Friday, February 12, 2021

Were the Council of Torah Sages following Rambam?

In the previous post, I expressed dismay at the absurdity of the Kol Korei from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel of America. Proclaiming the pandemic to be an appeal from Heaven for us to correct our ways not only as individuals but also as a community, they identified the collective sin as materialism. A number of people argued that in doing so, the Moetzes was simply following the guidance of Rambam:

"It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and to blow the trumpets whenever any danger afflicts a Jewish community... This is part of the procedure of repentance, for when difficulties occur and people come to pray, they realize that these happenings befell them because of their sins... and this will cause the troubles to be removed. However, if they do not pray, but instead say, 'Such is the way of the world...' - this is a cruel approach, that causes people to maintain their evil ways, and will bring further suffering." (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3)

But this is deeply, deeply mistaken.

We have to differentiate between two things: the pandemic as a whole, and the distressingly high rate of sickness and death in the charedi community (which is supposed to be a community that is more sensitive to pikuach nefesh).

With regard to the pandemic as a whole, from a traditional religious perspective, while there may be a metaphysical cause, it is absolutely impossible to identify what it is. Nobody is using prophecy or the gorel haGra (or even claiming to do so). There are many potential sins, and it could be anything. It could be materialism. It could be licentiousness. It could be bittul Torah. It could be abuse and those who are complicit in covering it up. It could be cheating and disregard for civil law. It should also be noted that considering that Covid is a global pandemic, it would be rather strange to pin the blame on the actions of a subset of the Orthodox Jewish community; it would be more reasonable, and certainly more Maimonidean, to blame it on a global disregard for public health. 

So, perhaps we can be grateful that the Moetzes picked the genuine problem of materialism rather than a silly thing such as sheitels, but that would be setting the bar rather low, and it rather conveniently ignores the more "yeshivish" sins. And, as stated, it is ultimately impossible to know, or even to have any serious evidence at all in favor of any particular theory.

On the other hand, when it comes to the rates of infection and death in charedi communities worldwide - which, instead of being lower than that of the general public, are instead several times higher - there is a very obvious cause to which it can be attributed. And that is a phenomenon which, while not unique to charedi communities, is certainly disproportionately widespread in them: holding mass indoor crowded events (which are known to spread disease) and a disregard for health precautions such as distancing and wearing masks. Disregarding health precautions might not be a yeshivishe-sounding type of sin like tzniyus or materialism, but it most certainly involves multiple genuine aveiros, all the way up to murder (in the category of shogeg karov lemezid). For the Moetzes to dismiss that in a single insignificant line about how "Certainly, in this time of danger, we must act with great care for the health of our communities" is inexcusable.

If you're trying to avoid assigning any wrongdoing to the Gedolei Torah, hiding behind Rambam - a Torah giant who put enormous emphasis on health - is not the way to do it.

 

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23 comments:

  1. Where were you when the American Agudah's Moetzer suggested that communities establish social distancing standards that were stricter than their government's? They argued that
    1- their community's lifestyle involves more social connections than those built into models made for typical Americans. (E,g, 3x as many kids means 3x as many kids' friends and classmates, who have 3x as many siblings bringing things home from their friends and classmates, etc...). And
    2- the political process has to take into account voter's demands, and so by nature will never be as strict as halakhah requires.

    Why didn't you take note of their calls to vaccinate?

    Regardless of my opinion of their choice of sins to highlight, you are asking them to klap "al cheit" for sins people who actually listen to their missives wouldn't have been doing.

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    1. When did the *Moetzes* (as opposed to the lay leadership) made those announcements? Searching the Kol Koreis on their website, the only other one this year is this: https://agudah.org/moetzes-gedolei-hatorah-adds-members-and-releases-kol-korei-in-advance-of-rosh-hashanah/

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    2. Natan, supprised you didn't read the Agudah guidelines.
      https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://agudah.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Safely-Reopening-our-Kehillos-FINAL-1.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiD1_nE6eTuAhWimOAKHevABCUQFjAAegQIAxAC&usg=AOvVaw3q6HVtu3JbXuw8VFgDhDdO

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  2. This whole post is so silly. They didn't identify anything as THE spiritual cause of the disease. They never insisted that they know for certain why Hashem yitborach sent it (He sent it. Never attempt to use words like nature or science to hide Him.) The moetzet just suggested that we focus on something specific.

    Also, you say some issues are silly reasons. Who are you to decide if a problem area in halacha is trivial or not?

    Oh, and by the way, according to Jewish tradition, Goral Hagra is a real thing. If anyone capable of doing it did it, they aren't broadcasting it. But considering how right you are and how wrong everyone else is, why not give it a shot and report back?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "according to Jewish tradition, Goral Hagra is a real thing." Undoubtedly - what is that supposed to prove? Does that mean that it works? According to (most strains of) Jewish tradition, magic is real thing. Does that mean that it works?

