvoth of yishuv haaretz (settling the Land) and the ongoing war which has surrounded it for over a century; the attitude towards science and work, and the contemporary social and economic questions."

Charedi Gedolim don't even think in such terms, let alone formulate a serious approach to such issues.

Or, to give another potent example: Fulfilling Bein Adam L'Chavero is conceived in charedi society as relating to such things as learning (and hopefully following) the "halachos" of shmiras halashon. Even a broader perspective, such as that expressed in a recent Tzarich Iyun article about the nature of charedi society, only speaks about charity and giving in terms of neighborhood assistance. But in dati-leumi society, this is omitting an enormous aspect of Bein Adam L'Chavero - the broad picture of helping the nation as a whole to function in the best way, including serving in the armed forces and creating a high-functioning economy and society.

Is the focus on learning Torah, or on living Torah? That, to my mind, is the crucial difference between charedi and non-charedi society. And this in turn also relates to the difference between the rationalist and non-rationalist views of what Torah actually is - whether a practical guidebook for life, or a mystical source of energy merely clothed as a book of law and teachings (as per Nefesh HaChaim). I discuss all this in my new book Rationalism vs. Mysticism, and the ramifications are vast - as we have seen, it can be a matter of life and death.

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  1. Nah, both of these explanations are wrong. How would R' Schachter explain chassidim, who are not known for their abstract lomdus, and are even more "meikel" when it comes to covid?

    And it's completely, obviously, laughably false that "There is often little attempt to translate the laws and values of the Torah into our daily lives". Where do all the new halacha sefarim with the new chumros come from? Chumros in hilchos Shabbos, chumros in hilchos Tefillin, eruvin (or the lack thereof), kashrus certification, the list is endless. All very l'maaseh, all very applicable to daily lives. Just not in the way that YOU like!

    1. I think that I didn't express myself properly in the post. The point is that there is no attempt to translate Torah to modern life and society. It's just a manifestation of the obsession with jumping through hoops, whether conceptual or practical. Charedi halacha is by and for a class of people cut off from the world.

    2. Actually, some of the Hassidim are extremely careful about the rules. My family, Gerrer Hassidim, are super careful.

      As for your second paragraph, inventing humrot is NOT being connected to talk life. The opposite. Inventing humrot about shabbat makes shabbat impossible. Inventing humrot about kashrut , such as claiming that bugs in corn on the cob is מצוי, is also a complete disconnect from reality.

    3. Can never satisfy the reformers. Learn lomdus, they complain it's not halacha l'maaseh. Learn halacha l'maaseh, they complain you're making Shabbos impossible, lol. The only thing that concerns them is becoming more modern and secular. The less Torah, the more secularity, the better.

    4. I'll take it a step further: One practical effect of the refusal to come to a conclusion is an argument (which is only possible due to the [in]actions of those making it) that it is impossible for us to ever think of reviving tekhelet, or rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash, etc. etc., "because there are just too many questions to settle." I have seen the literal argument that it will be impossible to ever do any of these things. Of course, that assumes that just as, at a certain point, we have to say whether the chicken is kosher or not, so too we have to determine, say, how big an amah is.

      Of course, part of the fear may be that such answers will almost certainly involve "treif" sources like archaeology, but deeper down there's just a fear of anything changing, even to things we daven for every day. And so we mumble something about "mashiach" and basically think about it as much as the most Reform Jew.

    5. "Inventing humrot about shabbat makes shabbat impossible. Inventing humrot about kashrut , such as claiming that bugs in corn on the cob is מצוי, is also a complete disconnect from reality."

      In a similar vein, inventing stringencies to fight a virus, makes living life impossible. Actually, there is a striking similarity between the lack of balance in the MO pandemic response, to the lack of balance in Charedi stringencies that this blog purports to criticize.

      The main difference is, the thought process behind the MO pandemic response is far more destructive, insofar as the same underlying lack of balance has been indefinitely implemented on the governmental level, worldwide.

    6. "The main difference is" that chamira sakanta m'isura. Fixed it for you.

    7. "Actually, there is a striking similarity"
      Actually, there is no similarity, striking or subtle.

