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The Unmitigated Chutzpah of the Daas Torah Defenders
It caused a public uproar and a political storm. It made all the newspapers in Israel, religious and secular. It even made it to the New York Times.
I'm referring to the backlash to coronavirus czar Roni Gamzu, who had publicly criticized Rav Chaim Kanievsky after the latter was reported as giving a blanket statement that yeshiva students should not be tested for coronavirus. The charedi MKs and press were outraged - how dare Gamzu criticize Rav Chaim's leadership?! A planned visit by Gamzu to Bnei Brak was cancelled by the Bnei Brak municipality.
In a previous post, I discussed the nonsense of claiming that Gamzu is under any obligation to respect such decisions by Rav Chaim. But meanwhile, Mishpachah magazine claimed to have done an investigation and discovered that Rav Chaim had actually said no such thing. Instead, he had given a much more limited statement, that yeshivah students who had already been in isolation for two weeks need not be tested again. Accordingly, Gamzu apologized.
Aha! Charedim and Charedi-admiring non-charedim alike were jubilant, and expressed their great disdain for Gamzu and the non-charedi press for having believed the false report. "How dared they be so negligent in not checking their facts? How could they criticize such an important religious leader based on false reports?"
You must be joking.
Let's get a few things straight. It was the CHAREDI PRESS who first reported that Rav Chaim had issued the blanket instruction and who continued to report it. The report originated with Kikar Shabbos, and was happily picked up by other charedi news outlets. See the front page of Rav Aharon Shechter's newspaper Lehovin shown here, which reports that Rav Chaim said that yeshivos should not have their students be tested for coronavirus and should not rush to quarantine them, and ON THE VERY SAME PAGE slams the "intolerable chutzpah" of Gamzu for criticizing this absolutely authoritative guidance! (On the next page, Lehovin insists that "Listening to the Sar HaTorah, or other authentic da’as Torah, will never bring negative ramifications to its adherents." Yeah, tell that to the people in Bnei Brak who died of coronavirus - or to the Jews who died in the Holocaust because their Gedolim told them to stay in Europe.)
Why on earth should Gamzu be expected to disbelieve a report about Rav Chaim that is being spread by Rav Chaim's very own dedicated followers, who insist that everyone must accept it?!
Furthermore, it's not as though there was any reason to doubt that it was true. After all, this is the same Rav Chaim who, at the beginning of the pandemic, urged that the Health Ministry be disregarded and the yeshivos not be closed, because "yeshivos protect from coronavirus"! In fact, compared to that terrible guidance (which is on video), his latest alleged guidance was much less serious!
In addition, it's not as though there's any practical way to find out what Rav Chaim really thinks about anything, short of meeting with him (which busy people should not have to do). With the utterly unprofessional and entirely broken system of leadership in the Charedi world, crucial decisions are made on the basis of "he said that he heard that Rav Chaim said a two-word response to a question about which the circumstances are not clear." There's no publicly available minutes of the meeting, no detailed written shailah and teshuvah. And they dare to criticize someone for getting it wrong?
For that matter, how is anyone so sure that the original report was indeed wrong? Maybe the Mishpacha magazine "revelation" was a cover-up?
Such a thing has happened before. When Elior Chen, the worst abuser in the history of Israel, was arrested, a letter was publicized from the Gedolim (including Rav Chaim Kanievsky) attesting to his innocence. Naturally, this resulted in a public uproar, especially from the families of the victims. Kikar Shabbos reached out to the families and associates of the Gedolim who had signed, and these people expressed surprise and denied that such a letter existed; when they were shown it, they said that it must be fraudulent. Aha, the Gedolim had been framed! Alas, no. A neighbor of mine who had seen the letter and was horrified, wrote to Rav Chaim and asked why he attested to the innocence of such a terrible person, who was subsequently sentenced to 24 years in prison. Rav Chaim did not deny having signed the letter; he responded to my friend that he signed it because "his rabbis" signed it.
So if people can mistakenly/ falsely deny that Rav Chaim had defended Elior Chen, they can equally be mistaken or misrepresenting things when they deny that Rav Chaim had told yeshivos not to have their students tested. Not to mention that the fact of Rav Chaim having defended Elior Chen, and having defended his defense on the grounds that he was just following others, demonstrates all too tragically clearly how worthless his guidance is.
The strange thing is, it's not as though I'm saying something that only a charedi-hating person would say. There's many, many people at all strata of charedi society who know all this perfectly well. They are entirely familiar with the fact that Rav Chaim is very sheltered, very old, very out of things, and completely manipulated by his horrible grandson Yanky and others who control him like a puppet. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of the movers-and-shakers in charedi society know this.
So why do many of them express outrage when people criticize rulings uttered in the name of Rav Chaim, when they themselves know that "the emperor has no clothes"? I'm not sure. Perhaps they are embarrassed when others call attention to it. Or perhaps they want to maintain the illusion of the wisdom and authority of Daas Torah for situations when they want to take advantage of it.
Whatever the explanation, the facts are clear. Rav Chaim Kanievsky is an incredible masmid - extraordinarily, single-mindedly dedicated to Torah. At the same time, his directives regarding people, events and public policy are worthless. They sometimes go against all reason or are entirely corrupted (as with Elior Chen). Don't be surprised, and certainly don't be outraged, when his directives are criticized - especially when it's by someone like Gamzu, whose job entails caring about the wellbeing of others, and who, unlike Rav Chaim, is actually held accountable for getting things wrong.
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