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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  1. Your analysis has some common elements with :
    "In this article, I wish to elaborate on the “economy of change” that operates within Judaism generally and within Charedi society specifically. There is no community, state, or nation which does not have such an “economy of change” – a way in which society manages the changes and upheavals of the age. This is still truer in our own hyper-dynamic era, which changes beyond recognition every two decades. Given such a reality, we can hardly stay put in an unchanging state; change will emerge from reality itself. The question is therefore not if we will change, but how."

  2. question: is being "osek b'tzarchei tzibur b'emuna" interpreted as helping out with communal needs through the power of faith? i thought it meant faithfully engaging in communal needs. faithful to the community, faithful to their needs, faithful to the truth, and of course faithful also to G-d. Is his version simply that the people who are involved with tzarchei tzibur need to have emunah? But ideally perhaps not ONLY emunah? If so, if this a credible read?

  3. R Natan - I have enjoyed your blog for years, so I hope the below won't offend.

    Taken as it is, this is a well written good quality article. But, as part of the bigger picture, don't you think you are becoming a bit obsessive on the topic? Is this now the 9th or 10th article on the aftermath of Meron, and it now seems this is more a forum for venting your frustrations than actually effecting improvement or change.

    1. How about 45 articles for 45 dead.

    2. Not really because the Meron disaster is the epitome of what happens when the irrational runs riot. It's the climax of what this blog has been saying for years and something well-worth noting. The Mishpacha's objective is the same as this blog's, except that Mishpacha presents a rational perspective with a lot of double-talk, pretending to kowtow to the powers that be. Its job is to undermine the chareidi world from within.

  4. For you teshuvah is irrelevant? It is relevant to all Torah Jews.

    1. Slifkins correct. Teshuva is not relevant to him.

      And the Rambam agrees too:

      רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ד
      ארבעה מהן עון גדול והעושה אחד מהן אין הקדוש ברוך הוא מספיק בידו לעשות תשובה לפי גודל חטאו. ואלו הן: (א) המחטיא את הרבים ובכלל עון זה המעכב את הרבים מלעשות מצוה, (ב) והמטה את חבירו מדרך טובה לרעה כגון מסית ומדיח וכו

    2. @Ruvi

      Lucky for you, the רמב’’ם doesn't include מוציא שמ רע.

    3. You'd have to be illiterate to think that's what Rabbi Slifkin wrote.

  5. Here's a question on the topic of denial of physical reality, and I'd really appreciate an honest and thought-out answer. RNS, it would seem that according to your worldview, that which is caused by man's negligence can not be chalked up to "the hand of G-d", and can not be left to G-d to fix; nor can the belief that G-d will take care of the resulting problems be deemed "faith". I disagree. But in your line of thinking, I would assume that the state of our planet and its billions of inhabitants are in, at the very least, a "safeik sakanah" due to climate change. As I assume you do not claim to have all the expertise and knowledge in the sciences involved (correct me if I'm wrong) to be able to refute and disbelieve the countless scientists who believe so, and as they mostly claim that the problem is largely man-made, it would seem to follow that the most pressing issue of our time for ANYONE- would be this one. If so, how can you possibly be so occupied with the issues with which you are constantly busy, i.e. community issues, chareidi ideology, etc.- when literally every last person's life is at stake? And even if you are skeptical of the issue, isn't it at least serious enough to spend time and energy into researching the topic? Or posting about it to raise awareness or bring clarity? What would the Rambam say in your view? If it behooves all the chareidim and chareidi leaders to address issues of human negligence, until the point that they must come under constant blame for neglecting to do so, then how exactly do you "pattur yourself up" from the presumed responsibility of every person to relentlessly combat the most prominent issue in the history of the world? And if you are indeed doing so, I and all of your readers (I presume) would be very interested to hear how.

    1. pretty easy answer here, K.
      it's simply not true that every last person's life is at stake.
      that may be true in several hundred years of continued climate change, but it is most certainly not true now.

    2. Yonah, that may be YOUR answer, but I specifically would like to see Rabbi Slifkin's. And your answer doesn't really cut it anyway, if you are functioning with a belief system identical to that of RNS. As long as you admit that it "may be true" in any number of years, there should be an overwhelming responsibility to try to prevent such a tragedy- unless you are saying that future generations are not our concern! And if RNS chooses not to respond, I would imagine that it is due to something that makes him uncomfortable- either the possibility that we are indeed responsible, which pretty much renders any other focus immature and small-minded if not evil- or the other possibility, the admission that we indeed leave some things up to G-d, even things that have roots in man's carelessness.

