Friday, April 30, 2021

Mourn. Don't Blame The Victims.

The tragedy of the Meron disaster is horrific. 44 dead. The pictures of the body-bags are chilling. The pain is unimaginable.

To be sure, we are no strangers to tragedy and death. But in general such things are due to an outside cause - terrorism, persecution, famine, and so on. These deaths occurred simply in the context of a religious celebration. It's just heart-wrenching.

Originally I wasn't going to write anything other than expressing grief, and wishes for the recovery of the injured. But then I saw some people on Twitter criticizing those who went, on purportedly rationalist grounds. They argued that mass gatherings of this sort are darkei Emori, and they pointed out how Rambam was opposed to visiting the graves of the righteous, and proclaimed that the righteous are memorialized through their teachings, not through pilgrimages to their graves.

Aside from being deeply insensitive, such critiques are wrong for other reasons. I personally am not interested in attending the Lag B'Omer celebrations at Meron. But the Meron celebrations are certainly a tremendous source of religious inspiration for many people. And one should not attempt to delegitimize those who follow the mystical approach. If people are inspired by the Meron celebrations, that is a wonderful, positive thing.

It's also important not apportion any blame to the people who went, even unintentionally. Even describing it as a "stampede" is wrong. Consider this frightening but important discussion from Wikipedia:

Academic experts who study crowd movements and crushing disasters oppose the use of the term "stampede".[9] "The rhetoric of 'stampede' is often used to imply that the crowd is animalistic or mindless". Most reported "stampedes" are better understood as "progressive crowd collapses":[9][10] beginning at densities of about six[9] or seven[8] people per square meter, individuals are pressed so closely against each other they are unable to move as individuals, and shockwaves can travel through a crowd which, at such densities, behaves somewhat like a fluid.[8] If a single person falls, or other people reach down to help, waves of bodies can be involuntarily precipitated forward into the open space.[9] One such shockwave can create other openings in the crowd nearby, precipitating further crushing.[9] Unable to draw breath, individuals in a crowd can also be crushed while standing.[8] Journalistic misuse of the term "stampede", says Edwin Galea of the University of Greenwich, is the result of "pure ignorance and laziness ... it gives the impression that it was a mindless crowd only caring about themselves, and they were prepared to crush people."[9] In reality, individuals are directly crushed by others nearby who have no choice, and those who can choose are too distant from the epicenter to be aware of what is happening.[9] Among causes of fatal crushes, sometimes described as "crazes", is when a large crowd is trying to get toward something; typically occurring when members at the back of a large crowd continue pushing forward not knowing that those at the front are being crushed, or because of something that forces them to move.[11]

There are crucial lessons to be taken from this terrible tragedy. But not a critique of the people who went. And the lessons should wait for another day.

43 comments:

  1. You could not not have said this better. Kudos for addressing this in the way that it should be addressed by all. May we only merit to know and share of smachot and good occasions. Mourning those who were tragically niftar and davening for those injured. Thoughts and Tefillos to all the families involved

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  2. I was once informed evil will not befall you while engaged in a mitzvah. This event indicated otherwise. ACJA

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    1. Rubbish. They weren't engaged in any mitzvah.

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    2. Rabbi Slifkin,please delete the previous comment. It is cruel, as well as wrong. The gemara clearly says that making sheyesh sakana is an exception.

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    3. This event indicates no such thing. There is no Mitzvah to attend a celebration of a dead Rabbi.

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    4. This event indicates no such thing. There is no Mitzvah to attend a celebration of a dead Rabbi.

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    5. Or ... It's not actually a mitzvah.

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    6. Didn't two people die under similar circumstances at Rav Wosner's funeral, when they were trampled to death? Will you try to tell me that attending a funeral isn't a mitzvah either?

      Police are at huge gatherings like these to prevent tragedies like this. We've gone through an entire year of not being able to enter a store, because entry was limited to only 10 people in the store at a time. Similar safeguards should have been in force here. Every Lag B'omer, thousands visit Meron. We simply never encountered a tragedy like this in years past.

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    7. Aren't we too numb to start analyzing? But anyway, the very sources that a Mitzvah protects tell us its limitations, such as in the recent "daf", yoma 11 , & in Pesachim, Kidushin & Chullin.

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    8. So its probably not coincidence that it happened this year. Due to Covid, the police erected barriers. In the past as I am told, there wasnt this barrier setup. With the intention of crowd/ viral control, these barricades created a danger. Imagine if Woodstock had barriers erected trying to make sections. Past gatherings at Meron were much larger but without barriers, it was a true outdoor gathering. The barriers created some of the crowd problems that happen for indoor gatherings, but as its not in a stadium with tickets there wasnt a control of headcount. Tragic unintended consequences.

