Who Is Responsible For Bloodshed?
About ten years ago, some people in Jerusalem believed that their children were being molested by a missionary pedophilia ring masterminded by an elderly woman who was running it out of secret dungeons in her basement. One man, along with some associates, broke into this woman's home and beat her up, breaking her bones, but did not find any dungeons. When he was caught by police, he declared that he had been acting under instructions from Rav Moshe Shapira, a brilliant mystical scholar much revered in Anglo-charedi circles. (Full disclosure: He was also one of the primary forces behind the ban on my books.)
Rav Shapiro put out a letter strongly condemning the man's actions and asserting that the woman was innocent of any wrongdoing. He also pronounced the declaration mentioned in today's Torah reading about the procedure of eglah arufah, the unsolved murder, in which the elders declare, "Our hands did not spill this blood."
However, the man produced a secret video recording, since circulated by the news media. In this recording, Rav Moshe explicitly told him that the police will not stop this woman and that he should beat her up to the point of hospitalization or beyond. (The police subsequently arrested Rav Moshe for incitement to violence.)
Now, perhaps one can argue that if the woman was indeed masterminding a pedophilia ring that the police were not doing anything about, then vigilante action is indeed necessary (though personally I would think that one should exercise extreme humility and caution before drawing such conclusions). But whether or not that is the case, one thing is clear: Rav Moshe really did encourage the man to severely beat her, and thus whether the man's actions were right or wrong, Rav Moshe bore some responsibility for them. And to cite the verse of "Our hands did not spill this blood" was completely inverting the meaning of the eglah arufah procedure.
The mitzvah of eglah arufah is difficult to fully understand, and the commentaries give a variety of explanations. However, whatever the precise significance of the ritual and the meaning of the proclamation, it's clear that it's fundamentally about taking responsibility, not absolving oneself of it. When there is a murder, every attempt must be made to find the killer. If this fails, one doesn't simply throw up one's hands and move on - an entire procedure of atonement is required. As Rashi explains, the leaders are required to attest even that they didn't even cause people to be so hungry that they are driven to murder others for sustenance. Now, being responsible for poverty is hardly the same as being responsible for murder, and yet the Torah still considers them to be related. Rambam says that the leaders must likewise attest that they have taken sufficient measures to ensure public safety. We see how much the Torah demands responsibility from leaders.
I was reminded of all this over Shabbos, not just because of the parashah, but also because of a drasha I heard from our community rav. He pointed to this message of eglah arufah in the context of bemoaning last week's news about the Meron Commission of Inquiry.
After a year of interviews, the State Commission of Inquiry into the Meron tragedy sent warning letters to eighteen officials, including police chiefs, the minister of religious services at the time, and Bibi. The Commission noted that they are limiting their mandate to those who served in official roles at the time, even though there were many others without official roles who were involved in pressuring the officials to bypass normal safety protocols.
It's important to understand that a tragedy of that magnitude could not have happened without a very large number of people being complicit. As someone who runs a public institution, I am all too familiar with how many safety codes and regulations one has to painstakingly fulfill in order to receive a license to operate. And that's for a relatively small institution with a capacity of several hundred people - once you're talking about events with tens of thousands of people, the dangers are exponentially greater and the safety requirements vastly more serious. Meron could not have bypassed all those codes for years, especially after several reports from the State Comptroller's office warning of the dangers of the site, without numerous people "greasing the wheels."
So, there were numerous important people, leaders and safety officials and influencers, who were together responsible for the loss of 45 lives, the worst civil disaster in the history of the country. And how many of them have stepped up to take partial responsibility? Not a single one.
To that disgrace, one can add that the underlying cause for enabling such a dangerous event to take place - charedi separatism and disregard for civil law and the laws of science - is likewise not something for which any charedi leaders are admitting any error.
If a communal atonement by leaders is required for a single murder which cannot be solved and which is not actually their responsibility in any way, imagine what kind of atonement is required for the loss of 45 lives in which the cause of death is obvious and lies with the leaders themselves.
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