This is being reposted from a Facebook Group – Frum Watch. It is being reprinted in its entirety with permission from the author, Rabbi Yossi Newfield.
Haredistan – What Went Wrong?
From Bnei Brak to Boro Park, the haredi community has had higher case numbers, higher hospitalization rates, and higher deaths rate than the surrounding areas. The question is why? We believe the very nature of the haredi community is the cause.
Inevitably, wherever there is a critical mass of haredim, the community feels that it can disregard secular laws and norms. Sometimes this is done openly; other times there is a great deal of dissembling, with community apologists such as Avi Shafran working overtime. Before the coronavirus pandemic the disregard and rejection of civil society may not have been as pronounced, but it always lurked just below the surface, waiting to raise its ugly head.
An example of this is the haredi (especially hasidic) self-ghettoization and their rejection of state mandated minimal secular education standards. The resulting intellectual isolation of their communities is considerable and it is accompanied by severe side effects, such as systemic fraud, rampant sexual abuse, and poverty.
But so long as the harm was confined to the haredi community itself, the civil authorities from Israel to London to New York looked the other way. They reasoned that if a community wants to stay ignorant, poor, and a refuge for sexual predators, so be it. It’s not our problem.
However, the moment the pandemic struck, these same civil authorities began demanding that the haredi community abide by the social distancing guidelines promulgated by their respective health departments.
To their shock and amazement, they were surprised to learn that haredi society was not willing to curtail their communal way of life, even in the face of a once in a century world-wide pandemic. But we were not surprised in the least. Once a society is allowed to disregard civil laws and norms for decades, it is no wonder that they will not become normal law abiding citizens overnight.
Let’s look at how things progressed:
At first secular society convinced themselves that the haredim in Israel were trying to follow the guidelines, but they just couldn’t on account of their large families and crowded living conditions. Then came the grand wedding in Belz. The Belzer rebbe brazenly ordered that his grandson’s wedding continue as planned, covid be damned. Thousands of men packed together to witness the chuppah. At that point, it became clear to the rest of Israel that the disregard of the guidelines was pre-meditated and intentional.
The Belzer rebbe decided that his sect would not follow state mandated guidelines out of fear for the spiritual welfare of his flock or out of fear of the breakdown of communal life. Pick either reason. In haredi eyes they are one and the same.
But Belz is not alone. The haredim in Bnei Brak, Meah Shearim, Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights have all made the same decision. They will not follow the guidelines because the guidelines disrupt their daily prayer and torah learning schedule, tisches, weddings — their communal life and routine.
This disregard for coronavirus guidelines does not only jeopardize the health of haredi communities, it puts the surrounding non-haredi communities in grave danger. The haredim are either so used to getting their own way or so insensitive as to be unaware of the reaction that’s bound to come.
Back to the present, in New York Governor Cuomo ordered the shuls in Boro Park and Flatbush closed for Simchat Torah because of rising Covid-19 case numbers. Instead of accepting the executive order, Agudas Israel sued him in Federal Court. This is the same Agudas Israel who sued the New York State Education Department for having the nerve to order hasidic yeshivas to teach the English language!
The chickens have come home to roost. Even before the virus escaped from Wuhan, the haredi community was on a dangerous and unsustainable path. Covid-19 just made this apparent for all to see.
While a last minute correction of course by haredi communal leaders may avoid total disaster, we are afraid that this will not occur and we will all suffer because of it.
By Rabbi Yossi Newfield