Sunday, May 30, 2021

Dying To Be Charedi

It's almost impossible to believe. Even after the extraordinary high mortality rate in the charedi community due to disregard of Covid regulations, even after the terrible loss of life in Meron due to disregard of event regulations, even after two people died and 184 were injured at Karlin-Stolin with the collapse of illegal ramshackle bleachers held together with cable ties, the Vizhnitz branch of chassidus is planning a grand wedding in Bnei Brak with illegal ramshackle bleachers held together with cable ties.

Fortunately, after the Bnei Brak municipality issued a closure order and a media stink was created, Vizhnitz has since decided to explore alternate venue options. But how could they originally have planned to go ahead with the exact kind of dangerous setup that killed people a few weeks earlier? 

This is not a rhetorical question. It's a question that genuinely requires an answer, in order to understand the chassidic mindset. And I think that the answer relates back to Covid.

Last year, when charedim in general and chassidim in particular were crowding indoors for Torah, Tefillah and weddings, many of us were wondering why they didn't seem to care about killing people. I presented two theories. 

One was that they simply didn't perceive the cause-and-effect. The charedi community is oriented towards non-rationalist approaches, including a general lack of belief in cause-and-effect, a belief in the protective power of Torah, theological fatalism ("it's all in God's hands"), and covid conspiracy theories. Accordingly, they simply did not see the connection between their disregard for Covid precautions and their high mortality rate. But while this mindset would certainly also explain why there is a tendency to negate safety precautions regarding crowding and engineering, it wouldn't account for ignoring them immediately after this has very obviously and undeniably proved fatal.

But I also presented another theory. Fighting to defend a lifestyle against externally imposed restrictions is not only the charedi world's modus operandi; it's virtually their raison d'etre. Losing a few lives along the way is an unfortunate but worthwhile price to pay, just as every society is willing to sacrifice lives for its greater values, whether via wars or fast transportation. Vizhnitz presumably felt the same way about their wedding. This is how they do things, and ain't nobody gonna tell them otherwise.

And this takes us back to the Meron tragedy. In a must-read article at The Times of Israel about why charedim MKs are blocking a Meron probe, the writer notes as follows:

So much of what went wrong at Meron — the bickering sects, the refusal to accept police safety regulations or government oversight, the mobilizing of Haredi political leadership to guarantee the event’s independence from state oversight — cuts to the heart of Haredi culture, to its sense that it has achieved a kind of purity and superiority over the surrounding society through its separatism and isolationism. On May 17, a day after the Karlin disaster, the Haredi journalist Moshe Glassner of Kol Barama put the point bluntly: "Haredi separatism is leading the community from one deadly failure to another... it cost us lives in the pandemic, at Meron, and again on Shavuot" ...In Haredi society’s terms, the politicians are protecting not just themselves or their religious sects. They are safeguarding the psychological walls that Haredi society has constructed around itself, the deep-seated ethos of resistance to state interference in their lives and communities.

 But Meron may yet prove to be the straw that breaks the camel's back:

For a growing chorus of critics in the community, however, the 45 dead at Meron are too high a price to lay at the altar of isolationism and self-regard.

The charedi MKs' opposition to the Meron probe, which could expose many flaws in how charedi society operates (as described in an insightful Mekor Rishon article), is not finding favor in the charedi street. The leaders of the chareidi community might decide that maintaining their way of life is worth a few deaths, but many in the community are not willing to go along with that. Not everyone is dying to be charedi.


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Thursday, May 27, 2021

There's No Daas Torah In Italy

Before the latest Gaza war, Israel suffered a tragedy which killed nearly seven times as many Jews: the Meron disaster. It was the worst civilian tragedy in history of the State (and perhaps the largest number of Jews killed by Jews in a non-military setting in our entire history). As is widely known, it was a tragedy that was waiting to happen, since the site was not at all set up to safely house such a large number of people.

Naturally, a disaster at this scale indicates gross negligence at numerous potential levels - site managers, police, civil servants, politicians, and so on, and perhaps involving greed and corruption. And so the natural course of action is to arrest a lot of people and then have a state commission of inquiry which will be independent of any political pressures. When the terrible cable car tragedy occurred in Italy this week, several people were immediately arrested.

But not in Israel!

Not a single person has been arrested so far. And while there will be a state commission of inquiry, it's only just barely going ahead. Because, astonishingly, the vote at the Knesset Arrangements Committee to establish such a commission only barely passed, at 19 in favor and 13 against!

Who on earth would be against such a thing? Well, it will come as no surprise to discover that it was charedi MKs, along with their supporters in Likud and the ultra-right wing Religious Zionist party. As noted in a previous post, there was a shocking report about a meeting of United Torah Judaism MKs, in which most of them actively opposed a state commission of inquiry. Some of them claimed that they feared "reformers" would get involved and harm the sanctity of Meron (the exact trivial fears which allegedly motivated them to fight the government takeover to begin with). Others were astonishingly honest in their reasons for opposing such an inquiry. Uri Maklev explained that "there are people we know who will be harmed by it, people in the Ministry for Religious Services, people responsible for the event at Meron."

What's interesting is the charedi MKs, who are presented as emissaries of the Daas Torah of the Gedolim, are out of step with the charedi street. Surveys show that the majority of charedim want a state commission of inquiry. On charedi websites, while some are opposing a state commission, there is no shortage of people blasting the MKs transparent efforts to avoid responsibility (see the comments on the article at this link). And most of the bereaved families appealed for a state commission of inquiry - though, appallingly, they were pressured by associates of charedi MKs to retract this appeal.  

One wit had a sharp comment: The charedi MKs have declared a state commission to be a chillul Hashem, because it will decrease the number of people who are yet to die al kiddush Hashem. He was referring to how a commission, which will expose corrupt charedi management of such things, will make it less likely for such tragedies to occur in the future. But I would add that it will also decrease the number of people who already died al kiddush Hashem - because it will expose that they died not due to the inscrutable Hand of God in a mysterious martyrdom, but rather due to the incompetence, corruption and greed of various powerful players in the charedi community, all under the banner of Daas Torah.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Subconscious Racism

Last year, we we were taught that every white person subconsciously possesses racist attitudes, and that denying this both proves the problem and amplifies it. Antisemitism is the oldest and most pervasive hatred in the world; it's time for people to be taught that their judgments of Israel are influenced by it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The World Wide War

Over the last few days I have spent quite a bit of time trying to defend Israel on the internet, particularly on Facebook. It's been incredibly emotionally draining and depressing. Still, I do feel that all of us (if we are not in the IDF) have an obligation to spend time doing this. Wars today are not only fought on the physical battlefield; they are heavily influenced by political battles, which in turn are influenced by battles on the World Wide Web. 

It's a milchemet mitzvah, and we must all do our part. To be sure, it's impossible to change the minds of most people, but you never know who you might be influencing. And it's also important to boost morale among loyal Jews. One comment that I wrote on a nasty post by Shaun King received over a thousand "likes"!

