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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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