    3. your logic is off, and your question is weak. maybe try coming up with a shilah that has a purpose other than revealing RNS as a hypocrite and fraud and hashem will assist you in articulating it with logical coherence.

    4. Since he's "rational" I'd imagine he knows cliate change, even if anthropogenic, and even if accurate, doesn't have to lead to catastrophe if a fraction of the money they want to "spend" by destroying economies would be spent on helping those who would be affected adapt to whatever changes will occur. Or at the very least, he realizes that all the Jews in the world could run around like chickens saying the world is ending and it wouldn't do anything to prevent it given that most carbon emissions come from countries that have no interest in reducing them.

  6. "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."

    Amen to that. After the way that same sector treated you, I walked away, too. A pity that some talk a whole lot about mussar and self-improvement, etc., etc., but then reverse course when an outsider offers them mussar. If the messenger is deemed unkosher, they're not listening, no matter what their own texts and rabbis say.
    Not my community.

  7. Seems like Pot calling the kettle blackMay 15, 2021 at 11:21 PM

    Rabbi Slifkin, when are we going to see the cheshbon hanafesh for the Dati-Leumi community's contribution in provoking this latest round of riots and rocket attacks by Palestinians?
    Their provocative behavior has lead directly to the deaths of Israelis and you have nothing to say about it?
    In general, this community intentionally chooses to live in close proximity to hostile arab neighborhoods, putting themselves, their families, and the security forces needed to protect them directly in harm's way for ideological reasons--not much different than chareidim gathering in dangerous crowds for religious reasons--and you have nothing to say about it?

    1. When will see Jewish people happily parroting their enemies' claims?

    2. Seems like Pot calling the kettle blackMay 16, 2021 at 8:59 AM

      That's right Nochum, any criticism of Jews which is shared by enemies are automatically invalid. Nice to know you would never criticize chareidim for things that enemies criticize them for.

    3. Learn how to spell my name. It's right there.

    4. The biggest component of the "settler" population are Chareidim. The biggest "settlement" is Kiryat Sefer, and the second biggest is Beitar Ilit. Together alone they account for about 20% of all "settlers" and that doesn't include smaller Chareidi "settlements" like Emanuel, Kochav Yaakov and more. Don't comment about things you know nothing about!

    5. Seems like Pot calling the kettle blackMay 24, 2021 at 7:53 PM

      Please, don't be disingenuous. You know as well as I do that these "settlements" are not nearly as provocative as the settlements occupied by the DL community.
      Let's look at the facts:
      The chareidi "settlements" do not suffer from infiltrations by neighboring arab villages, do not routinely get shot, knifed or rammed at their intersections and they take a fraction of the security personnel per capita to keep them safe.
      So please don't insult my intelligence.

  8. This can't be stressed enough: All his talk about how "the charedi world" relates to "the government" is at best silly and a smokescreen, considering that the charedi world *is* the government. At the very least, all aspects of Meron as relates to the government were ultimately dictated by charedim.

  9. Rabbi Slifkin: the Charedi Roshei Yeshiva and Admorim have issued calls today to their students and Chasidim not to travel to the Old City, nor the Kotel for Shavuos prayers, due to the dangerous situation. This seems to be a rational concern for safety. The religious Zionist leaders have not issued amy similar call. I wonder where you stand on this issue. Your silence seems to indicate that you support the irrational messianic redemptive vision/fantasy of your adopted community.

    1. That's not the reason they gave. Not at all.

    2. Yes. That is precisely the reason given and widely publicized. Lying doesn't suit you well, Nachum.

    3. I'm not lying. "They" gave a reason, and it wasn't safety.

    4. Walter,
      Again, it's more complex than that. Consider that Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, whose anti-Zionist credentials were unimpeachable, insisted on entering the Old City through שער שכם during the Arab riots. Why? He held it was forbidden to abandon any part of ירושלים. Consider also the L. Rebbe's hawkish positions which were definitely not messianic.
      Remember that both the Kotel & the Old City are under strict security supervision at all times. And unlike Meron, or parts of Pisgat Ze'ev, the authorities are actually listened to (with the exception of the fanatics who refuse to walk through mehadrin metal detectors on שבת.) But you know better than the authorities- when they say "safe" you say "danger". (And vice-versa?)

  10. The word 'sakkana' is mentioned three times in a letter of six lines


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