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How to Avoid Teshuva for Negligent Homicide
It's Elul, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are approaching, it's the season of teshuvah. And Mishpacha magazine's special Rosh HaShanah edition has a feature cover story which seeks to whitewash negligent homicide.
"No Other Answer," which you can read online here, is a puff-piece for Toldos Aharon. It's about how the Rebbe of Toldos Aharon, Rav Dovid Kahn, responded to the Meron tragedy. He lives in a "tunnel of emunah, focused on deep, otherworldy levels and realms of the Oneness of Hashem and perfection of His every action." And his message about Meron is that "there is no place here for understanding... We can’t understand Hashem’s decrees, but our job isn’t to figure it out..."
No other answer? No understanding of what happened? Our job isn't to figure it out??
Our job is most certainly to figure it out, and fortunately the answer is blindingly obvious. Of course, we can't understand the ultimate mystery of why God lets bad things happen to good people, nor why providence selects some people and not others. But we certainly know why a lot of people died in Meron! It's not some kind of mystery; people warned for years that it was a disaster waiting to happen. As mankind has learned from numerous tragedies, you can't safely arrange an event for many thousands of people without complicated safety protocols, which is why many countries (including Israel) have very strict such protocols. But at Meron, a combination of askanim, rabbis, rebbes and charedi MKs made sure that all these safety protocols would either be politically overruled or ignored.
It's particularly obtuse and/or evil for Toldos Aharon to speak about it being an incomprehensible divine decree. After all, this particular tragedy happened in a passageway which Toldos Aharon built illegally. And the police have already questioned two "operations officers” for Toldos Aharon on suspicion of negligent homicide. It remains to be seen precisely how the blame will be shared, but it is absolutely clear that the blame is on people who bypassed the normal safety measures!
Imagine. A homeowner builds a balcony without a maakeh (protective fence). Then he crowds it with visitors, and one falls off and dies. And the homeowner says, "Oy, it's an incomprehensible act of God! We have to have faith! There is no other explanation!" Are we going to praise such a person as a magnificent baal emunah?!
Mishpacha knows better than this. As I noted previously, the publisher wrote an editorial a while back in which he acknowledged some of the primary factors for the Meron tragedy:
...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...
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.
So why does Mishpacha give Toldos Aharon a PR opportunity to do exactly that, and to whitewash the human responsibility? The reason is presumably that they are happy to publish an inspirational cover story for their Rosh HaShanah edition. Alas, doing so is sending exactly the wrong message about teshuvah. It's not about feeling inspired; it's about owning up to one's sins. And negligent homicide resulting in 45 deaths is a pretty serious one.
Over the last year, a disproportionate amount of charedim have died due to charedi separatism - believing that they do not need to conform to the laws of wider, secular society. This includes the deaths in Meron, Karlin-Stolin, and the disproportionate number of deaths in the charedi community from Covid. Mishpacha, and everyone else, needs to be making sure that the message is learned.
(Thanks to my friend Rabbi Scott Kahn of the Orthodox Conundrums group for pointing this out. If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.)