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    2. "Undoubtedly - what is that supposed to prove? Does that mean that it works? According to (most strains of) Jewish tradition, magic is real thing. Does that mean that it works?"

      Dude, what are you smoking? magic? you mean the machloket rishnoim about the nature of kishuf? What does that have to do with the Goral Hagra?

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    3. Try to follow - the above Shlomo claims that Gorel HaGra is a "real thing" because of "Jewish tradition." I countered that the fact that Jewish tradition contains it in no way proves the objective fact that it works. I then pointed to magic as an example of something that (according to most Rishonim) would be "proven" by Jewish tradition. I think it is obvious that Jewish tradition cannot actually prove that magic works. I also think my above explanation is obvious, but somehow you missed it

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    4. The only recorded and certified example of the Goral HaGra having worked was its being used to prove a physical fact in the past (who was buried in the graves of the Lamed Heh), that's all.

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    5. Certified as being successful or simply having been performed? If the latter, see my comment above, if the former - certified by whom?

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    6. Shlomo is right that the Moetzes didn't identify anything as the spiritual cause of the disease.
      The usual YA

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  3. Well, if you want a clue for whose fault this punishment is, the Gemara in Shabbos (139a) says explicitly: כל פורענות שבאה לעולם לא באה אלא בשביל דייני ישראל

    ReplyDelete
  4. what's your point?
    that the Rambam is not applicable here and its a simple cause and effect open and shut case, or that even when applying the Rambam to our situation and we try work out the metaphysical sin that caused the punishment the obvious conclusion is that of flouting the medical guidelines and not the conclusion that was reached by the MGH

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    1. Rambam states that we should blow the shofar and fast for wars. Does this negate the concept that we may also need to do practical actions to avoid or stop these problems? We don't pick fights with another nation and then fast and exhort and blame spiritualism. We also do not pray and fast instead of defending ourselves. That is pure nonsense.
      In our current condition, we should be blowing the shofar, and fast to encourage us to check our actions. And also at the same time we should be careful to avoid spreading this virus. It's not a contradiction.
      There is no kol koreh from this moetzes to do any of the stricter distancing required to stop the spread. No kol koreh to keep shul attendance to small groups, or God forbid stop them altogether. This Moetzes of Aguda won their Supreme Court case. Now all are free from restrictions. Free to be careless with people around them.
      We have a case here where God has given us warnings and punishment. Devver. With our current knowledge, we know that we can seriously hurt or suppress it from hurting people around us based on our actions. To think that the ben adam lechavero of hurting people around is not a large part of what God is requesting from us, is to avoid what is plainly in sight. I'd rather teach people around me to be careful with their own lives and with those around them, and I'll leave the cutting back at the hedonistic steak pictured in the magazine for another time.

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    2. Fasting during a pandemic is NOT a good idea, it weakens and lowers immune response...

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    3. R Asher Wise gave a covid fast day shiur. He stated that according to Drs that he spoke to, fasting would not hurt an asymptomatic person. The famous story of R Yisrael Salinger and eating on Yom Kippur was about cholera which fasting would actually hurt.

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  5. Replies
    1. Covid is a global pandemic affecting charedi communities the most. It must be the negligence of modern medicine and science.

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  6. "It would be more reasonable, and certainly more Maimonidean, to blame it on a global disregard for public health."

    What on earth does this mean? When in history did the world have more regard for public health than it does now? What disregard for public health do you see in UK, France, Spain, Italy, any number of countries that were hit hard by this pandemic? This is all Monday morning quarterbacking.

    Sure, there were a minority of voices warning of a global pandemic before it happened. Just like there are a minority of voices warning about impending doom from many different sources, such as nuclear war, chemical weapons, peak oil, overpopulation, etc etc, the list is endless. We can't listen to all of them, and sometimes some of them are correct, as in this case. The reality is that the only thing that worked was hard lockdowns, such as the Asian countries. Not preparation.

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  7. Refusing to wear masks. Refusing to stop large gatherings indoors.
    Refusing to take any precautions or change daily life. And now, how may refusing vaccination too?

    Imagine trying to use Rambam to justify irrational behavior!

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  8. I need to get back to reading my Maimonides. I think he agrees with you that this Coronavirus is a natural event, not G-d's punishment.

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  9. "to blame it on a global disregard for public health."

    The most obvious blame, then, would be on our toleration, in many many ways, of the murderous regime in China.

    "So, perhaps we can be grateful that the Moetzes picked the genuine problem of materialism"

    As I wrote elsewhere, no, I'm not, considering that in an era of economic depression, the hamon am aren't practicing materialistic excess. So who is writing this, an who are they writing to?

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  10. There is no difference between saying "This happened because of spiritual cause X" and saying, "Hashem did this because he wants us to improve, and we have identified X as being the area most needing improvement."

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    Replies
    1. Would you say G-d wants us to improve in medical science?

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