In the course of these arguments, I've learned some interesting things, which have led me to develop new strategies. You have to realize that not all opponents of Israel are the same. Some are raging Islamists/ antisemites (with whom there is absolutely no chance of influence), and others are just people caught up in the zeitgeist. And so I think that we should try to tease these groups apart - firstly, to be able to ignore those with whom there is absolutely no chance of influence, and second, to use the first group's extremism as a way to wake up the others as to whom they are getting in bed with.

One of these is immediately get to the extreme of the other person's position. Many people talk about Israel's actions at Al-Aqsa, or other forms of oppression of Palestinians. There isn't much point arguing against that (but if you want to, the chart on the right may be helpful. and here's a link to a very important report by Amnesty International about the suffering of Palestinians caused by other Palestinians). Instead, it's better to do one or both of the following: to spell out clearly what they are justifying, and/or to draw out clearly what they are really objecting to.

The former, spelling out clearly what they are justifying, is done by making comments such as this:

So, you're saying that because the Government of Israel committed various wrongdoings against Palestinians, it's legitimate for Hamas to fire rockets at men, women and children. Got it.

For the Islamists/ antisemites, the answer is yes, that's legitimate. But hopefully other people will see that there is something wrong here.  (I saw one writer claim that "we can't morally judge people in the Palestinian's position"; yet he was perfectly happy to morally judge people in Israel's position!)

The other approach is to draw out clearly what they are really objecting to. Many people may initially express their grievance against Israel in terms of Sheikh Jarrah or Israeli "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, but what they really object to is Israel's very existence. It's usually not difficult to get them to admit that. And so then there's the irony of them claiming that Israel is evil because it engages in ethnic cleansing, but they are saying that they want to ethnically cleanse Israel of Jews! I've been in threads where Western critics of Israel are claiming that the Palestinians just want to live in peace, but you can simply point out to them that in the very same thread there are countless Arabs saying that they want to drive the Jews out of Israel.

Thus, you can simply paraphrase your opponents' arguments as follows:

Short version: The Jews had no right to escape persecution and return to their ancient homeland, and so they are not allowed to defend themselves against rockets being fired at them.

Again, this is something that for hardcore Islamists and antisemites, the answer is, "Yes, exactly!" (because they deny that Jews ever lived in Israel). But hopefully other people will have pause to consider, especially in the face of Islamists showing their true colors. And even if they don't - even if I am being completely naive in thinking that we can affect anyone else - it's important for us to crystallize the real issues.

 

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Monday, May 17, 2021

Die and Don't Learn?!

It's unbelievable. Instead of "live and learn," people are dying - continually - and the lessons are not being learned.

Over the last year, charedi communities suffered a wildly disproportionate rate of deaths from Covid due to their opposition to subjecting themselves to government-mandated health precautions. Just over a week ago, 45 people were killed in Meron due to charedi opposition to subjecting themselves to government control and professional standards. And now, two people were killed and hundreds injured when unsafe bleachers collapsed in a chassidic shul - which was operating without licensing, against warnings from the fire service, and which had signs placed by the municipality forbidding people to enter. Incredibly, the bleachers were held up by a makeshift collection of beams tied together with wire - without any screws!

A number of people have sent me an article from Rabbi Yair Hoffman, decrying the charedi laxness with regard to safety. Yes, it's good that he's not doing the murderously negligent Daas Torah response of calling for strengthening Torah study and Ahavas Yisrael. But Rabbi Hoffman - who sometimes writes sensible articles, and sometimes wrong-headed and downright silly articles - makes the same mistake as that which led to all these senseless deaths in the first place. He writes as follows:

We have Hatzolah organizations. We have Zaka organizations. We have Gamachs. We have almost every conceivable chesed organization – from bris gemachs, shalom zachar schnapps gemachs, we also need one more thing.

We need to take charge of our own safety as well.  We need to hire crowd control experts for our levayos, for Meron, for our buildings, for our wedding halls.

There are experts who know what types of tweaks are needed in order to save human life. There are people, educated people with Phd degrees, that can survey and inspect any venue or building and can determine its safety and structural integrity in order to save lives and to avoid tragedies.

What we need to do is have the Chareidi world engage these experts. We should hire them and bring them down to our buildings and levaya venues, to our chasuna venues, to our shuls, and to wherever else we gather.  We need to bring them to Meron for recommendations. It shouldn’t be the Israeli government or the police or the IDF, it should be us.

No, no, and no! 

What Rabbi Hoffman doesn't grasp is that "charedim taking charge of their own things" is exactly what causes these disasters in the first place!

It's not enough to respect professional expertise. You have to respect being a part of a system of civic law. 

This is for two reasons. First of all, you're not going to know exactly what kind of expertise you need. It's not just crowd control. There's many, many different things that potentially have to be taken into consideration. When we applied for our operating license for the Biblical Museum of Natural History, there were endless discussions as to what exactly we do at the museum, and what kinds of consultants and expert opinions and authorizations were required. It's all part of a immense system set up for public safety; it's not something that some askan is going to be able to direct.

Second, there is the matter of enforcement. Once you leave it up to askanim or event operators to be in charge of safety, it's a recipe for disaster. There is simply too much self-interest involved. If the private consultant states that there is simply no way that the event can take place in a safe way, are they going to listen to him and cancel the event, or will they shop around for someone else who will give a different opinion - perhaps in exchange for a gift on the side? After all, what are the odds of something going wrong?

The charedi community needs to understand that they need to respect civil law. They need to be part of the State. They need to mature and take responsibility, which includes recognizing their limitations and the need for state apparatus.

Right now, all Israel is in mourning over the deaths caused by Hamas. Yet these are not even a tenth the number of deaths caused by charedi separatism over the last year. And while it's easy to get people to take action in the face of threats from Hamas and Iran, it's considerably more difficult to take action about the long-term, gradually developing existential threat from an increasingly large sector of the country that does not care about national responsibilities vis-à-vis the economy, the army, and so on. It's crucial to take the right lessons from the tragedies of the last year.

 

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Time for Battle

Israel is involved in several wars right now. There are the violent thugs attacking people all around Israel. There are the rockets being fired from Gaza. And there is the international war against the legitimacy of Israel's position.

Some people think that the latter war is futile, but that's not true. There are many people whose minds it is impossible to change, but not everyone. Not to mention that there are politicians who make decisions solely based on how much noise is being made by each side.

There's many excellent essays about the legitimacy of Israel's position. But I've noticed that in this day and age, it's bite-sized graphics that seem to play an important role. So I came up with a few, which I've posted here. Please forward them via WhatsApp/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Facebook, and so on.

Meanwhile, at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we've been hosting subsidized visits from families escaping the trauma of their homes in the Gaza periphery and in Lod (see the picture below). If you'd like to join those sponsoring trips for these families (it's $100/ 360 NIS per family), please donate at this link.