      "makes living life impossible."
      Granted, there are real challenges such as kids schooling & jobs. But how else is life impossible? Wearing a mask is impossible? Not going to mass events is impossible? Davening with a small minyan outdoors is impossible? Heck, I've done as much as six impossible things before breakfast!
      Calling minor inconveniences impossible is unbalanced.

    8. @Ephraim

      Excellent work. You've tuned into the fact that, like the person commenting on Charedi stringencies, the word "impossible" was hyperbole. For people who couldn't visit dying loved ones in the hospital, or attend their funeral, life is not literally impossible. For people who can't fulfill their human need of human connection, life is not literally impossible. For people under house arrest, life is not literally impossible. For people who lost their livelihoods, life is not literally impossible. For people trying to balance working from home while taking care of kids schooling at home, life is not literally impossible. For people suffering through soaring rates of depression, life is not literally impossible. For people included in the soaring rates of opioid and alcohol addiction, life is not literally impossible. For people dealing with domestic abuse, life is not literally impossible.

      I should add a small side note though, that for the people who died/will die from missed cancer screenings, drug overdoses, and suicides - their lives are/were literally impossible.

    9. MK,

      We are doing fine in my MO neighborhood.

    10. Congratulations, would you like a medal?

  2. Reminds me about the joke(?) about the chassid who refused to eat only yashan baked products (in Chu"l), because the Chasam Sofer said חדש אסור מן התורה!

    1. That's not a joke. That's how the CS himself applied the principle.

    2. Ok I think you garbled the "joke." He refused to eat anything BUT yashan products...then it's a valid joke.

    3. No, that's still the original literal application of the phrase. The joke is about the chassid who didn't use anything technological invented in the last 200 years because חדש אסור מן התורה.

    4. The joke is this: the חתם סופר applied the phrase of חדש אסור מן התורה which originally means that you should eat only yashan, to mean that new inovations are prohibited. This chusid did not eat chudush because it is included in the psak of the chasam sofer (and not because of the actual original meaning).

      Moshe from BP

    5. This "joke" misses out on the fact that the CS actually defended allowing chadash to be eaten BECAUSE חדש אסור וכו (since the minhag allowed eating chadash)

  3. My first reaction when I heard this comment from Rav Schechter is how does he explain his Rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik? How does he explain his chaver, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein? Both were highly abstract, and yet both were highly sensitive to the world around them.

    1. Rav Lichtenstein ALWAYS kept aware of the world around him. He spoke about different kinds and aspects of learning Torah, certainly, but he definitely kept himself grounded in society and in the world. He would frequently bring in a reference to Milton or whomever in his sichot (sometimes just an Easter egg to those who knew, but often it was because this secular cultural idea best served to explain his Torah point). And of course, he ran a hesder yeshiva!

      I cannot reconcile the idea of him ever dismissing a person or a group because they were "another beis medrash."

    2. See link http://www.zootorah.com/RationalistJudaism/DaatTorahLichtenstein.pdf I think he addressed this perfectly

    3. Being abstract has nothing to do with it. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l and Rav Lichtenstein zt"l were both halachists, not (just) pilpulists.

  4. Notice how none of the charedi are wearing masks in the picture.

  5. Yet another reason to favor Telzher lomdus, where the lomdus is tied to real-world first principles, rather than halakhah necessarily being grounded only in halakhah.

    But as someone who learns Arukh haShulchan Yomi (FB: Aruch haShulchan Yomi Group), I can tell you there is plenty of mental workout learning aliba dehilkhisa, like Beis Yoseif, Darkei Moshe or the Arukh haShulchan. Lomdus isn't the whole picture.

    (In my day in RIETS, ironically, RHSchachter was giving the penultimate shiur on the track that led to the Rav. And at the time, his derekh was pure Brisk, the same as that which he is criticizing now. R Mordechai Willig and R Nossan Alpert had a more lemaaseh oriented approach; for example, to learn Mesechtes Shabbos with RMW, you needed to have a Shemiras Shabbos keHilkhisa on hand. Then I went to KBY and returned to YU to go to Rav Dovid Lifshitz's shiur. Telzher lomdus, with its close ties between the experience of observance, hashkafah and lomdus, spoke to me. Kind of like if R YB Soloveitchik had let the "halachic hermeneutics" [his term] into his public talks into the lomdus of his shiur in RIETS; although Brisk and the Halakhic Man would never do so.)

