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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