Wishing you all a Chag Sameach, and may we enjoy peaceful times.







Friday, May 14, 2021

How To Read This Week's Mishpacha

Now is a time to focus on defending Israel. But amidst all the rockets and riots and rage against Israel for defending its citizens, thousands of families will be sitting down this Shabbos to read Mishpacha magazine, which features articles about the Meron tragedy. There is a very significant lead article from the publisher of Mishpacha magazine, Eli Paley. It's an article which along with some important truths, also contains lots of falsehoods and slander, which will infuriate many people. However, if you understand the context in which it is written, then you can be sympathetic to what he is trying to do, even while bemoaning the state of a society in which he has to do it in such a way.

Paley begins by saying that although silence is a fitting response to tragedy, it must effect a change of some kind, noting that Chazal enacted various rulings in response to deaths caused by overcrowding. But he then takes a very strange position:

But conclusions of this kind are only reached by the sages of the generation, and are not the job of a Torah-guided magazine, whose role is instead to serve as a platform for bringing the words of gedolei Torah to the public. When tragedy strikes, these gedolim guide us to understand: What does Hashem want from us? How are we supposed to react to such events, and what are we obligated — as individuals and as a tzibbur — to fix as a result of the fire that Hashem ignited?

The reason why I describe this position as very strange is that the Gedolei Torah have made their response clear, and it's a call for irrelevant teshuvah in terms of learning more Torah, increasing tzniyus, and respecting other Jews (unless they are rationalists). Paley, on the other hand, proceeds to effectively say that this response is completely inadequate:

Still, the magazine has another task: to bring the relevant information from the scene to the awareness of the public and the policymakers, to point out areas where improvement may be necessary, and to discuss possible alternatives to the existing protocols... In situations such as these, we do not have the right to remain silent, even though we would prefer to. Not when it comes to human lives. Not when it comes to a practice that repeats itself time and again, in various forms... As believing Jews, we are obligated to conduct a cheshbon hanefesh, an internal reckoning, after a tragedy. But we can and should also analyze the human errors that made it possible for such a catastrophe to happen. 

This is correct (though it would be even more correct to say that analyzing the human causes of a man-made disaster is the cheshbon hanefesh, not supplementary to it). The Gedolim's response is a thorough abdication of responsibility, and it's great to see that Paley does not go along with it. And Paley proceeds to nail that which made it possible for such a catastrophe to happen: 

And while it’s too early to draw firm conclusions, from the knowledge we do have at this point it seems that there is one central, underlying issue: the question of the State of Israel’s relationship with the chareidi sector.... There is no government entity that assumes responsibility to assure the necessary infrastructure and conditions that would facilitate safe access to Kever Rashbi... Did the state turn a blind eye to the fact that the event was organized and run by a hodgepodge of hekdesh entities and a few volunteer organizations that have no ties to governmental authorities? How is it possible that no one drafted a comprehensive master plan to make sure such a mass event — an event that grows from year to year — is managed properly? ...No one thoroughly evaluated the infrastructure, the size and character of the event, or the possible alternatives that could have been put in place to make sure it was held safely... It’s hard to believe that the state would exhibit such a lackadaisical approach to any similar event.

Paley has nailed it. This is exactly correct. 

Unfortunately, then he goes totally wrong. Incredibly, Paley proceeds to blame the State of Israel for this! 

...The state chose to let things ride... it’s hard to ignore the feeling that as far as the decision makers are concerned, this event was not “their” responsibility... Does the state consider the chareidi sector equal to the others? When chareidim hold a mass event, does the state neglect basic safety standards?

Yet the reason why the "state" and the "decision makers" did not create and enforce the necessary infrastructure was not because of any anti-charedi attitude. It was because of powerful forces in the charedi world that fought strongly against such a thing! And this includes the very Gedolim that Paley was revering!

Paley proceeds to distort things even more:

These questions grow even more pointed now, nearly two weeks after the tragedy... As of this writing, a state commission of inquiry to investigate the catastrophe has not been established, and does not seem to be in the offing... One gets the impression that the powers that be are doing everything to ensure that things just move on — or, alternatively, that they just don’t care... The scandalous conduct of the authorities after the event is matched only by their scandalous conduct before it.

I have no doubt that there are officials that are trying to evade responsibility for being complicit in the charedi resistance of a government takeover. But what Paley fails to mention is that it is charedim who are fighting a state commission of inquiry! Bechadrei Charedim has a shocking report about a meeting of United Torah Judaism MKs, in which most of them actively opposed a state commission of inquiry. Some of them claimed that they feared "reformers" would get involved and harm the sanctity of Meron (the exact trivial fears which motivated them to fight the government takeover to begin with). Others were astonishingly honest in their reasons for opposing such an inquiry. Uri Maklev explained that "there are people we know who will be harmed by it, people in the Ministry for Religious Services, people responsible for the event at Meron." Um... yes.

It's scandalous that Paley not only fails to mention the charedi opposition to government management of Meron, but also fails to mention charedi opposition to a commission of inquiry. But then, Paley changes direction. 

It’s convenient for the authorities to maintain the no-man’s-land called the chareidi sector. Yet unless chareidim recognize the vital role of the public sector, and learn to cooperate with the relevant government entities, they cannot consider themselves free of guilt. Our tzibbur has been blessed with an abundance of organizations staffed by experienced people with very good intentions, but when an event reaches dimensions such as Lag B’Omer in Meron, our existing manpower and infrastructure are far from sufficient. Not because of willful neglect or mismanagement, chalilah, but simply because such a huge crowd cannot be managed by a loose confederation of well-meaning organizations... In order to manage an event on the scale of Lag B’omer in Meron, it’s not enough to distribute food and drink. There also must be someone holding the reins with a big-picture view... 

Our community is growing, bli ayin hara. We have reached proportions where it’s no longer viable to rely only on local askanim and organizations. It’s time to cooperate with the authorities and the relevant entities, and not to cast our lot exclusively with those who engage in the tzorchei tzibbur only with emunah... 

We also cannot accept violations of the law that affect the public or public areas, in favor of personal or communal interest. We cannot allow ourselves to become the no-man’s-land of the state, in which everyone who wants to stick his hand in the pot can manage his affairs as he wishes, without considering the consequences. We must not, as a tzibbur, absolve ourselves of all responsibility as we shift the blame elsewhere.

This is the crucial point, and the exact point that I made in my post "The Message of Meron: The Need to Think Big." The Meron catastrophe was the result of a community that thinks it's still a shtetl struggling against the Tsar. Charedim need to understand that they are an enormous sector of the population that is part of a Jewish state, and this comes with responsibilities.

It's difficult to get people to accept that their community has made a terrible mistake with catastrophic consequences. Perhaps this explains the distortions that Paley writes. Just as he needs to pay lip service to the notion of the Gedolim giving wise direction before completely undermining them, he needs to show team affiliation by bashing the Zionists for their terrible negligence before acknowledging that the charedi community is guilt of the same.