    1. When I learned at Ner Israel, Rav Weinberg ztl seriously suggested only learning Aruch Hashulchan. He knew no one should listen. But it has everything you need in every sugya.

  6. Still available on archive.org: https://web.archive.org/web/20210206111231/https://www.torahweb.org/torah/2021/parsha/rsch_yisro.html

    1. I don't see anything (too) offensive to non-Jews there.

    2. Some non-Jews might be offended by this section: "The opening passuk in the Torah tells us, "בראשית ברא אלקים" and Rashi in his commentary quotes from the Midrash that the word "בראשית" means "בשביל ראשית", i.e. for the Jewish people, that are referred to by Yirmiyahu (2:3) as ראשית and for the Torah which is referred to in Mishlei (8:22) as ראשית. The passuk is telling us that the world was created on behalf of the Jewish people who are going to keep the Torah. This was the whole purpose of creation.

      The simple reading of the mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:14) is that all men were created btzelem Elokim. The Jewish people have a greater degree of tzelem Elokim, which is referred to as bonim laMakom (since children always carry the DNA of their parents). The M'eiri in his introduction to shas quotes an interesting Midrash that maintains that the first five of the Aseres Hadibros were written on the first luach and the second five were written on the second luach, and there is a correspondence between the first set of five and the second set of five. Specifically, the sixth of the Aseres Hadibros is related to the first; the seventh to the second, etc. The connection between the first and the sixth dibros is that the Torah prohibits murder because man was created btzelem Elokim and one who kills is demonstrating that he does not believe that there is such a thing as Elokim. Because we believe that B'nai Yisroel have a greater degree of tzelem Elokim, we are always much more careful regarding safeik sakonah (possible danger) than all of the medical doctors. For example, when a bris has to be postponed because the infant is not well, even after the doctors release the baby from the hospital and say that that he is up to having the circumcision, the halacha in the Gemarah tells us that we still have to wait additional days. And, in recent years, the mohalim have established a minhag regarding the bilirubin count that is also more stringent than what the doctors would say."

      Although I don't really see how this would be more a problem for them than the well known sobriquet "The Chosen People".

    3. I’m not sure your interpretation of Rashi’s source is correct, but I did not check his source. I did check Rashi’s own words. This Rashi could mean the world was created for 2 separate reasons: 1)Torah 2) Israel.

      BTW it was stuff like that that got me thinking more carefully about Orthodox Judaism. ACJA

  7. I don't know why it can't be all of the above. R' Schachter does not quite think as the rest of us do and lives in learning, so it's not surprising that he'd see things from that angle. I don't think his answer is the only one, but I don't think he's wrong.

  8. What a patronizing snob!

    All of your posts on the subject seem to be built upon the premises that the Charedi defiance of the Covid restrictions - even within their own definitions of right and wrong is the incorrect way to behave.

    You entirely gloss over this most crucial presumption and begin your posts having already decided that the Charedim have totally screwed up, leaving you with just the task of gloating over their perceived downfall aswell as to speculate how it happened.

    Maybe, just maybe the Charedim know all you have to say and yet have still decided that their behaviour is the correct one.

    Truth be told I'm not certain whether you assume them guilty despite knowing that the Charedim see things differently, in which case all of your posts on the subject are irrelevant. Since to assume the moral high ground debating how the went so wrong, when the underdog - in this case the Charedim, continue to believe they have not IN GENERLE TERMS acted out of line, is just stupid.

    If on the other you think that even the Charedim agree with your assessment that their continued disobedience of Covid restrictions is prohibited by Torah law, and what's up for discussion is just how they got to this stage, then maybe you should get your head tested. Do you honestly think tens upon tens of thousands of people are continuing right up to this moment to behave in a way they all know to be entirely wrong.


    And if you have somehow managed to fool yourself into thinking that that's the case, may I let know that you are mistaken. The Charedim behave the way they do not despite knowing that they should not be acting that way, but rather because they think that's what they should be doing.

    If you want an honest debate, then how about one that actually begins by discussing whether or not the Charedims behaviour is actually all that incorrect.

    Posting blogs that take the Charedim's guilt as a matter of course allowing you to assume all of your airs and graces turning up your nose at them despite not giving them a chance to defend themselves at the point where they believe you are mistaken is intellectually deceitful.

