Respect For Gedolim
I sent this in response to Mr. Jager’s most recent column (“Coronavirus and the Mitzvah Bucket List,” May 8). Thought you would want to see it in the interest of accurate and sensitive reporting.
The behavior of Haredi children (or anyone for that matter) accusing Israeli soldiers as being Nazis is horrible. This is certainly not representative of the entire Hareidi world. There is a story about Rabbi Shach, rosh yeshivah of Ponevez Yeshiva, who broke down and cried upon hearing of the death of an Israeli soldier in action. It is well-known that Rabbi Arye Levin, the famed “tzaddik of Yerushalayim,” had warm ties with IDF leaders and solders and the greatest esteem for them.
Regarding the statement that Rabbi Kanievsky “held secret mass prayers at his Jerusalem home” (against safety guidelines) is incorrect on two counts. He lives in Bnei Brak, and as anyone who has been in his home can attest to, his small house has no room for a “mass prayer” gathering.
I did not see it documented anywhere that Rabbi Kanievsky said the virus could have been prevented by more Torah study. I did see a letter suggesting that people be more vigilant in avoiding lashon ha’ra as a means of self-protection. The Torah itself says tzora’as (Biblical leprosy) comes as a result of speaking slander, so it stands to reason that avoiding slander could possibly serve as a means of protection.
Unfortunately, it is nothing new that people take statements and supposed actions of Torah leaders and twist them out of context to serve their purposes and in our internet world, and post them for all to see. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s rulings and statements long before internet, were also being incorrectly cited. Perhaps the sources for such statements were such websites.
Thank you for your note. Ron’s criticism of the Haredi community was too harsh but not necessarily unfair. The relationship between the organized Haredi community and the Israeli government has always featured a great deal of contentiousness. It was hoped that in this extreme medical emergency situation both here and in Israel the community as a whole would have listened to and cooperated as a group with government directives. Unfortunately too many did not and the cost in lives and suffering was tragically high.
Hopefully the lesson has been learned for the better of all involved.
Thank you for your prompt response.
I agree on that point regarding compliance with safety rules and the like. It irks me to no end when I see photos of tischen, well-attended simchas, etc. with no regard for social distancing, even in the last week.
My main point was the factual error of listing R’ Kanievsky as residing in Jerusalem and reporting his small home hosted a “mass tefillah gathering.” His home has been closed for kabbalas hakahal.
The many responses by readers in the States, Israel, and other locations have not been easy. The issues raised in the article are not intended to pile on the Haredi community or their religious leaders, but to raise the issue of those who did not adhere to the laws of the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic and historical correlations. It is called “dina d’malchutta dina,” the law of the land is the law. While preparing the article I purposely did not get into this issue but worked around it because of my understanding that I cannot make this direct point against a gadol HaTorah of our generation. Yet at the same time the issues must be addressed and I can only thank my editors for allowing the debate to ensue concerning the points raised in the article. Thank G-d I am blessed to be in the company of wise and brave colleagues. My article was posted in Arutz Sheva after a weeklong vetting of the article with senior religious and editorial review.
Below are quotes from local reports here in Israel that describe what transpired those eventful days in March 2020, concerning the decisions taken by Haredi leaders:
“Kanievsky has faced criticism over his handling of the crisis. He made headlines on March 12 when, despite appeals from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Israel Police, he insisted that yeshivas and schools remain open in defiance of government calls to close them, handing down a ruling stating that ‘canceling Torah study is more dangerous than the coronavirus.’” (“After apparent spat, top ultra-Orthodox rabbis announce yeshivas not reopening,” The Times of Israel, April 24, 2020)
“Footage of the barely audible 92-year-old rabbi giving his prognosis suggested that he did not completely understand the magnitude of his decision, with his grandson having to explain what the coronavirus was in the first place.
“But the decision was respected by his inner circle and was a key factor in keeping thousands of his followers in crowded synagogues and yeshiva study halls for two further weeks, allowing the virus to spread rapidly through the ultra-Orthodox community, particularly in Bnei Brak.” (“Top Haredi Rabbi Kanievsky orders yeshivas opened; his colleague blocks him,” The Times of Israel, April 22, 2020)
“By March 25, Israel’s rabbinate had ordered all synagogues closed, recommending that people pray outside in small, widely spaced groups. Days later, Kanievsky made an about-face, ruling — according to his inner circle — that Orthodox Jews must pray by themselves and that it was permissible to report synagogues or any other establishment violating government directives. Those breaking the rules had the status of a rodef, a Talmudic term for someone trying to kill another person.” (“Top Haredi rabbi Kanievsky orders yeshivas opened; his colleague blocks him,” The Times of Israel, April 22, 2020)
The following was published in The Jerusalem Post this week:
“The spokesman added that some of the ultra-Orthodox worshippers threw water bottles at the police, and additional video footage from the site [the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai] showed scuffles and physical confrontations between riot police and worshippers at the site, including calls of ‘Nazis’ towards the police personnel.”
