The Corona-Kollel Connection
As we have seen, the charedi community unfortunately was initially slack in taking heed of warnings about coronavirus. Rav Chaim Kanievsky and others made tragically mistaken claims of "Torah will protect us." But once reality hit their communities, and hundreds of fine frum Jews in Israel, the UK and the US started to fall very sick and die, they started to take things much more seriously.
Notably, Rav Gershon Edelstein stated that even though the government now permits outside minyanim (under various restrictions), people should not attend them unless they can be certain that the restrictions will be adhered to. He strongly stressed the need to listen to what doctors are saying. Rav Yitzchak Berkovits sent out a letter in which he stated that nobody has the right to claim a reliance on bitachon at the expense of others. The charedi rabbi with whom I had a lengthy argument agreed that once the doctors have made things clear, "One may not rely on miracles." His point was not that it would take a miracle in order to survive this period (thankfully things are not as bad as that), but that once the medical establishment has described the reality, one must respect that, and not presume to rely upon unnatural assistance. And even Rav Chaim Kanievsky has changed from using "Torah protects" as an operational factor to merely paying lip service to it.
The crucial question is: Will the larger lesson be learned?
Meaning: Will the charedi community learn that in general, one must respect the laws of reality, and certainly not rely upon miracles?
Here is a deeply disturbing letter that was forwarded to me a few months ago. It was sent out by an alumnus of a certain yeshivah to other alumni. (I have edited it for clarity and to obscure the identity of the writer). In the first part of the letter, the writer explains the situation in which he finds himself:
We are undeserving of the great chessed that Hashem has done for us to stand here today, being presented with the mitzvah off marrying our daughter to a Ben Torah. Our Gedolim today instruct yungerleit that obligating yourself in the financial commitment necessary to enable the couple to purchase an apartment is what needs to be done. "ועשית ככל אשר יורוך And you shall do according to whatever they instruct." I am not any smarter than anyone else and I too don’t understand the Israel shidduch market obligating parents to purchase apartments for their children.
I have to say that, given the circumstances, I understand the Israel shidduch market completely. Charedi kollel couples in Israel have no prospects to ever be able to earn enough money to buy their own home. The only way for them to ever own their own home is to make the marriage conditional on the parents providing it.
Okay, so the Gedolim say that you have to provide the funds to purchase an apartment for the young couple. What do they say about where these funds will come from? The letter continues (and I have highlight part of it in bold):
The parents need to commit to make a chassunah and purchase an apartment for their children as their hishtadlus to get them married. Rav Chaim Kanievsky instructs parents to commit and the rest will be maaseh nissim, a miraculous act. Rav Gershon Edelstein instructs parents to do the same. He tells them to commit to give up to 700,000 shekel for their daughter. I am good friends with one of the grandsons of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, who told me that his grandfather advised the same.
That's the instruction?! That's how you avoid poverty and make a marriage commitment to another party? Rely on a miracle?!
Let's leave aside the fact that this runs exactly contrary to Chazal, who said that in a situation of clear risks, one may not rely on miracles. After all, the Gedolim are in any case going against numerous other statements of Chazal, regarding the importance of work, and of raising one's children to be able to provide for themselves. Let's just talk about basic common sense. How on earth can you tell people to commit to giving three-quarters of a million shekels and to trust that these funds will miraculously appear?
Since you can't rely on miracles in the real world, people are forced to reaching out to everyone they know, to beg for money and to ask them to beg others for money. The letter continues:
ברוב בושה וכלימה I approach you all my dear friends once again, to ask for your help to assist us in getting through and completing this מצוה של הכנסת חתן וכלה. The biggest help would be to ask you all to daven for Hashem to have רחמי שמים to send us the funds needed to fulfill our financial obligation. I would be very appreciative to anyone who could say תהילים קפיטל כג for us to come up with the outstanding 483,000 shekel. If you could reach out to others and ask them to direct some of their מעות מעשר in our direction that would enable us to expand our close knit circle and be מזכה them with this מצוה as well. Finally, if it weren’t too much of a חוצפה ועזות if anyone has some extra מעשר כספים that can be directed to help us meet our financial obligation for this couple, we would be forever grateful to you for that.
It's just tragic. These people are in a hopeless situation. They followed the Gedolim to raise a family on a kollel check, they followed the Gedolim to raise their children without the skills or desire to earn a living, and now they are following the Gedolim to make a massive financial commitment that they haven't got a hope of being able to fulfill.
And this isn't even starting with the question of how, if this couple have to beg others to beg others to help them, will their children manage when it's time to marry off their own children? It's a problem that gets exponentially worse. At least hopefully the word "exponentially" is now a word that many more people understand.
Some dear friends of mine asked me why, over the last few weeks, I was criticizing certain Gedolim for their negligent approach to coronavirus. They said that this is not the time for it - this is a time for magnanimity and achdus.
But the point is that coronavirus presents the opportunity to get the charedi community to wake up. Just as you have to respect reality with regard to coronavirus, you equally have to respect reality with regard to working for a living. And you can't abscond your responsibilities by saying "But the Gedolim told me otherwise!" When it comes down to it, the Gedolim are not able to save you from coronavirus and likewise they won't be able to save you from crushing debt and poverty.
For all our sakes, let's hope that coronavirus leads people to wake up. You have to work with reality. And reality requires hishtadlus.
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