Giving Religion a Bad Name

I highly recommend reading these important and courageous words of Rabbi Menachem Bombach.

The incitement toward the Haredi community during the Coronavirus crisis has spiraled  out of all proportion. This is a large community of more than a million people and not all of them can be criticized because of the irresponsible and outrageous behavior of their extremist factions. Would those people who speak out so aggressively against the Haredi community dare to talk in such a way about any other minority group for ignoring the Ministry of Health’s instructions? I think not.

There is another important point made by Rabbi Bombach. He admits that there was an abuse of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky by some Haredi politicians who promoted “Daat Torah” in such a manipulative way, causing damage to the Torah and creating a great Chilul Hashem (giving religion a bad name). The chaos that is now taking place in the Haredi neighborhoods is partly due to the unfortunate statements that these politicians said in the name of Rabbi Kanievsky, who allegedly ordered not to close the shuls and yeshivas, without even understanding what he was being asked. I hope that this will disillusion many people from their blind obedience to “Daat Torah”, which sometimes has more to do with politics than with Torah. My words are not intended, God forbid, to criticize Rabbi Kanievsky, who was almost certainly not aware of this manipulation. Rather it was the Haredi politicians who took advantage of his situation to set a dangerous agenda that has affected us all, but has primarily endangered the Haredi community.

In the fifth chapter of my book “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge“, I discuss at length the validity of the concepts of “Daat Torah” and “Emunat Chakhamim.” I suggest that these are relatively new concepts, created only 150 years ago in response to the Maskilim and the Reform movement, in order to strengthen the voice of Torah when it was under attack. Over the years, they have been increasingly  abused, to promote political agendas and invalidate other legitimate Halakhic opinions, causing damage to the world of Torah, which has always been strengthened through its halakhic diversity.

It is worth noting the words of Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz, the highly respected Rosh Yeshiva of Ma’aleh Adumim, which I quote in the book:

“True Emunat Chakhamim demands deep analysis in order to find the reasoning of the rabbis’ words, and at the same time, places responsibility on the learner or questioner to engage in meticulous criticism, to examine whether there is room to disagree. It is obvious that there are reasons behind their decisions, but whether or not these should be followed as practical Halakhah still needs to be clarified. Lately, there are those who use the concept of Emunat Chakhamim in a completely different way, in a way that the Sages did not speak of at all, as if the rabbis have prophetic authority regarding non-halakhic matters as well . . . There are those who term this childish behavior Emunat Chakhamim, but this is nothing less than the distortion of a great principle and, rather than acquiring true Torah, the people who cling to this distorted Emunat Chakhamim distance themselves from the light of Torah and ultimately do not know the difference between their right and their left.”

When we come to look back on the Coronavirus era, it will be interesting to see whether the concepts of Daat Torah or Emunat Chakhamim and their observance in the Haredi community will have been changed in anyway by these events.

May we all soon emerge in good health and with greater wisdom from this ordeal.

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