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Surprising Voices of Heresy
When those who accuse others of heresy are themselves guilty of it
The strangest thing happened last week.
PM Bibi Netanyahu, while making efforts to help those who travel to Uman for Rosh HaShana, simultaneously warned against it, noting that “God has not always protected us, not on European soil and not on Ukrainian soil.” Which is, quite obviously, true. And thus, you would think, entirely uncontroversial.
The Shas party angrily responded that “God has always protected the people of Israel.” United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler blasted Netanyahu’s “ignorance” and claimed that it was the Zionists who were to blame for the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust.
(The falsehood here is particularly appalling. Eichler is a Belz Chassid, and the Belzer Rebbe escaped to Palestine from Europe in 1944 using immigration certificates obtained from the World Zionist Organization, after having assured his followers that they should stay in Europe and all would be well. His words are therefore not only wrong, but the ultimate motzi shem ra and chutzpa.)
Nor was the outrage limited to politicians. Arye Erlich, editor of Mishpacha magazine, referred to Bibi’s words as “egregious heresies” and added that “we should not respect Bibi when such sacrilege and such base and rude comments are made against God.” Personally, I can think of some very significant reasons not to respect Bibi, but stating a simple fact is not one of them!
The strangest part of all this is that what Bibi said is not only obviously true, but also very plainly stated in the Torah (see e.g. Vayikra 26:24). There are times that God abandons us to “happenstance” and there are times that God actively harms His people. In fact, Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman pointed out that on the very day that people denounced Bibi’s “heresy,” the morning selichot included the statement"מָאַסְתָּ וְזָנַחְתָּ וְנָטַשְׁתָּ דְּבֵקִים", “You have abhored, forsaken, and cast off those who cleave to You.” So, in accusing Bibi of heresy, these spokesmen for charedi society are actually themselves uttering heresy!
Now, some might try to be charitable and explain that those condemning Bibi surely know this, and what they must really mean is that one should not blame God for bad things that happen to us. But Bibi was not “blaming” God; he was merely pointing out that God does not always protect Jews, for whatever reason, and that Europe is a good example of that.
And this is particularly relevant to point out at a time when traveling to the Ukraine is risky, Uman does not even have enough bomb shelters for its own population, and many of those travelling would likely disregard the dangers by claiming divine protection. This is just as theologically and empirically problematic as when various Gedolim claimed that Torah protects against Covid and that protective measures need not be taken, or when Rav Zilberstein opposed training armed guards for shuls and claimed that sleeping children do not need protection from bombs because they have no chiyuv hishtadlus, or when Deri claimed that the merit of Rashbi would protect people at Meron and worked to enable as many people as possible to attend.
To quote my good friend Rabbi Scott Kahn:
When a secular prime minister who does not observe Shabbat or keep kosher supports following the Torah requirement of “You shall live by them” (Lev. 18:5) and repeats the theology of divine hiddenness that we publicly read two days ago, while those who claim to represent a religious worldview argue that words of Torah are absolute heresy… When religious journalists and politicians state that the book of Deuteronomy and history’s clear verdict are not authoritative, and instead advocate a shallow theology that violates Torah norms and thought and puts people’s lives in danger… We have begun to learn that merely claiming allegiance to the Torah has little or nothing to do with actually following God’s word. It has little or nothing to do with representing an authentically religious viewpoint. It has little or nothing to do with being a true servant of God.
With such shallow and problematic theology regarding Jewish safety, it’s no wonder that their approach to IDF service is so problematic.
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