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  3. " And one should not attempt to delegitimize those who follow the mystical approach."

    Today is not the time for this discussion. But there is a serious discussion to be had about societal-wide implications of a mystical approach. There are social phenomenon that appear in mysticism-based societies that can be documented and leaders in those societies would be well advised to understand these phenomenon so they can guide members of the community to avoid dangers.
    Followers of each approach also need to take personal responsibility for their role in the emergence of social phenomenon.

    (Take for example, the role of religious zionist families who send their kids to schools with increasingly extremist nationalist leaders and the generational effects such as the growing effect of wild violent youth. Each family needs to think if they allow such teachers in schools or send their kids to schools with more moderate teachers, for example. Responsibility exists at a personal and leadership level.)

    Each society (rational as well) has social phenomenon, but we ignore them or deny their existence at our peril.

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    1. You are a champion virtue-signaler. What do religious Zionist families have to do with this situation?! How about you look in the mirror and think about your own faults before pointing the finger at others.

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  4. if you find this kind of behavior to be a wonderful source of inspiration then it has reached a dangerous level. there is nothing positive about these behaviors. only Hashem should be the center of our priorities. but now is not the time, because it is too emotional, to talk about it. we agree.

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    1. Lecha domem tehilla.

      Nothing good will come from this post.

      If you post about how you're not going to post about the theology of this, people will and are inadvertantly make callous comments about that theology when the families have not yet been informed.

      Take it down please.

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    2. Indeed, callous comments are being offered....

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  5. My body is itching since last night
    My guts are wrenched
    My beard itches too
    For 33 days
    This is the day we celebrate the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying
    I pick up my shaver
    Turn it on
    Turn it off
    This is the day we celebrate the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying?

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    1. How considerate.

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    2. Who said you that talmidei r. Akiva stopped dying in that day? There is no source for such the claim.

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    3. They didn't stop dying, they finished dying. If "all 24000 talmidim died", then that pandemic only ended when they were all niftarim.

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  6. I am surprised by how different your attitude is to this tragedy than it was with respect to the tragedy of the Corona virus as it affected the Haredi community. There you blamed leaders who did not listen to the doctors / state and carved out their own world where science was secondary to the instructions of the Rabbis, and the authorities were unable / unwilling to act due to the political power of these groups.

    Here too, the government / police have been warning for years of potential for disaster, due to too many people crowded in, illegal building in the area by different groups, but the people listen to the Rabbis. And the authorities were unable / unwilling to act due to the political power of these groups.

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    1. Maybe because now the tragedy happened. Don't scold/punish the child after he has burned his hand of the stove - hopefully he has learned his lesson. Rather, scold/punish the child who reaches for the fire so that he never eventually does hurt himself. Reprove the leadership who are setting up a community for disaster, but after a disaster occurs, show achdus and mourn together.

      I also do not know how seriously/strongly the safety warnings were made before this. The situation might be tempered.

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    2. @Jenny, there is the question if RNS is correct and a separate question if he is consistent. I don't think you inquired if he is correct so I won't get into that. As far as being consistent, I believe that he is. Regarding Meron, which is over, Hashem should have great mercy regarding the consequences, there is currently no benefit in pointing a finger. The tragedy happened. It's time to share the trauma and pain. In a while we'll discuss prevention. Whereas regarding Covid, while it was claiming lives, the responsible thing to do is to save lives even if that has negative consequences of pouring salt on horrible wounds. Lives matter the most. Empathy matters so so much, but less than saving lives.

      But this is really for RNS to say, not for me to be bulldogging on his behalf

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  7. "It's also important not apportion any blame to the people who went

    No-one normal should blame the victims.
    Those who enabled the event, on the other hand ignoring the obvious (some would say inevitable) risks....

    ידיהם דמים מלאו

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  8. Dare I comment on this horrific tragedy. But who in Israel does ANYONE turn to for emergency help, for emergency medicine, for some authority to navigate and bring an end to such a disaster? The State of Israel with all its institutions. And who does ANYONE count on its continued help? If ANYTHING positive can ultimately come out of this horror, it's the realization that we are ALL Jews, that the State of Israel loves every single Jew, and that we must ALL respect the laws and institutions of the State.

