By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
We in the Torah community have had a series of tragedies of late that are truly heart-wrenching. Rachmana litzlan, 45 korbanos in Meron with many injured. Two korbanos in Stolin, with many injured. And while it is true that there has been a remarkable outpouring of nosei b’ol chaveiro, sympathy, and empathy, there is one that that we have not been doing.
We Need To Be Better Prepared
We have to follow the words of the Gemara in Tamid (32a), “Eizehu chacham? Ha’ro’eh es ha’nolad—Who is a wise person? One who anticipates what can come.”
We have Hatzalah. We have Zaka. We have almost every conceivable chesed organization—even bris gemachs and shalom zachor schnapps gemachs.
However, we need to take charge of our own safety as well. We need to hire crowd control experts for our levayos, for Meron, for our buildings, for our wedding halls.
The Midrash tells us in Eichah Rabba (2:13), “Im yomar lecha adam: chochmah ba’goyim, ta’amin—if a person says to you that the gentile secular world has wisdom, believe it.”
There are experts who know what types of tweaks are needed in order to save human life. Those educated in this area with engineering degrees can survey and inspect any venue or building and can determine its safety and structural integrity in order to save lives and to avoid tragedies.
The Chareidi world needs to engage these experts. We should hire them and bring them to our buildings and levayah venues, to our chasunah venues, to our shuls, and to wherever else we gather. We need to bring them to Meron for recommendations. It shouldn’t be the Israeli government or the police or the IDF; it should be us.
If we were to do this, it would be a source of enormous Kiddush Shem Shamayim because it shows the truth that the Torah lifestyle values life above all. We should be the ones to have these experts issue the report demonstrating how most crowding and stampeding disasters can be prevented by implementing simple crowd-management strategies.
We should be the ones showing the world that people should be assessing the nature of the spaces being used and their capacities. We should be the ones hiring the experts who tell us if the entrances and exits are adequate. We should be the ones implementing ticket collection—because tickets actually save lives. We and the experts we hire should be asking the question of how best should barriers be employed.
The chareidim are usually the ones to run to the very best doctors and treatments. Why are we not doing it here?
The structures of many of our shuls, other venues, and simcha halls are also somewhat questionable. How many times have we been at a chasunah where we have actually felt the floor go up and down? Didn’t this happen a few years ago in Yerushalayim? Why aren’t we the first ones to ensure that a chasunah hall is structurally sound?
We have to realize that staffing and training matter. Won’t people be more likely to listen to fellow frum people who trained for these things more so than those where there is an unfortunate mutual antagonism? Every Chassidus, every kehillah in Klal Yisrael, should have someone appointed to oversee it. Just like we have hechsherim, we should have this oversight.
There should also be communication between those who attend and the trained staff. There should be some sort of constant monitoring of the event and what is going on in the crowd. There should be a command center, an awareness of pressure points, the nature of the floor, and, if need be, special draining or rubber matting. There should be triple language instructions given out.
Some people may say that this is an overreaction. But is it? If it can save just one life, it is worth it. Look at all the pain, the devastation.
1] We should identify the experts, world-class professionals in the field.
2] We should get the funds together and hire the experts. It should be a mass group effort of Torah Yidden who are showing concern.
3] We should fly them out to Meron and to the levayah venues and shuls, and then eventually to the chasunah halls.
4] The report should be written up and gone over again and again—the same way we go over a chaburah or a sefer, or a business plan—looking at it from every angle.
5] We should present this plan to each of the venues in which there may be a danger.
6] We should also export the information we obtain to other countries and people so that we can be an ohr la’amim and show them that we, a Torah nation, believe that life is precious.
We need a program where we have the necessary reports and information, and each frum kehillah is on board. If we ignore it, R’l, it will happen again and again, challilah.
One of the top world experts in crowd control is someone named Dr. Keith Still. He does the crowd control at the Olympic events and at various large gatherings of Hindu and Muslim events. He does the Haj gathering in Mecca, making sure that it is safe. He has students all over the world, including in Eretz Yisrael.
We should hire him as a consultant for the Torah kehillos in Eretz Yisrael. If we, Klal Yisrael, join together in this effort, not only can we fly him in and pay for the necessary reports, but we can show that lives matter and that preventive efforts do make a difference. We can change the dynamic—issues of safety do matter. A group of individuals have reached out to Professor Still. He is willing to come to Eretz Yisrael and can help push these ideas.
