They must have stopped teaching it

A few weeks back, the coronavirus czar proposed a scheme of traffic light coding (green, amber, red) and localized lockdowns for those areas that went red. Most (all?) of the areas that either were or became red fell into two categories: Arab majority areas or Haredi majority areas. Unsurprisingly, there was a substantial pushback from both communities. To all intents and purposes, that scheme died a death, to coin a phrase. And, since that scheme wasn’t implemented, everyone – well, everyone who respects the rule of law – ended up in this general lockdown, the country’s second.

Over Yom Kippur, several – not all – Haredi communities continued to pack themselves into shul for Yom Kippur. Over the forthcoming Sukkot festival, several – not all – Haredi communities intend to pack themselves into their own large communal succah to celebrate the festival.

Now, the coronavirus situation is even worse. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Those disobedient Haredi communities are well aware of the virus. They are well aware of the risks. They see their tradition as being more important than any reason advanced as to why they should refrain from behaving as they always have.

So, their tradition is more important than taking steps to decrease the risk of serious ill health, injury, or death to their fellow man.

So, their tradition is more important than doing the morally right thing.

So, have they stopped teaching chillul hashem?

A Very Different Yom Kippur

The core idea behind Yom Kippur is that, in the orthodox Jewish tradition, we are to fast, pray, and repent for our sins. My personal experience of Yom Kippur since making aliyah, has been as part of the shul congregation, where I have had some truly spiritual experiences courtesy of some inspirational davening and a real feeling of community spirit. Not this year.

First, the shul is closed. Second, while there is an outdoor minyan within a stone’s throw of our building, outside congregations are supposedly limited to 20 people who should all be socially distancing. The acoustical challenge is substantial. The communal spirit will be absent. It simply won’t be the same.

(That having been said, I had a different sense of belonging when I was at the minyan on Friday night. There was something noteworthy, memorable, and good about being a part of 60+ people – in three ‘capsules’ of 20, more or less – standing outside in the playground, davening together as best they could.)

In addition, the lack of air conditioning – and the expected unusually high temperature tomorrow – make for another challenge or two. In this regard, I was impressed by our rabbi’s clear announcement that it was more important to fast than to pray with a minyan, and if you thought you wouldn’t be able to cope with the heat, you should stay at home and do your fasting, praying, contemplation, and repenting at home. That option makes sense to me.

Whatever you do for Yom Kippur, may you be blessed with a good sweet year.

Working does not contradict Torah

I wasn’t online much during the Pesach week, so I am only now catching up on the Globes piece published on 27th April 2016 about ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav.

ZAKA is a haredi organization that “rescues, identifies, and traces Jewish disaster victims in Israel and all over the world.” Zahav is a former anti-Zionist militant, which adds somewhat to the message conveyed in the interview, and to the sense of selflessness and of pure charity given by the man and his helpers.

Zahav was asked about the recent incident of an 81 year-old female passenger on a plane, asked to switch seats because a haredi man refused to sit next to her. Here’s his very quotable response:

“Things are so crazy here that everyone thinks how to be more strictly observant, how to show that he’s stricter… I don’t believe in all this nonsense. I’m rational. I don’t believe cult-like religious leaders and other foolishness. They taught us respect that the worst thing you can do is humiliate someone in public. It’s better to be thrown into the furnace than to humiliate your fellow man. There are stories about Rabbi Auerbach, one of the greatest religious authorities, when he would travel on a bus and a woman sat next to him. He didn’t get up. He said that respecting a person, respecting your fellow human being, took precedence over everything. God will forgo the respect due him if the purpose is to honor your fellow human being. To injure a woman, and for what? That’s not cleanliness, holiness, duty, or a commandment. It’s lack of respect for your fellow human being. Yes, there’s a non-ending argument among haredi Jews. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was asked once if it was permitted to extend a hand back to a woman who puts her hand out to you. He ruled that it was permissible. That’s the way of Judaism. Respect takes precedence over Torah; that’s no slogan or cliche.”

I certainly learned that respect was more important than personal pride. And his comments ring all too true with me. Unfortunately, there are too many religious extremists who seem to have learned differently. Of course they are wrong, but…

As for the whole working or studying situation, Zahav says this:

“There’s something strange here that happens only in Israel. People work in all Jewish communities. The most extreme Jews in the US, the Satmar Hasidic Jews, work. All of them. The lay leader of the community, the most highly respected man, who sits next to the Satmar rabbinical leader on Sabbath eve, wears blue overalls and works in a printing firm during the week, and then wears all the Hasidic trimmings on the Sabbath. Only here in Israel do haredim not work. Why? They say that after the Holocaust, after the world of Torah was destroyed, the rabbis were unwilling to listen to anything before the world of Torah was rebuilt. Even if that were true then, however, it looks to me like an excuse later. In any case, the state of Israel owes a great debt to my dear friend, (former Minister of Finance and MK) Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid). He broke the direct connection between the yeshiva and the labor market. Before, anyone who left the yeshiva was automatically drafted into the army, but not now. The haredim have realized this, and one day, they will praise him. The result is that more and more haredi men are going to work. I don’t understand how it can be otherwise.”

Quite an eye opener. You will see that he, at least, recognizes the need for work, and the benefit of Lapid‘s policies which, nevertheless, were so denounced and hated by the haredi establishment.