You have to know a lot of context in order to understand what Mishpacha is trying to accomplish, and then you see that it's not as terrible as it might appear. But I'm glad to no longer be part of a community where it's necessary to say so many untruths in order to get a basic and obvious truth across.


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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Denial of Physical Reality is From the Top

When I first posted about the charedi ideology of denying the reality of the laws of physics, many people didn't believe me. In a subsequent post, I elaborated further about how this is indeed the case, whenever things are not of obvious urgency and the necessary efforts are bothersome. The Meron tragedy was one example of the dangers of a mindset that doesn't take science seriously. In the comments, someone gave another disturbing example, recounting how a young father in Kiryat Sefer was killed by a forklift that he was operating as a result of his completely disregarding all the safety regulations that were printed on it - and the local rabbis described it solely in terms of an incomprehensible Act of God that requires the usual vague teshuvah. But now, Dr. Marc Shapiro sent me a rabbinic responsum which is so extreme in its content and ramifications that it caught even me by surprise.

The responsum is from Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and one of the most prominent poskim in the charedi Litvishe community. He is widely respected as a halachic authority in both the Israeli and American charedi world. And, unlike with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, nobody would claim that he is utterly disconnected from the world, manipulated by others, or of declining mental faculties. Furthermore, this is a practical halachic responsum, not a mussar polemic. Thus, what he writes is extremely significant.

The circumstances of this responsum, written back in 2014, is one of the Gaza conflicts. The questioner is dealing with the extremely difficult situation of waking his children when the siren sounds and evacuating them to a safe room. This causes immense hardship for the children and families. And the questioner is asking whether he can just let them continue to sleep in their rooms.

Now, there can be room for a cost-and-benefit analysis of whether the degree of risk from rocket attacks is is significant enough to offset the vastly smaller but guaranteed damage from waking and moving them. But this is not at all the angle taken by Rav Zilberstein in his response. 

Instead, incredibly, Rav Zilberstein addresses the question solely from a standpoint of hishtadlus. He begins by establishing that it is God Who protects Israel, though we are obligated to perform hishtadlus, which includes a halachic requirement to act safely. However, such obligations are only incumbent upon adults, since only adults are obligated in mitzvos. And so there is no halachic reason to wake children, since they are exempt from hishtadlus!

He adds a supporting reason, that since they are without sin and studying Torah, they may in any case have no reason to take safety precautions, since they are in any case protected from harm.

This is probably one of the most shocking things that I have ever seen, but it's really only the inevitable consequence of the Desslerian approach. There is no independent reality of rockets. There are only spiritual obligations, the neglect of which can lead one to be punished, possibly in the form of rockets. And since a child has no such obligations, he does not need to do anything, and the threat of rockets is meaningless.

The ramifications of this are truly staggering. 

 

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Misconceptions About Israel

There are a number of misconceptions about the current situation in Israel, being fed by a media that is determined to present a certain popular angle. Here are some facts, which are important to spread:

Sheikh Jarrah

The situation with the Sheikh Jarrah houses is extremely complicated. It's certainly not "settlers driving Palestinians out of their homes" (though it also cannot be dismissed as just "Palestinian squatters being evicted from Jewish homes that they stole"). There are multiple reasonable perspectives. But even if there is a legitimate grievance here against disparate treatment of Arabs, does this justify the deliberate targeting of Jewish civilians for violence and murder? Many in the West are talking as though it does.

Al-Aqsa

The popular Palestinian narrative is that Al-Aqsa was "under attack." This is false. As photos show, Palestinians had used their Holy Site to stockpile rocks and other weapons, for hurling down on Jewish worshipers below., along with other rioting. The security forces moved in to try to protect innocent civilians from being hurt or killed. Ironically, the only people whose rights are curtailed in their holy place are Jews, who are not allowed to pray on Temple Mount. Arabs are fed a steady stream of disinformation and incitement by their leaders, including a denial that the Temple ever existed, which is ignored or distorted in the Western media.

Gaza

The situation in Gaza is distorted in much of the Western media, but is actually extremely straightforward: Hamas has fired hundreds of deadly missiles, targeting civilian towns. The only reason why there haven't been massive Israeli casualties is that Israelis take refuge in bomb shelters, and are helped by Iron Dome. The IDF, in a necessary effort to stop Hamas from firing these rockets, has attacked military targets in Gaza, with the inevitable result of civilian casualties, since Hamas operates from civilian areas. Those who protest the "disproportionate" deaths on the Gaza side should be challenged as to the offensiveness of expecting Israel to simply absorb hundreds of incoming rockets without doing its best to protect its citizens. And a "proportionate response" is one that stops the attacks against civilians - which has not yet been achieved.

Lod

Incredibly, many people outside of Israel are simply unaware that there was a pogrom in the city of Lod. Jews and Arabs have lived here for decades, with much investment in peaceful coexistence. But yesterday, hundreds of Arabs rioted through the city, setting fire to synagogues, schools, residential buildings and cars, while the Jewish residents had to barricade themselves in their homes, in fear for their lives. You can be sure that this will not make the international news until Israel responds. Violence against Jews is not deemed newsworthy; only Jews responding to it.

The Future

The current situation - and the media coverage of it - makes certain things clear. However terrible the occupation is, any realistic alternative is only going to be worse. Full Palestinian independence in the West Bank would result in the stockpiling and eventually firing of rockets. Israel would be pressured against taking necessary defensive measures, due to the inevitability of civilian casualties.

Long-term peace is only possible when people are held responsible for their actions. Otherwise, the West is simply motivating the Palestinians to incite wars and fire rockets, due to the political capital that is gained.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Foxholes and Fatalists

"I’ve yet to meet a chareidi Jew who denies the laws of physics exist." That was one of several such comments disputing the post that I wrote last week, Denying the Reality of Physics. Others pointed out that charedim are very particular about hishtadlus in many areas. 

Allow me to elaborate. 

Consider two positions at complete odds with each other. One is a purely materialist position, in which nothing exerts influence other than the cold, hard laws of physics - a position usually believed to be taken by atheists and hardcore Maimonidean rationalists. The other is an extreme mystical position, a sort of theological fatalism, in which either the laws of physics have no actual reality whatsoever, or they have very little application, since miracles are performed by God and righteous people all the time. 

I doubt that there are many people - if anyone at all - at either of these positions. 

We are human beings, and we are thus complex creatures. There's an old saying that "there are no atheists in a foxhole." On a personal level, I can attest that I have firm beliefs about providence - divine intervention in my own life - that are completely at odds with the rationalist Rishonim. 