Basher of Haredi Jewry
I read your publication with interest for many years now. This past Shabbos, among various pleasant and informative articles, I was pretty surprised to read Ron Jager’s piece. While it’s obvious from the 5TJT content and ads that this is not a Haredi publication (and that’s OK, there are many faces to American Orthodoxy and you reach out to the non-Orthodox Jews as well), it was nevertheless sad to see your paper give forum to a basher of Haredi Jewry and Haredi rabbis, among them Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, no less. Apparently, Ron Jager does not have a whole lot of yiras Shomayim to besmirch a whole community and its leadership in a publication that few haredim read (hence little defense would be expected). This is disappointing, and I’d have expected better of your editorial staff. Yes, I do understand that the publication’s owner and his family have Lubavitch Chassidic background, and that there are plenty of ideological differences between this significant movement of the Jewish People and the Litvish/yeshivish world. Yet, it’s also important to remember that in the eyes of non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews, Lubavitcher chassidim are often viewed pretty much as other sub-components of the haredi tzibur. I’d bet that your newspaper would never allow disrespect to fill up its pages when it comes to Chabad rebbes and the Lubavitch hashkafah. What did you try to accomplish, particularly during the days of sefirah, when we should be more loving and accepting of our fellow Jews and steer away from sinas chinam? To create a juicy polemic? Know that in non-Chabad Orthodox circles there are those who stand up and defend Lubavitchers from ideological attacks. However, after reading such an outrageous piece by Ron Jager, the question arises, is it worth it?
Years ago, I followed your other contributor by the name of Shmuel Katz. He also allowed himself to be disparaging of the haredi kehillah in Israel. After a storm of outrage by some readers, many — if not most — of whom were not even Haredi, he mostly changed his tune, and the bashing to a great degree stopped. Was this past example not sufficient?
After I received your note I re-read Ron’s article. I think Ron’s observations were harsh but not unfair. I discussed it with him yesterday and we both understand the nature of the objections and displeasure with addressing this subject.
Could it be that an issue like this should not have been addressed because it is uncomfortable for so many? By no means did I sense that this was a Litvish/yeshivish versus any other sect issue. The nature of modern Jewish life is that there is plenty of criticism to go around.
To that end just look at the debate here in the Five Towns on how and when outdoor minyanim can or should be allowed. There is no question that over the years the Haredi community in Israel has been consistently at odds with what they perceive as an unfriendly and dangerous secular Zionist government.
The problem here was when they insisted on ignoring warnings about the virus and how lives would be lost, many unfortunately became ill with too many losing their lives as a result. Tragically the same thing happened in parts of the tri-state area where an outrageously disproportionate number of Orthodox Jews were victims largely of not adhering to mitigation directives.
Finally, I don’t see any connection between my being brought up in Crown Heights and our editorial policies. Ron’s criticism was harsh, as I said, but I did not see it in any way as disrespectful.
Thank you for reading and writing to us. All the best. Stay safe.
Night Is Day and Day Is Night
This letter is being written in reference to your last issue and specifically to the article titled “Coronavirus and the Mitzvah Bucket List.” After speaking it over with my husband, we feel we would be remiss not to write in a strong objection and protest to this article. This is an article that you would find in a Haskalah newspaper in the 1800s. It is not only antisemitic and anti-frum but the greatest travesty is it is anti our holy rabbis. To not speak up and protest in the strongest sense possible would be a terrible aveirah. I also have to mention all the aveiros of motzei shem ra, lashon ha’ra, machati es Yisroel, and mevaza the kavod of talmidei chachamim. I am sure there are many more aveiros that I don’t know.
How your paper, claiming to be Orthodox, can submit this article and not be shaking with fear is incredulous. How can you print an article that mentions the name of the sa’ar haTorah and gadol b’dor in such a way and not be fearful, be quaking?
We know that if our gedolim say night is day and day is night we also say day is night and night is day.
Rav Matisyahu Salomon came to Monsey to speak after the whole meat situation a number of years ago. He said it is possible that the Anshei K’neses Hagedola could have said something not kosher was kosher, and the way not to let it metamtim our neshamos was to still believe and listen to the Anshei K’neses Hagedola.
I listened on Matzav to a shiur by Rabbi Oelbaum where he talks about a tzadik Rabbi Eliyahu HaCohen born in Izmir, Turkey (1640–1729) the mechaber of the sefer Shevet Mussar and how makpid he was on defending the kavod of talmidei chachamim. If readers are interested in the shiur, which is fascinating, go to matzav.com. It’s titled “Shevet Mussar Reveals: All ‘Niftarim B’mageifa’ go Straight to Gan Eden” by Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum.
How does our holy mesorah get transmitted from generation to generation, if not by our rabbis? Where would we be if we didn’t have rabbis to guide us? Where would we be without the gedolei hador? Who would we emulate, how would we know how to act if not seeing the great middos of our holy rabbanim and their hasmoda? We cannot fathom how great they are. We are supposed to roll around in the dust of their feet. I cannot even repeat what this article said, I can only write a protest to what it said — that is how terrible, terrible it was. The horrific part is that you allowed it to be printed.
It’s amazing that after all these years, we still have to fight evil and those who are anti Torah and mitzvos and just basically anti-Hashem. Have the evil not learned yet after every pogrom, inquisition, Holocaust, and mageifah how they don’t discriminate against any Jew and that our only “medicine” is Hashem, His Torah, and mitzvos? For us the ones who hold up the banner and keep the Torah and mitzvos how we have to fight and protest when people come up against it. We have to strengthen our learning Torah, supporting Torah, and our diligence in keeping the mitzvos and refining our middos. To try to emulate our holy rabbis and to actually listen to them. I had a teacher in elementary school and we were talking many years later and she said it succinctly ‘either you love Torah or you don’t.’ I don’t know if this mecha (protest) is sufficient. I hope in Shamayim they accept it as enough and there won’t be any hakpadah.
May we be zocheh that Hashem stops this mageifah and that Moshiach the final geulah and yeshuah comes speedily in our times.