    Unless I am the foolish one here and your intention in all of this is simply an opportunity to engage in some meaningless mudslinging in which case - enjoy yourself and have a great time.

    1. I'm a bit confused by your comment. We know that the morbidity rate is three times higher with charedim. We know that there is widespread defiance of precautions and mass crowding events. So how can you be claiming that their behavior is correct?

    2. Wow, RNS. You actually just proved Joe's point in the clearest way possible. Open your mind a bit; it's a shame for someone intelligent to live with such blinding biases. Either throw away your venomous hatred (which you may be sadly unaware of- but it is quite apparent to the rest of us) and start thinking, or keep groping in the dark.

    3. @Joe, @Kedarlaomerite,

      I can't speak for the Charedi Torah, but I know the Torah Hashem gave to Moshe considers any actions which unnecessarily takes the lives of others to be incorrect. Are you two admitting that Charedi-ism isn't Judaism?

    4. Without going into the nitty gritty details of the statistical chance each individual is taking that when he goes to shul he may be the cause of someone's death, I think we can all safely assume that in a theoretical scenario where to keep away from a crowded wedding would involve for whatever the reason - Chillul Shabbos, or in a hypothetical situation that to act in accordance with Covid guidelines it would for whatever the reason require one not to put on tefillin, then I think we would all agree that (at least those who do not know that have covid) would be required to continue to keep Shabbos despite it meaning them having to join a large indoor gathering. Reason being that AS AN INDEVIDUAL the chance of you killing someone is so remote that it simply doesn't qualify for the Din of Vechi Bohem. Medical advice notwithstanding, we listen to the doctors to eat on Yom Kippur when he tells someone that by him not eating he may die. No doctor is telling you that if you join a crowd someone may die (the chances of that happening are about 0.00001) what the doctors are saying is that as a society if people are constantly going out of their houses mixing with other people there will be people who will die. A most unfortunate reality though still not a reason to be Mechalel Shabbos.

      With the halachic ramifications of Pikuach Nefesh not being part of the equation the question about the correct way to behave has become vastly more complicated.

      On the one hand people are dying which quiet obviously should require all normal people to take the necessary precautions, although on the other hand there are other things to think about.

      The sad truth is that in hindsight aside for the financial devastation the lockdowns have cause, the spiritual holocaust has been far larger. So many have sadly gone of the Derech and even greater numbers have such big "Yeridos" that it is doubtful they will ever be the same again. A Rosh Yeshiva in RBS Alef who seems to have catered for boys who were struggling in the best of times said to a friend of mine that although he may now be able to reopen his yeshiva legally, he has no one to open it for, his boys have all gone and aren't coming back. How many Sholom bayis's have (and this is only a guess) probably been damaged beyond repair. And it is not just about the Charedim. A neighbour of mine works in the Bet Din of Reb Yitzchak Yosef and he said to me that there are tens of thousands of traditional Sephardim whose main lifeline to Judaism was their Tishri Selihot and having been denied it this past year year - have been lost forever. (I am not part of their community so I cannot appreciate why that is so the case, although that does seem to be the fact on the ground).
      A yeshiva student from Chul just a couple of weeks ago took his life. He was probably going through a severe depression although if not for yeshivas closing and him having been stuck at home for the better part of year he may have still been among us)
      And these are the big problems. There is also the actual Bittul Torah, Bittul Tefilah of such a large quantity that must also be considered. Friends of mine have young boys who barley know their Alef Beis having skipped almost a year of their education.

      And the list sadly goes on and on....

    5. Side stepping for a moment the reason as to why the lockdown truly had such major repercussions, the fact is that all of this did happen and is continuing to happen day in day out.

      Taking all that into account bearing in mind that is not a question of Vechi Bohem, perhaps the correct thing to do is to actually continue with life and rely on Hashem's running of the world to decide what who will or will not die.
      Any believing Jew will tell you should the case be that the Torah requirements are to not be going into lockdowns, any negative consequences become part of the realm that lies outside the Chiyuv Hishtadlus and should be left up to Hashem.