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  9. Thank you for being sensible, RNS. It's nice to be able to see you in a new light. I assume and hope that this post reflects your true self, and I have gained respect for you. Keep it up!

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  10. This is just awful. We need to pray for the ones who died. I cannot imagine such a thing taking place. Just awful. Awful.

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  11. This is a national tragedy. We shouldn't be in crowds during a pandemic anyway. The government needs to interfere. I support religious practice but this is inane. It's not they're fault though. We need to pray for them.

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  12. I agree that it's not appropriate to denigrate mysticism, but might it be appropriate to question the excessive and dangerous crowding that takes place every year there? Might it be time for the Orthodox community to take responsibility for encouraging things like this and failing to consider the potential implications?

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    1. Would you say the same if it was a concert? The event is not invitation-based, these are individual people deciding to go for themselves. Your "but" negates your "yes".

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  13. Putting your opinions in the mouths of "some people", only to then officially distance yourself from those views, is a cheap politician's ploy. "Some people say we should do this and this and for these reasons...(but I don't say that)." It tells us what you really believe. If you felt it was wrong to play the blame game - and of course it is - then you just shouldn't have said anything.

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  14. The pilgrimage site was never properly equipped to cope with the vast annual crowds. The particular walkway was a known bottleneck. So why was a tragedy foretold allowed to happen?

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  15. To all of the commenters who seem so sure that for years tragedy was in the making due to negligence on the part of the Meron attendees themselves - Please explain how that concurs with the countless eyewitness accounts of the police force being directly responsible for suddenly deciding to hold up traffic and push back against the throngs of people trying to exit a narrow passageway. It seems that the disaster was actually a product of outside interference, and would not have occurred had the police done as they have been doing up until last year - secured the event but not managed it.

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    1. This is ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT.

      Possibly this PARTICULAR disaster wouldn't have occurred without that specific police action. But the entire event was a disaster waiting to happen.

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    2. Zichron DevorimMay 2, 2021 at 6:28 AM

      Even if police negligence is proven to be the issue, no event should ever be set up that a relatively small mistake should end up with 45 funerals.

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    3. https://www.facebook.com/765518523/posts/10159365338838524/

      It's difficult to tell exactly what is going on here in the video but it looks like the police are blocking the exit and attempting in vain to get the crowd to turn. This could be due to a tragic lack of understanding of crowd control.

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  16. @And one should not attempt to delegitimize those who follow the mystical approach. If people are inspired by the Meron celebrations, that is a wonderful, positive thing.

    It sounds like you've conflated the "mystical approach" with the "rational one".

    Its only in your supposed "rational approach" that Mitzvot are done to make us better people / to inspire us / to develop relationships etc etc. Those that follow the Mystical approach by going to Meron are not doing so because they find it personally inspiring but rather because of their belief in its inherent truth, as taught by past sages who truly understood the spiritual realm that lies behind our physical one.

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  17. That was awful. I read there were too many people exiting one place. Some people slid down stairs, others stayed behind, yet others piled up behind and one of the doors was locked.

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  18. Thank you for this wise post. I liked it when I first saw it and even more so since I learned that one of the victims was the son of one of my cousins. I never met him, so the effect on me is less than it might have been, but I'm still saddened and worried for his wife and three children. It’s obvious that the relationship between the Haredi community (of which I am NOT a part) and the rest of the nation (especially the government) is urgently in need of clear-eyed reform.

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  19. I agree with your general idea about mourning and not blaming the victims.

    But here's where you make a major mistake IMO: "And one should not attempt to delegitimize those who follow the mystical approach. If people are inspired by the Meron celebrations, that is a wonderful, positive thing."

    It matters tremendously how people are inspired. If people are inspired by an act of idolatry that is NOT a "wonderful, positive thing". It seems that in your view - inspiration is the final goal. How one gets there is secondary. That is simply wrong. How one gets there is what matters most in Judaism. That is the whole point of the story of the golden calf. And according to Maimonides good intentions is how idolatry started.

    So yes, I mourn and cry for those who lost their lives. I don't dare to blame the victims for what happened to them. But let's remember that going to Meron has and should have no place in Judaism.

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  20. blame the police: “The whole time there were people passing through and everything was going smoothly. Suddenly there was terrible crowding. I looked up and saw five police officers who were simply standing there and stopping people from passing. People begged, cried, screamed that they’re going to die, that they can’t breathe, but they didn’t open the passageway. Children were fainting in their parents’ arms. When the police finally allowed people through, everyone collapsed one on top of the other.”

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