Likewise, however much some people claim to believe that hishtadlus has no real value and should be minimized as much as possible and everything is in God's hands, they will put an enormous effort into hishtadlus - and rate it as having very real value - when it's something of pressing urgency to them. Charedi ideology purports to maintain that one must not send yeshivah students to the army, because it's the spiritual benefit of their study that provides real security, and one must also not take away time from Torah study to prepare for a job, as everything is in the Hands of Hashem - but when there are elections, and charedim want to rally support for votes in order to get more money for their sector, they empty the yeshivos! It's true that there are no atheists in a foxhole, but there are also no theological fatalists in an Israeli election! 

And so the reality is that there is nobody (or hardly anybody) who occupies either extreme. We all fall somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, some of us are closer to one side, some to the other. That may to some degree be due to our innate inclinations, but to a large degree, it is also affected by our education and environment. 

If you have a worldview, stressed in yeshivos and sefarim and the press (and see this example at Aish.com), that the laws of physics are a "smokescreen" which have no genuine reality (as per Rav Dessler), that they are regularly overturned by God and righteous people (as per various chassidic and sefardic groups), that hishtadlus is just a "fine" to be paid and should either be minimized or not done excessively, that one's parnasah has absolutely no connection to one's education or even to working, then the result is inevitable: unless something is of very obvious urgency (like elections), people will not take the laws of cause-and-effect seriously. 

And then there's something else: If you have a worldview in which the national/ secular authorities are the "other," and one is not a true part of the national entity, and one does not join in the national days of celebration and sadness or national service and there is room to discuss whether one can steal from the State, then people are less likely to take laws and procedures seriously in general. There might be very good historical reasons for the development of this autonomous identity, and it might have some very beneficial effects in terms of creating a sense of community and neighborly kindness and avoiding assimilation, but it nevertheless has these negative effects too. 

The combination of these two factors is why, generally speaking, charedi Jews, and especially chassidic Jews, have relatively less concern for secular laws that relate to scientific considerations. One obvious example is with regard to safety on the roads, whether with regard to seat belts, car occupancy, or traffic regulations. Another obvious example is with regard to obeying regulations on airplanes. And yet another is with regard to Covid restrictions.

Putting all this together, when you have an enormous tragedy resulting from years of insufficient concern for engineering-related regulations, the underlying factors are obvious.


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Monday, May 10, 2021

The Response to Murder

There is a mitzvah in the Torah of eglah arufah. This occurs when a murder victim is discovered and the identity of the murderer is unknown. The elders of the city and the kohanim have to all gather together, take a calf out to field, and break its neck. They then declare, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see [what happened].” (Devarim 21:7)

Now, what is this all about? Why would they need to absolve themselves of guilt? Obviously they weren't the murderers!

Rambam, quoted by Ramban in his commentary to Devarim, explains that there is indeed potential responsibility with the elders, which they have to rule out:

"The elders of the city must attest to God that they were not negligent in ensuring proper roads, and protection and defense for all passersby." (Moreh Nevuchim 3:40)

These are amazing powerful words. There is no declaration that this person died due to an "Act of God," and that people must therefore strengthen themselves in Torah and avoiding sinas chinam. On the contrary; since it is a tragedy with human cause, there is human responsibility. And while the immediately responsible person is the murderer, the underlying responsibility lies with the elders of the city, because they are responsible for overseeing the practical matter of whether the city is safe.

The contrast between classical Torah and contemporary Daas Torah is remarkable. In the case of Meron, there are most certainly people that bear underlying responsibility for the tragedy, by actively working to prevent the state takeover of the site that was so desperately needed. But instead of owning up to this responsibility, they call it an Act of God and call for the masses to do general teshuvah.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Meron: Those Responsible, And Those Responding

It's now been a week since the worst civilian disaster in the history of the State of Israel. Initially, there were rumors being spread about the police having blockaded people and thereby causing the tragedies. Video and eyewitness evidence has since largely seemed to refute these claims, but even if there was police negligence, it's become clear that this would at most have been only a proximate cause. There is an overwhelming body of evidence, along with the scientific study of such human crushes, clearly demonstrating that the entire site was a disaster waiting to happen. All it takes is one person falling in order to create a pileup that results in a huge loss of life. Such loss of life could easily have happened at any point over the last twenty years, as numerous people kept warning over the years.

In which ways was Meron a disaster waiting to happen? Because it was a site that was suited to a few thousand people at most, certainly not a hundred thousand. The most dangerous part - the narrow, slippery access ramp where the tragedy happened - was built illegally in order to create a "mehadrin" route without women (leading some to observe that Rav Chaim Kanievsky was indeed correct that the tragedy was linked to modesty - just in the exact opposite way to how he understood it).

So how, in a developed country, where no other group would be able to arrange an annual event of such reckless magnitude with such fundamental violations of safety codes, was this able to happen?

Rabbi Pini Dunner has publicly named the five people with immediate responsibility for the Meron site and its basic deficiencies: Rabbi Avrohom Frohlich, Rabbi Mordechai Dov Hacohen Kaplan, Rabbi Dovid Derli, and Rabbi Matityahu Shrem, who run the four hekdeshos that control the site, and are supported by a senior haredi government official: Rabbi Yosef Shvinger, director of the National Center for Holy Places in Israel and a close confidant of Rabbi Aryeh Deri. Together, they fought any attempt to have the government take over the site and implement the fundamental structural upgrades that the State Comptroller's office was calling for. Why? Presumably, for reasons relating either to power or money.

But how do these five people manage to pull off such a thing? How did they manage to defy the State enforcement of standards that are applied everywhere else? 

The answer is that they did not work alone. It was quite easy for others to be recruited to this cause. There are the chassidic sects which want to have power and control over parts of the operation. There are people with massive financial interests - government subsidies for the event which, directed by the non-government agencies involved in running the site and event, result in fat contracts for refreshments, buses and so on.

There are also the "Gedolim" of the various streams of the charedi world, who are easy to recruit into signing a campaign against secular takeover of a Holy Site. This is because (and I'm being charitable) they don't have a clue about the real issues involved, they don't understand the need for professional governance and expertise, and they have an ideological opposition to being subject to the State.

Then there are charedi politicians who want to cater to all these constituents. And so even though some of them tried hard to make the event safer in various ways, they weren't willing to do the job properly, which would have meant going all the way and fighting their constituents for the basic need to have the government take over the entire operation. (And they have since falsely claimed that they did indeed want a government takeover, refusing to acknowledge that the charedi rabbinic establishment was, across the board, opposed to this.)

All this has been coming out in the press in a steady stream of revelations. How is the charedi world reacting? There are a few different types of responses.

There are many who immediately adopt the typical charedi siege mentality. They blame the police and the government; some accuse them of being negligent, while others claim that there was a secret conspiracy by the police to kill charedim! And they attack whoever is trying to identify the real causes of the long-standing fiasco as being "out to get the charedim."