      And this is despite not being one hundred percent sure that its the Charedims defiance of lockdown measures that have caused their death rate to triple. there are many other factors to take into account i.e. the large families and small living quarters being the more obvious culprit, or maybe the fact that they have a higher percentage of older people. Who really knows?

      A solution that keeps on grabbing the publics attention has been to tell communities to to continue with their Torah observance yet in a controlled manner e.g davening outside, learning in capsules..
      The reality is that that's also not a solution. You know as well as I do that to take people totally outside their comfort zone would in fact cause a similar spiritual fallout to the one we are currently experiencing.

      Take Chasidim for example. So much of their religious intensity is a result of their Tishen Botters.... to stop all of that, although in of itself wouldn't be the end of the world, the ripple effect it would cause, would be.

      A final observation: The reason why I believe that closing shuls etc truly caused so much spiritual harm is the same reason why Charedim take the ideal of staying in Kollel so seriously. It isn't so much about the learning itself. Its more to do with the cultural insularity it affords. over the last one or two centuries as the outside world has steadily opened its doors to allow the Yidden to actively be part of their culture, and as that very culture has steadily cast aside more and more of its basic morals, the very pillar that has held so much of the Frum Yidden together has been to carve our for themselves a conceptual space, a kind of subculture, and an entirely parallel way of life, to allow as much as possible for single minded focus on what they deem important.
      (And if you cannot see what I mean, where do you think reform conservative liberal....... have all come from).

      The downside of this has been the lack of immunity to the outside that when they would truly be forced to engage it they would be left floundering like a ship lost at sea. Which is why when covid19 restrictions attempted to strip them of their cultural autonomy and way of life they were used to, so many fell on the wayside.
      And that is the real reason Charedim have been so hesitant to be part of the Covid restrictions.

      Sorry for rambeling!

    6. "Do you honestly think tens upon tens of thousands of people are continuing right up to this moment to behave in a way they all know to be entirely wrong."

      Madness is not cured by the size of the crowd.

    7. Wow, what a load of hogwash. And what justified not taking the simple step of wearing a mask? That prevents not one chiyuv in the Torah (except kissing your tzitzis after baruch sheamar and during shema s/).

    8. " seem to be built upon the premises that the Charedi defiance of the Covid restrictions - even within their own definitions of right and wrong is the incorrect way to behave."

      Because that's common sense.

      And we have heard all their "reasons" for behaving this way, so they take away any residual doubt you might have had as to their motivation. Like that old saying, "Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt"
      They've all spoken a lot about it. It reveals a sort of proud ignorance and a delusional denial of reality.

      "The virus isn't real!" they say as people around them die from it.
      "Masks hurt my lungs!" they say as there is proof the virus hurts the lungs and that masks don't impact breathing. And so on and so on...

  9. R Slifkin,

    As with so many of your posts in recent weeks this is right on the money.

    Reading it really brings to mind the introduction of Mesillat Yesharim - one can be deeply engaged in learning yet fail to ask the simple question - what am I meant to do with all of this?

  10. Joe, what a load of waffle. What actually are you trying to say.

  11. NS,
    most charedim wear dark colored jackets, so it makes sense to assume that that is the cause of increased charedi morbidity, no? of course not, correlation does not equal causation. likewise 15,000 young men whom have all had corona within the past year attending a funeral has almost no chance of spreading corona. if you had a background in the sciences, you might evaluate the issue in a much more sophisticated way. you could start by developing a model of what the expected rate of spread is based on population density, with and without other precautions (schools opening, schule, weddings, etc.) being in affect. then you could compare that to the rate of spread in the charedi community. you might then find that precautions improve the situation, or you might find that they don't. you might even find that the mortality in the charedi is below that which is predicted by population density even if all other restrictions had been in place. since niether you (nor anyone else for that matter) has actually done that study (i know because i work in that field) the most an honest, scientifically orionted person can say is, we don't know. all the rest is just not scientific (and non rational) bloviating.

  12. "likewise 15,000 young men whom have all had corona...if you had a background in the sciences"
    If you had a background in the sciences you wouldn't assume the 15000 all had the virus.
    Following the tropes is more important than the science. "We've all had covid" is one of those tropes. And yet Charedim are still over-representative in new infections.