In summary, Zahav is a real mensch, doing unbelievable work of which I suspect the Globes piece (which you can read here) only gives a tiny hint. How he went from anti-Zionist to national hero is especially poignant.

We are fortunate there are people like him in Israel.

Yes, you should go to Limmud

A ton of common sense from Dov Lipman which I read in the Jerusalem Post Friday edition:

So let me get this straight.

Jonathan Rosenblum is against Orthodox rabbis attending Limmud in England, because the conference provides equal standing to all denominations of Judaism and includes lectures on Jewish culture, humor and even anti-Israel presenters.

Mr. Rosenblum: This is not 19th-century Germany, in which religious Jews founded new streams of Judaism as a way out of a religious lifestyle. It is 2013, and it is a shame that you and others who share your perspective don’t realize that millions of Jews in other streams are looking for a way in.

And, thank God, newly appointed Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and other Orthodox rabbis (myself included) will appear at the Limmud Conference and any other place where people want to hear words of Torah.

Way to go, Dov!

I’ve heard this next extract before, but it’s worth repeating:

A story regarding the well-known Orthodox rabbi Aryeh Levin demonstrates the approach which Jews should have towards one another.

Levin was walking in his hometown, Jerusalem, when he noticed a familiar young soldier who was home on break from his military service.

“Hello,” said Levin, who was already an older man. “Please come to my home and share some tea with me. I would like to hear about what you are doing.”

The young soldier seemed uncomfortable and replied, “I don’t think it’s right for me to come visit you. I don’t even wear a kippa anymore.”

Rabbi Levin, wearing his black hat and long black coat, took the soldier’s hand into his own and with a smile on his face, he said: “Don’t you see? I’m very short. I cannot look above your head to see whether you are wearing a kippa or not.

However, I can see your heart and it is big and kind, and that’s what counts.”

Levin then paused and added, “You are also a soldier placing your life at risk for all of us in Israel.

Please drink tea with me – your ‘kippa’ is probably bigger than mine.”

There’s a not so subtle message there, for those who put barriers in the way of immigrant soldiers who want to convert.

Read the whole thing here, and join me in being grateful for the existence of people like Dov Lipman. Thank God.

Where is the shame?

From a Jerusalem Post report (about an attack in Mea Shearim by “Haredim” on a Haredi soldier) I note the following:

In a Knesset committee hearing last week, Brigadier-General Gadi Agmon from the IDF Manpower Directorate noted that the army has received 80 complaints of physical violence and verbal abuse, in which haredi soldiers have reported that tires of their vehicles have been slashed, graffiti has been sprayed at their homes, they have been spat on and had stones thrown at them.

If these attacks are by ‘orthodox Jews’, the attackers have denied their heritage; this is not the behavior of true orthodox Jews. Instead, this behavior is cowardly, nasty, and unjustifiable. It’s not enough for those Haredi rabbis who are part of the army programme to denounce this type of stuff. And if the sages in Mea Shearim and other places do not condemn the behavior, they must share in the guilt.

This is not Judaism. This is the behavior of the cult and the mob. The rabbinic leadership that fails to tackle this head on should be hanging their collective heads in shame.

[You can see the report here.]

Living Judaism

There are certain ultra religious Jews who want to have as little to do with what you and I would call the real world. One of the reasons given for this stance is that they do not wish to be misled from the true path of Judaism, and to lose their Yiddishkeit. They certainly do not want their kids to ‘fall by the wayside.’ On a certain level, I can undertand this. I might not agree with it, but I can understand it. For example, for an ultra orthodox boy to go into the IDF, he is sure to face many challenges to his beliefs, lifestyle, and practices. So, some say, better not to serve, for it is more important to study Torah.

I won’t try and give the argument the full attention it deserves, but the article Haredim – American Style in today’s Jerusalem Post, is one way of showing that the hardline rejection by many parts of Israeli haredim, is long-standing nonsense. To put it another way, it’s garbage. (I’m struggling to stay restrained, here.) Judaism has a long, long list of followers who were as much a part of wider society, as they were orthodox, Torah observant Jews. And that is how Judaism is meant to be: a living religion.

From the article:

“It all starts from the top. The Torah giants in America attended public school and are living proof of the reality that one can have a secular education, and even function in the secular world, and still reach the highest levels of Torah scholarship and righteousness.”

I think that might be a wee bit of a stick pointed at the haredi leadership here. It’s long overdue. Well done, Dov Lipman.

A little respect

From the Jerusalem Post:

Peres cancels trip to London Olympics

President nixes trip because no hotels walking distance from Friday night opening ceremonies available

More detail:

The opening ceremony of the London Olympics will take place on a Friday evening. There are no hotels within walking distance of the stadium. Peres, who is a good walker, would not have mind walking the extra mile if there was a hotel at the end of it – but there isn’t, aside from which it would place a most unenviable burden on his security detail.

Rather than publicly desecrate the Sabbath, Peres chose to cancel his participation in the opening of the 2012 Olympics, though he would have dearly liked to cheer the Israeli team, as he did in Beijing.

Peres is not personally observant, but in his ministerial and presidential roles has always taken care to publicly observe the Sabbath and the dietary laws.

I never knew Peres was respectful like that. Well done him. It’s an example others could learn from. (I don’t even want to know where the team are staying…)

You can read the whole story here.