Thankfully, this idea has been launched. Some wealthy individuals and concerned people throughout the world have come forward to assist in this effort. Let’s try to make it happen. Contact me at HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
Die And Don’t Learn?!
By Rabbi Natan Slifkin
It’s unbelievable. Instead of “live and learn,” people are dying—continually—and the lessons are not being learned.
Over the last year, chareidi communities suffered a wildly disproportionate rate of deaths from COVID due to their opposition to subjecting themselves to government-mandated health precautions. Just over a week ago, 45 people were killed in Meron due to chareIdi opposition to subjecting themselves to government control and professional standards. And now, two people were killed and hundreds injured when unsafe bleachers collapsed in a chassidic shul which was operating without licensing, against warnings from the fire service, and which had signs placed by the municipality forbidding people to enter. Incredibly, the bleachers were held up by a makeshift collection of beams tied together with wire—without any screws!
A number of people have sent me Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s article, decrying the chareIdi laxness with regard to safety. Yes, it’s good that he’s not doing the murderously negligent da’as Torah response of simply calling for strengthening Torah study and Ahavas Yisrael. But Rabbi Hoffman makes the same mistake as that which led to all these senseless deaths in the first place. He doesn’t grasp that “charedim taking charge of their own things” is exactly what causes these disasters in the first place! It’s not enough to respect professional expertise. You have to respect being a part of a system of civic law.
This is for two reasons. First of all, you’re not going to know exactly what kind of expertise you need. It’s not just crowd control. There are many, many different things that potentially have to be taken into consideration. When we applied for our operating license for the Biblical Museum of Natural History, there were endless discussions as to what exactly we do at the museum, and what kinds of consultants and expert opinions and authorizations were required. It’s all part of an immense system set up for public safety; it’s not something that some askan is going to be able to direct.
Second, there is the matter of enforcement. Once you leave it up to askanim or event operators to be in charge of safety, it’s a recipe for disaster. There is simply too much self-interest involved. If the private consultant states that there is simply no way that the event can take place in a safe way, are they going to listen to him and cancel the event, or will they shop around for someone else who will give a different opinion—perhaps in exchange for a gift on the side? After all, what are the odds of something going wrong?
The chareIdi community needs to understand that they need to respect civil law. They need to be part of the State. They need to mature and take responsibility, which includes recognizing their limitations and the need for state apparatus.
Right now, all Israel is in mourning over the deaths caused by Hamas. Yet, these are not even a tenth the number of deaths caused by chareidi separatism over the last year. And while it’s easy to get people to take action in the face of threats from Hamas and Iran, it’s considerably more difficult to take action about the long-term, gradually developing existential threat from an increasingly large sector of the country that does not care about national responsibilities vis-à-vis the economy, the army, and so on. It’s crucial to take the right lessons from the tragedies of the last year.
Rabbi Hoffman Responds
There is no question that the chareidi community should be as compliant as possible with civil and safety laws, and doing so will save lives. But let’s be real and ask one question to Rabbi Slifkin’s alternative suggestion. “Why has no one thought of this before?” The modern State of Israel has been around since 1948. Why has no one thought of this suggestion?
The answer is twofold. Number one, they probably won’t listen. And number two, a politically empowered group that votes always has its ways of circumventing things. One has to take realities into account.
The solution suggested here is that gvirim in the frum community be the ones who hire the experts that will create the reports. Dr. Still has proven himself to be able to work effectively with religious leaders in a wide range of venues.
The fact is that much of the support of the chareidi communities in Eretz Yisrael comes from the chareidi community in chutz la’aretz. If our gvirim and rabbanim stand behind this notion of safety being a priority, and the reports are commissioned by us in the chareidi world, there is a far greater chance of saving lives.
One example which is instructive is here in the United States. The Orthodox Union, working hand in hand with a leading expert in the prevention of animal cruelty, Dr. Temple Grandin, was able to successfully convince most of the kosher meat plants in the United States to install special ASPCA pens which greatly reduced tza’ar ba’alei chaim, a serious Torah value. People are unaware of what the Orthodox Union does to help preserve shechitah in the United States.
In regard to the idea presented above, Baruch Hashem, enough people have come forward to get the idea off the ground. If we really wish to save lives at our funerals, at large gatherings, at our wedding halls, then we should try to implement something along these lines. True, there will be hurdles, but let’s try to spend our time and effort trying to figure out how to make things work rather than merely being a naysayer or by suggesting something that is not so realistic.
The author can be reached at email@example.com.