    "you might evaluate the issue in a much more sophisticated way."
    This is another trope. To demand gold standard evidence instead of the best available evidence- even if that best available evidence is highly plausible. There's a reason why there are no double-blind placebo studies of parachutes.

    1. All the Jewish areas of Hackney, London, have had consistently lower incidents of Cov-19 infections than the other areas. The reason is undoubtedly not good behaviour - the behaviour of chassidim there is shocking and disgraceful. It is herd immunity.

      That's not speculation, not maths, it is fact. If you don't believe in herd immunity you are an anti-science, anti-vaxxer fruitcake.


    2. @the hat
      Disingenuous lies. Death rates are three times higher than normal in the community. Infections are being hidden by treating the sick at home and not allowing kids to take tests. Obstructtive BS is all we hear from Stamford Hill. Lies about YEsohdah. Lies about the weddingsetc Just tell the schnorers t stay away from Edgware. Whatever they're practising it isn't Yiddishkeit. Neither are you for lying and treating us as fools

  13. Wow, this is such a silly article. The idea that this is all about derech halimud is ridiculous. This is just one of Rav Shacters old hang-ups and he has decided to attach it to carona. Many of the leading magidei shiur in YU and the modern orthodox world (such as Rav Aharaon Lichtenstein zt"l, Rav Rosensweig, and many more) learn in the classic yeshivah style and look down upon the way Rav Shachter suggests. And on the other hand there are hundreds of halacha kollelim in the charedi world that focus on halacha all day. The real difference here is simple (rav slifkin himself has agreed to this before so I do not know why he's suddenly changing his tune. Maybe just to score more points on the chareidim?): For the modern orthodox the value of pikuach nefesh far overrides everything else, even the total spiritual destruction of there youth (or - pikoach NEFESH). Just speak to those who are actually on the front lines in YU dealing with the fallout of hundreds of 18-23 year olds sitting in there dorm rooms and homes "learning on zoom" for a year. In the chareidi world this price is just to much to pay and therefor overrides. You can disagree with the approach but you cannot disregard the sense to it unless you are completely biased.
    A current (drowning) YU student

    1. The problem of school for the younger ages is the toughest one to solve. So arguably, the "price to pay" may be up for discussion (and who actually is paying that price.)

      But Meron, mass weddings, mass funerals, mass protests, tishim & other mass events do not have the same urgency as Torah education for kids. Neither do indoor minyanim, nor for that matter outdoor minyanim.

      The answer is of course, all this talk of "price to pay" is just a bluff and covers up the real reason(s) for lack of Charedi compliance.

    2. No, it really is a price to pay. What is this "real reason" that you imagine for chareidi non-compliance? That they are just lazier than the rest of the population? That they don't know that people in their community are dying? Obviously not.

    3. Why would wearing a mask, which is harmless, be a "spiritual destruction?"

      Why would limiting the size of gatherings and doing things outdoors instead of indoors or not having large gatherings at all constitute "spiritual destruction?"

      Sounds like pathetic excuses for corrupt behavior.

      What exactly is the "fallout" of your so-called drowning? You don't exactly love the world we're living in? Wow, join the club buddy. Life is hard. None of that makes terrible behavior and endangerment of society at large ok.

    4. The real reason? Nobody cares anymore. Your shocking behaviour das us all. Roidfim.

  14. IMHO the issue alluded to may be more of one of not seeing the forest for the trees. When one is taught to look at the letter of the law exclusively one can forget about the spirit of the law. The goal becomes the technical compliance (e.g. claiming kids are part of a permitted demonstration rather than learning in school) vs. technical and meta compliance (e.g. distancing to try to save lives rather than to meet technical distance criteria)
    Joel Rich

  15. The Japanese have voluntary lockdowns, no mask mandates, and just keep their border closed and they do not have many deaths, nor problems like this. So what is the solution? Follow the Japanese and Swedish example and the riots, etc will end. But most govt's have no desire to do that and thus want to control people.

    1. And now, we return to the Sweden trope. So here are the facts for Sweden:
      1) The Swedish policy has been an admitted failure
      2) The Swedish government was not acting benignly, they were acting with duplicity. They repeatedly lied to their citizens when they publicly claimed they were NOT trying to get out of the pandemic by achieving herd immunity through mass infections. The secret policy was to get as many people infected as quickly as possible.