Similar to these are all the rabbinic leaders and public apologists who piously describe the tragedy as a Divine Decree, either unknowable in cause or resulting from standard sins such as neglect of Torah and sinas chinam, in order to avoid focusing on the human negligence and culpability (which would lead back to their own camp). Likewise are those who try to manipulate the tragedy of the event to avoid anyone looking for the cause; as one journalist observed, "Now is not the time to point fingers of blame, say those who are to blame!"

These public figures lead many naive common folk in the charedi world in their wake. They condition them to avoid ever holding those who wield power in their communities accountable for how they exercise that power. It's a very effective strategy for holding on to power.

But there are some charedim who acknowledge the clear facts of the situation and its connection to systemic problems in charedi society. Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, the founding editor of the journal Tzarich Iyun, speaking to non-Jewish audiences, spoke about the issue of autonomy. He stated that "It's a call for rethinking what is it that we didn't do right. It's not about the leadership. It's about us as a community, as a society, because it's the underlying opinions, the prevailing mindset of the society, that is going to be reflected by the leadership." (Of course, this is also effectively a statement about the leadership.) He also observed that “Haredim don’t want to lose autonomy, but becoming big by definition means being much more involved, much more integrated, and handing over a certain degree of autonomy. That is something that Haredi society hasn’t quite come to terms with.”

Others in the community are also speaking up. Charedi journalist Avi Mimran states: "The charedi mainstream needs to unite and stand up against the extremists, due to whom it is forbidden to touch a rickety fence in Meron. Because of fears of their demonstrations and violence in all sorts of other areas, we are entering into fear and leadership paralysis. When an extremist young man calls a policeman 'Nazi', as we saw in Meron, we, the silent majority, say nothing. We need to stop being afraid of some children making noise, and stop allowing them to control the charedi street. We have to go up with an excavator on the entire Meron area, to uproot all the caravans, the amutot, hospitalities, charity collectors and hekdeshos. With all due respect to those who have held all kinds of territory for centuries, this area has become a national site, and it is impossible to manage it when no fence is allowed to be touched.... And I also mean politicians, activists and all sorts of bodies with a lot of interests, who have deep hands in this plate, and who for years prevented the regulation of this place. They too have an indirect responsibility, in all the pressures they exert every year to that no stone in Meron is touched. And those are the first who, right now, have dug into all kinds of caves and disappeared."

Rabbi Betzalel Cohen, a revolutionary charedi school principal in Jerusalem, observes how it fits into a larger pattern: "I find similarities between the disaster in Meron and the conduct in Corona... both stem from the same worldview. The charedi public is a champion when it comes to helping those who are in trouble, but is far behind when it comes to preventing safety, health or economic distress... We hear the words of rabbis in the style of 'God takes the best, and it is a Divine Decree.' I understand that it is comforting, but when I hear these things, I explode. In order to to prevent the next disaster, we need to distinguish between an Act of God and an act of man."

Dr. Yehuda Sabiner, a Gerrer Chassid from Bnei Brak (I'm not sure how he managed to become a doctor), addresses the issue of authority and professional expertise: "We, the charedim, need to improve in terms of discipline versus authority. There are people in the country who make the decisions and bear responsibility, and we need to know how to accept that... In the end, ultra-Orthodox society craves order, organization and responsibility; but this is not always reflected by its representatives, who for their part are enslaved to sources of power and egocentric interests. The most important is the subject of professional hierarchy. Just as there is a Rabbi who paskens on purity and impurity, and a Dayan who rules in laws of monetary matters, each an expert in his field, so you have to transform the charedi mindset and recognize the 'rabbis' of medicine, security, and so on; to respect the authority of knowledge." 

And so there are people in the charedi world who understand what caused the tragedy and what needs to change. One can only hope that they are sufficient in numbers and influence to make a difference.

 

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Denying the Reality of Physics

In the wake of the Meron disaster, Mishpacha magazine put a lot of thought and care into publishing appropriate responses. There are some articles that are very sensitive and appropriate. And then there are others that doubtless many readers will see as spiritually uplifting, but which are downright dangerous.

Eytan Kobre, one of the editors, writes about the crucial importance of taking this event as a spur to investigate the ways in which we need to spiritually grow. He introduces this as follows:

There will be investigations of how this happened and how it was able to happen, and there will be news stories and opinion pieces about those investigations. Endless questions will be asked, answers will be sought, demands for accountability will be made, changes will be instituted. And, as a form of hishtadlus, all those are perhaps necessary.

But it’s no contradiction to say, at the very same time, that all those investigations and articles, all the back-and-forth about the how and when and where and who, are a smokescreen. It’s a distraction from the one question that all of us who aren’t government officials or safety inspectors or askanim should ask ourselves, and that is “Why?” It’s a question that each of us can answer on our own terms, in our own individual reality.

From Kobre's perspective, the physics of the disaster - the consequences of crowding a hundred thousand people into a small antiquated area - has no dominant or even genuine significance. It's just a "smokescreen." It is "perhaps" (!!!) necessary to investigate that, but only as a form of hishtadlus - which, in modern yeshivish terminology, means that it's just a knas, a make-believe charade that has no genuine reality. This reflects a view that Kobre has previously described in more detail:

Welcome to Jewish reality — also known as reality, period — where spiritual causes bring about material effects, both positive and negative; where the “action” all takes place in the spiritual realms, with the ensuing this-worldly results, substantive as they seem to the human eye, being mere afterthoughts. Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs.

Kobre's version of "reality" or even "Jewish reality" is in fact the standard charedi anti-rationalist view, which is not at all rooted in classical Judaism. The late Rabbi Dr. Menachem-Martin Gordon blames the spread of this approach on Rav Dessler:

Rav Dessler’s book, Mikhtav me-Eliyahu, whose impact on the yeshiva world in recent years has been enormous, represents a radical departure from the Talmudic position (Hullin 105a, Niddah 70b), as well as the medieval philosophic tradition (Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim, 3:17), in its denial of the reality of natural law and the cause-and-effect nexus of human initiative (Mikhtav, I, pp. 177-206). For Rav Dessler, the study of the sciences - even medicine, for that matter - is pointless, since the exclusive determinate of human welfare is the providential hand of God responding to religious virtue. Similarly, serious financial initiative is unnecessary. The diagnostic skill of the physician (Mikhtav, III, p. 172), the financier’s business acumen (Mikhtav, I, p. 188), ostensibly critical factors in the effectiveness of their efforts, are only illusory causes, argues Rav Dessler. Admittedly, he concedes, one must “go through the motions” of practical activity (the notion of hishtadlut, Mikhtav, I, pp. 187-88) - visiting a physician, making a phone call for financial support - but such is necessary only as a “cover” for the direct Divine conduct of human affairs, which men of faith are challenged to discern. Recognizing the immediacy of the Divine hand behind the facade of human initiative is the ultimate test of faith. One should be engaged in practical effort only for the purpose, paradoxically, of discovering its pointlessness! Therefore, asserts Rav Dessler, to the degree that a man has already proved his spiritual mettle, his acknowledgment of Divine control, could the extensiveness of his “cover” be reduced. Or, alternatively, to the degree that a man is not yet sufficiently spiritually perceptive - wherefore pragmatic initiative might “blind” him to Divine control - should he limit such recourse. Accordingly, b'nei yeshiva are implicitly discouraged from any serious financial initiative - or involvement across the board in any area of resourceful effort, be it technological, political, etc. - since the circumstances of life are, in reality, a spontaneous Divine miracle.

