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The Strangest Book
An astonishing new book was just published. I've never seen anything like it. The book (originally in Hebrew, but I have the English edition) is an illustrated graphic novel for children, part of a series called Just Imagine! The other volumes in the series are about the chagim, but this volume is called Covid-19. The subtitle explains that that it is "An exciting, imaginary depiction of how the coronavirus pandemic might have been handled in Eretz Yisrael, if the government was run according to the eternal values of our Holy Torah." Sounds like a fascinating idea for a book, right?
The author is an unknown "M. Safra" - I'm guessing the presence of an initial rather than a first name indicates that the author is female. But the first page of the book presents a weighty stamp of approval from "The Committee For The Supervision of Reading Material," headed by Rav Yisroel Gans. And so it's worth taking seriously as a reflection of beliefs and norms in the charedi world.
The back cover gives an extensive description of the book:
Dear Parents and Children,
We’ve been dealing with coronavirus, which has affected not only the entire world, but also each and every one of us, for over a year. We Jews know that a pandemic doesn’t just happen one fine day… It happens because the One Above sent it, and He sent it to wake us up!
And so, of course, the first thing for us to do is to make a cheshbon hanefesh, to examine our deeds and try to do better. We also daven and plead before Hakadosh Baruch Hu that it should pass — because davening will help more than anything.
During these complicated times, we are dealing not only with the pandemic itself, but also with many questions: What is our hishtadlus? And what if some of the rules and regulations mean that we have to change our usual ways of serving Hashem?
When addressing these questions and others like it, there are many different opinions. People are divided about what is the right thing to do. But the truth is that for us it makes no difference: we have rabbanim whom we can ask, and we act according to what they say. If you have a question about how to act in any situation, you go to your father or your rav and there’s your answer.
Beyond that, it’s important to understand that even though there are different opinions about exactly what to do, everyone agrees that we have an obligation to protect our health. And no one disagrees that we have an obligation to protect the lives of the people around us.
What does this mean for us? One thing is clear: If we had the zechus to have a world run according to da’as Torah, there would be no disagreements. We all would behave the same way, truly united as one!
The aim of this book, which shows what Eretz Yisrael would look like if the government was solely run according to Torah, is to bridge the gaps that have formed between different communities and promote the message of achdus, of unity. At the end of the day, we have the Torah to guide us, and we all want to do the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. On that we all agree!
And so, we will continue to do our best to act in the way the rabbanim tell us and to do Hashem’s will. At the same time, we daven and hope for the day when everything will be crystal clear, and there will be no place for disagreements anymore…
The book's goals initially appear to seem noble, and some of them certainly are. In general, the book seeks to encourage social distancing and mask-wearing and so on. But the first alarm bell that something was very, very off here, is a paragraph in the middle of the description above. Did you notice it? Here it is again:
One thing is clear: If we had the zechus to have a world run according to da’as Torah, there would be no disagreements. We all would behave the same way, truly united as one!
This paragraph is simply bizarre. Had it been speaking of a hypothetical scenario in which the world is run according to the clear Will of God - such as through the restoration of prophecy - that would be one thing. But this is not a book about Mashiach arriving. It's a book about a hypothetical Israel in which everyone is charedi and follows the Gedolim. And why on earth would that mean no disagreements?!?!?!
After all, even today, when the charedim are a minority facing much opposition from the rest of the country, this doesn't force them to unite. The charedi Gedolim themselves disagree with each other about many things, because Torah itself does not generally present absolutely clear guidance on issues. And there is endless disagreement among charedim about whose Daas Torah to follow. (The fighting between Rav Shmuel Auerbach's camp and Rav Steinman's camp even led to violence, as did the fight in Ponovezh Yeshiva about who should be Rosh Yeshiva. Everyone involved was following Daas Torah.)
And when it comes to Covid, there is likewise enormous differences of opinion among "Daas Torah" as to what the correct response should be. There's Gedolim such as Rav Gershon Edelstein at one end of the spectrum, who largely believes in taking precautions, and then there's the Chassidic Rebbes, many of which do not believe in taking any precautions, and then there's the House of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, which seems to issue conflicting edicts depending on who's motivating Yanky at any given moment.
Even weirder is that the book acknowledges this reality. It speaks about how its goal is "bridging the gaps that have formed between communities" and how we "davven for the day when there will be no place for disagreements anymore." So why on earth does it present a fictitious scenario in which everyone follows Daas Torah, and pretend that it's that which would change everything and bring unity? How would that suddenly cause all the Gedolim to agree with each other? The whole premise of the book is bizarre.
Still, it's enlightening. It reveals a belief/ misdirection that problems are a result of everyone except the charedim. "If only everyone was charedi, then our problems would be solved!"
And this is just the back cover. When you get to the content of the book, things get much, much stranger and extremely disturbing. Stay tuned...
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