      Japan is a new one. We can learn from Japan- specifically contact tracing which allows them to contain outbreak locally. It also appears that the people are culturally more amenable to follow health guidelines without government enforcement. And there are other reasons which may not be applicable to Israel.

      "Follow the Japanese and Swedish example and the riots, etc will end."
      Fantasy speculation. "We'll do the right thing once you stop telling us to do it!". Nonsense. Everyone knows that if the government advised instead of enforcing there'd be even less compliance. Contrast Tel Aviv (high enforcement & high compliance) with Charedi neighborhoods (low/no enforcement & no compliance).

    2. @Ephraim

      A) your points 1) and 2) contradict each other. If the Swedes lie, why believe their admissions of failure? Or do you only believe them when they say what you like to hear?

      B) Neither of your speak to the empirical statistical success of the Swedish model, but to the personalities and politics of the people involved.

      Please try to follow the science.

    3. "your points 1) and 2) contradict each other."
      They are not "my" points. They are facts that belong to everybody. And you must not confuse irony with contradiction.

      "If the Swedes lie, why believe their admissions of failure?"
      Excellent question. Let's talk about two kinds of liars. One always lies and will never admit the lie, and will double down on the lie, deny lying and concoct more and more intricate layers of lies. The other kind is more sophisticated. For them admission is desirable if it furthers the agenda. Confession empties the guilty conscience and fills the wallet. Bill Clinton lied & Bill Clinton admitted. His admission was carefully constructed by public relations professionals to shift the public focus from his guilt to the nasty Republican campaign against him. From that perspective, one can argue that his admission, while truthful was at the same time duplicitous.

      But all this is theory and irrelevant. Why? Because Sweden's failure is not proven by admission. They've done poorly worldwide, and they've done poorly in Europe. That's what the data shows. There's no need for admission or denial, the facts speak for themselves.

    4. Fact check: Sweden is the 13th worse affected European country by per capita death rate and there are plenty of countries with strict lockdowns occupying positions 1-12. Facts matter, opinions not so much. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/

  16. This whole post is kind of ironic. We pasken "shomer pesayim hashem" for acts which are requisite for the continuing functioning of society. Pikuach nefesh is not engaged when you take reasonable, proportionate risks.

    Hence, in the (disturbing and completely not halacha l'ma'aseh nowadays where paedophilia is unacceptable) 4th perek of Kesubos the gemora does not require the use of contraception for a girl whose age makes pregnancy a life threatening condition. Hence, the Rabbis made dangerous trips, then recited birchas hagomel (which according to your understanding should have been a mitva haba b'aveirah).

    In fact, extreme interpretations of the doctrine of pikuach nefesh play into the hands of the anti-vaxxer fruitcakes. Since there is a (roughly 1 in 50,000) chance of a severe reaction, taking the vaccine at all would be prohibited.

    The truth is that Halacha requires everyone to make reasonable balanced decisions based on the totality of risk and rewards.

    Cancelling cancer treatments, cancelling education, cancelling mental health treatment, cancelling addiction treatments, cancelling employment, imposing house arrest - one questions whether all this is proportionate and reasonable.

    1. "Pikuach nefesh is not engaged when you take reasonable, proportionate risks."
      1% of the Charedi population over 60 died. That's a intolerable number.

      On the flip-side, to save lives we can accept reasonable & proportionate sacrifices. Like davening in small outdoor minyanim. Like not having mass weddings. Like avoiding crowds. Those are small sacrifices.

      "In fact, extreme interpretations of the doctrine of pikuach nefesh play into the hands of the anti-vaxxer fruitcakes. Since there is a (roughly 1 in 50,000) chance of a severe reaction, taking the vaccine at all would be prohibited. "

      About 1 in 1750 Israelis died from covid so far. Contrast that to 1 in 50,000 severe reactions- presumably mostly non-lethal.
      It's a ridiculous comparison. I have a rule about cranks and crackpots: You can't apply logic to determine how they will act. So even if logically you were correct- that these people COULD twist פיקוח נפש into שפיכת דמים- you can't predict how/when/if they WOULD do so.