Yet this not only goes against the approach of the rationalist Rishonim; it goes against the worldview of the Torah and of Chazal. The mitzvah of maakeh, the mitzvot of war, are about the inherent reality of physics. Contrary to popular belief, when the Torah condemns those who say Kochi v'otzem yadi, that it is "my strength and power that accomplished things," it does not mean that it is instead Hashem's power; rather, as the pesukim continue to make clear, a person should realize that Hashem is the ultimate source of a person's (very real) power. And the Sages - in this very week's Daf Yomi! - responded to problems of crowding in the Beis HaMikdash with practical adjustments, and did not even mention any kind of "personal spiritual improvement" required.

The anti-rationalist approach was lampooned in a fake pashkevil that was circulated in response to the ban on my books. "Chukei HaTeva Hem Chukos HaGoyim! - The Laws of Nature are the Laws of Goyim! And one should not take them into account at all!" It's a biting satire that is tragically on the mark. Once you dismiss the reality of the laws of science, the obvious next stage is that people will not take them seriously.

The ramifications of the anti-rationalist approach are far-ranging. It results in, for example, various charedi rabbis and public figures claiming that the IDF isn't really doing anything. It results in the widespread charedi perspective, as taught in my own neighborhood by Rav Steinman, that education and effort have nothing to do with parnasah (and the fact that people who go to college and to work tend to earn more money than people in kollel is not even addressed). It results in charedi leaders declaring that one should not even discuss how the charedi community should deal with economic realities, since the charedi community runs according to entirely supernatural principles. And it results in Aryeh Deri declaring that visitors to Meron need not be limited by the Misrad HaBriyut's concerns regarding Covid, and not because Covid has died down, but rather because Misrad HaBriyut doesn't appreciate how Rav Shimon Bar Yochai's merit determines what happens. Which is also echoed in an article in HaModia (displayed below) from a few years ago, about how Meron is, from the perspective of physics, a disaster waiting to happen, but the workings of Hashem and the merit of Rabbi Shimon prevents that from occurring.

The charedi community does not only forbid the study of science in their educational institutions. They do not only teach a hostile approach to "atheist scientists." They reject the fundamental reality of physics. All this is obviously and inextricably linked to their prioritizing charedi control of Meron over nationalization of the site and subjecting it to standard engineering regulations (which would never permit such a large gathering in such an unsuitable site).

Mishpacha magazine says that Meron is really about personal spiritual growth. This spiritual growth is to be found in such things as the Torah study and modesty called for by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, or overcoming the sinas chinam which Jonathan Rosenblum describes as being the culprit for Meron identified by all the Gedolim. Mishpacha describes the science of the Meron tragedy as a smokescreen, as only perhaps of importance, and only then as a hishtadlus of no real significance. This creates a widespread attitude, seen in a letter to HaModia about security precautions, that because hishtadlus has no real significance it therefore does not need to be taken all that seriously. Ironically, if you want to know the real reasons why the Meron tragedy happened, it's partly because of a mindset like this.

 

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Horses of Chelm

Once upon a time, there was a town called Chelm. It was a small town, where nothing much happened, and it ran happily under the leadership of its wise men.

As time went on, the town grew, and grew, and spread out. It began to take a long time to get from one side to the other, even riding on a pony. Fortunately, however, some fast and powerful horses became available. Everyone bought them, and was thrilled to be able to gallop to their destination, with tremendous horsepower.

A maskil from another city once came to visit. He was appalled to see hundreds of people galloping around at great speed in all directions, among pedestrians, even children. Some of the horses were even pulling rickety wagons, packed with passengers, along treacherous hillside curves at tremendous speed.

"Are you crazy?" he said. "This is so dangerous! It's a miracle that you haven't had lots of casualties! First, you have to separate the streets into areas for horses, and sidewalks for pedestrians. Then, the people who ride the horses should wear helmets, for their own protection. There should also be speed limits. At busy junctions, someone should direct traffic! And most importantly, you have to stop the situation of large numbers of passengers being rushed around hillside curves at breakneck speeds!"

The Wise Men of Chelm were dismissive, even hostile, to the maskil. "You don't know what you're talking about," they said. "We are the Wise Men; what do city-bred maskilim know? And do you know how much bittul Torah it will cause if you try to restrain traffic? Finally, the proof that your concerns are completely misplaced is that nobody has ever yet been hurt! We've been running things this way for years without problems; that shows that we know what we are doing."

Dismayed, the maskil tried to do what he could. He stood at the busiest street every day, and tried to direct the horses away from the people. 

Eventually, the inevitable happened. A horse trampled over some children. The maskil rushed over to the severely injured children, and frantically waved his arms and yelled to prevent any other horses from stepping on the prone bodies. The horses, scared by the yelling man, reared away, and one of them collided with another person and killed him.

The maskil was hauled before the Wise Men. "It is your fault that a man was killed!" they thundered. "Everything was fine until you got here! Couldn't you even do your job properly?!"

"But... but..." he stammered... "It was an impossible situation! It was obviously going to result in tragedy!"

"How dare you criticize us, especially at a time like this, when an innocent man has lost his life!" the Wise Men thundered. "Have you no heart? And have you no respect?"

"But... but... what about the injured children?" asked the maskil

"We do not know why the Lord does these things," said the Wise Men. "The only thing to be done is to encourage our children to learn more Torah, and our women to be more modest."

And they banished the maskil from the village, and continued exactly as before.

A week later, a wagon careened off the hillside path, killing all twenty children on board. But the Wise Men decided that it was an incomprehensible Act of God, and called for everyone to stop speaking lashon hara.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Writing Was On The Wall

Some shockingly incriminating historical pieces of evidence have come to light regarding the cause of the Meron tragedy. (And to those who say that we shouldn't be pointing fingers or looking for someone to blame, I say: It is a terrible evasion of responsibility to avoid this opportunity to prevent this or similar things from happening in the future.)

Whether or not the police mistakenly closed off a particular walkway at Meron, it is abundantly, overwhelmingly clear that the entire setup was dangerous, and a mass tragedy could have happened anywhere, at any time. Even just within the Toldot Aharon area of the site, the official engineer’s report on the site had deemed it suitable for a maximum of 3,000 people, whereas around 20,000 people were estimated to have been there immediately prior to the disaster that occurred - almost seven times the permitted number. And so any discussion about the police closing off a particular path is not only irrelevant, it is a wrong-headed attempt to avoid the real issues. The entire Meron site was a disaster waiting to happen. People from charedi journalists to the State Comptroller's office had been warning about this for years.

