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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