    2. You are most welcome to continue to debunk claims and assertions I never made in the space provided below.

  17. I don't think R' Slifkin makes a fair argument here. Every mussar talk at every chareidy Yeshiva I've attended was entirely focused on how to put what we learn in yeshiva into practice in the real world. That is why the most diligent bachurim are most sought after in the shidduch market: they tend to be more considerate and sensitive than average because they take the mussar talks seriously, and work hard on their middos and on doing chessed for others.

    Chareidy and Chassdishe kehillos are famous for the amount of Chessed they do. Consider the myriad organizations that do chessed in innumerable forms.

    Now I should make it clear that on coronavirus, I agree with the stance of R' Slifkin, Rav Shachter and others who take the position that we have a Torah obligation to adhere to the guidance of the medical community with regards to mitigating the spread of the virus.

    That being said, setting aside the Chareidy community, there is a significant percentage of people in the US who have made the conscious decision to "move on with their lives," and basically ignore the virus. I don't agree with their thinking, but their thinking is: yes there's a probability of getting sick and even dying from the virus, but the same way we wouldn't cut the speed limit in half, even if that would save many lives, we shouldn't substantially curb regular life activities in this case either.

    Do I think that this is a correct calculation? No

    But does this thinking stem from a lack of conviction in the belief that we must live what we learn? Not even close; in my charediy community I witness the opposite every single day.

  18. Dear R. Slifkin,

    I 100% agree with everyting excluding the last point: whether "dati-leumi" translate the laws and values of the Torah into their daily lives. There is no difference. Indeed, there are things that they take more seriously, but other things they take even less seriously.

    One example. The Sages say that a Jew who does not practice Shabbat or does practive idolarity shorship should be consiered as a Gentile. That does not prevent from "dati-leumi" people to call a service in their army with proud name "fulfilling Bein Adam L'Chavero".

    Another example is "heiter mechira" which is simply nonsense.

    In the same time army rabbanutes (that are apparently populated by "dati-leumi" people strictly) refuse to bury non-Jewish IDF soliders in common military cemetries: a stupid and baseless custom that Jews unfortunately learned from their Christian neighbors. Why? because the issue of cemeteries they take "seriously" (just like Haredim), and the issue of Shemita they do not!

    As for Gdolei ha-dor: in fact, when "dati-leumi" people face really serious halachic probelm, they go to Haredi poskim like R. Eliashiv or R. Averbach, not to persons like R. Eliezer Melamed. They go to R. Eliezer Melamed only to obtain legitimation to that they already decided for themselves.

    1. I think you are showing some propaganda colors here. Heter Mechira is not nonsense. Great Charedi Gedolim have maintained that it is legitimate. See R Zvi Pesach Frank, R Shlomo Zalmaan Auerbach, and R Ovadia Yosef who have all approved of it. Look at their sefarim and you'll see it all there. Accordingly, your priority of who is who and what os what is clearly warped by a lack of basic knowledge.

      I'm Charedi, and I also get frustrated about many positions in the DL tzibbur. I am also critical of my own tzibbur.
      Personally, I think thst both R Herschel Shachter and RNS have fair criticism of the actions of many charedim. But the issue here is far simpler than either are suggesting. I think charedim have made Judaism transactional spiritualism. There is a lacking of depth of point. So many charedim who flaunt basic hygienic rules meant to save lives, would simultaneously throw out a cut onion, garlic or open egg left out over night. The sakanah mentioned in the poskim is removed from reality. Yet, at the same time the majority of Rishonim shipped these halachos somw it was based on Chazal's scientific knowledge. (These three are not mentioned by Rif, Rosh, Rambam, Tur, or Shulhan Aruch!). I have no problem with someone being machmir today, but use it to learn the lesson of being careful with health!

  19. I am not sure that your explanation and Rav Schachter's are very far apart.
    If you focus more on the real world application of halacha, you are forced to recognize the 'spirit of the law,' as you describe in your article, whereas if you only learn abstract lomdus, you end up only noticing the 'letter of the law' that comes into your abstract analysis.
    On a separate note, do you know of any statistical way to separate out the effects of Chareidim living in more crowded conditions vs. their intentional disregard of social distancing guidelines. We obviously don't want to accuse a society's actions of causing more harm than they actually have (assuming that you do not place moral judgment on them for the density of their housing) so it would be important to quantify the effects of each of those two factors.


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