So how did it happen that such a terribly dangerous situation was perpetuated for so long?

Some people - especially in the chareidi world - are blaming the police, or a national Israeli negligent attitude of "yihiye beseder."

But this is simply false. After all, there are plenty of other types of mass gatherings where there are very serious and careful protocols in place, and tragedies are therefore very unlikely to happen. If you tried to arrange an annual event for tens or hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis in some other small and totally unsuitable place, you'd just never get close to receiving police authorization. If you tried to put 20,000 people in a place that an engineer had deemed suitable for 3000 people, you just wouldn't be able to do it.

Today, there are voices in the charedi world crying out for the government to assert control over Meron. You can read an especially powerful article (in Hebrew) at this link. So why has this not happened, all these years, even though there were clear and present dangers?

There is one reason, and one reason only, why the safety standards and licensing requirements that are in place everywhere else in the country were not applied to Meron. There is one reason, and one reason only, why the government and the authorities were not able, and/or did not sufficiently desire, to assert proper control. 

That reason is charedi opposition.

Back in 2008, the State Comptroller's office was already warning about the severe dangers of Meron. In both 2011 and 2013 there were attempts to remove Meron from the combination of religious authorities who were clearly not running it with sufficient professionalism, and assert government control.

The charedim who were running Meron went berserk. The Edah Charedis even threatened demonstrations around the world against the Israeli government. They fought it and fought it and in the end the Supreme Court had to intervene, and ruled that there should be some sort of compromise and sharing of authority over the site. Such a compromise was never worked out, and the control of Meron was left in disarray, with the lethal consequences that we saw last week.

The charedi battle against government control of Meron was not only fought in political meetings and the courts by charedi politicians and askanim. It was also fought by the rabbinic leaders of charedi society, as publicized in various pashkevilim posted on the walls around Israel. Several of these have come to light over the last few days, from the Badatz and from Brisk. But here is one of particular significance:

The signatories are the biggest names in the charedi rabbinic world. Rav Elyashiv. Rav Wosner. Rav Steinman. Rav Michel Lefkowitz. Rav Scheinberg. Rav Karelitz. Rav Shmuel Auerbach. Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Yitzchak Scheiner. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. Rav Yaakov Hillel. Even HaRasha HaKadosh Eliezer Berland, serial sexual and financial predator, who was still part of the pantheon.

No doubt they were worried about Meron being turned into a tourist attraction, like the Western Wall, which would somehow desecrate the sanctity of the site. (And possibly they were encouraged to worry this way by various askanim, who had their own financial interests in benefiting from Meron.) As they wrote, Who can say what will happen if it is handed over to the government? And they therefore declared that it should be run "according to Daas Torah," as per the situation that we had last week, with no proper professional control of the site. After all, as we see again and again, that's how the charedi world does things. They don't need centralized government, and they don't need to run their society according to what engineers or epidemiologists or economists say.

This terrible tragedy, the worst civilian disaster in the history of the State of Israel, was not only predicted; the cause that would make it happen was clear. It was proudly and defiantly posted on the streets of Jerusalem, for all to see. The writing was, quite literally, on the wall.

 

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Monday, May 3, 2021

The Truth Becomes Clear - But Who Will Listen?

As more evidence emerges about what has been happening for the last twenty years, the cause of the Meron tragedy has become abundantly clear.

There is an interview with the former head of the regional council where Mount Meron is located who reveals that for years he tried to eliminate the dangers at the location, but religious groups use government connections and corruption to have the place "in a chokehold." There is a video from the day before the event, in which the charedi head of the local religious council gushes with praise for Aryeh Deri having bulldozed over all the objections from the Health Ministry. Deri himself boasted about how the secular authorities don't appreciate the importance of the event and about how the merit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai provides protection. 

In another interview, a former senior police official points out that “If a safety engineer from the police, in their last inspection of the site before the commemoration, would have tried to shutter the Toldot Aharon courtyard [where the disaster occurred] — do you believe that decision would have been enforced? …Not even the chief of police can do that. If someone tries, that’s their last job in the police.” Due to political pressure, the event is, preposterously, legally classified as a "spontaneous religious event," thereby also preposterously entitled to exemption from ordinary safety protocols.

Many are also recognizing the point that I made in the previous post; that the Meron tragedy was but one manifestation of a larger problem which threatens disaster on a national scale. Namely, it is how the charedi community's growing numbers cause all kinds of problems when they refuse to operate according to reality-based values and professional expertise. This is compounded by how their growing numbers also give them the political power to continue in this path, despite its dangers not only to charedim but to the entire country.

A must-read article in The Jerusalem Post connects the dots with the charedi response to Covid, in which the charedi leadership refused to act with responsibility, and Bibi made the entire country pay the price. "If you can put the whole country into lockdown just so the haredim won’t be in a lockdown by themselves, then Meron is simply the extension of such an attitude." And another even more important article connects the dots between Meron and the charedi community's refusal to give their ever-growing population a secular education. "The Bank of Israel and Finance Ministry professionals have only just started putting these predictions down on paper because they have been so intimidated by the politicians. But even as reports surface, Israel’s leaders continue to turn a blind eye... [Netanyahu] is willing to mortgage Israel’s future for short-term political convenience."

Between Covid and Meron, Hashem Himself could not have engineered a more blatant demonstration of the fundamental problems and dangers of the charedi community. 

But never underestimate people's ability for cognitive dissonance. Some charedim are trying pin Meron on a police conspiracy to kill charedim, while many others are talking in general fluffy terms about Acts of God (and ignoring how this was instead an Act of Man). Some people in the charedi community are indeed accepting the need for respecting state control, but few are they who are ready to accept the larger message.

The crucial message to learn from all the terrible unnecessary deaths from Covid, and all the terrible unnecessary deaths at Meron, is this: the charedi community needs to make sure that its growing numbers not only do not present a problem of crowding at mass events, but also do not threaten national security and the economy. 

It is indeed challenging for someone to accept that their entire religious sub-community has an utterly wrong-headed and dangerous approach to religion and reality. Few are they in the chareidi world who will take the step that Jonathan Rosenblum did, acknowledging that the entire country desperately needs charedim to go against the Gedolim and get academic education and professional employment. But it's not only charedim who need to learn to take responsibility; the rest of us also need to recognize the need to do something about this national disaster-in-the-making.

The charedi journalist who warned about the dangers of Meron several years ago is beating himself up for not having done more to alert people. How many of us, who are aware of the problems and dangers caused by the charedi disregard for education and national responsibilities, are eventually going to be full of regret that we didn't try to do something about it? 

You can start by sharing this post.

 

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Shaken By The Lulav

There are many aspects of Judaism which make people feel uncomfortable. The mitzvah of arba minim sometimes falls into that category. Shak...