Several Funerals Later, Letters of Support and an Analysis of New York’s Power Holders
OPINION – LostMessiah 5.1.20 [updated 5:31pm][update 8:38pm previous version referred to Shesh Besh as Chess when Chess is actually “Shach” in Hebrew].
Over the last few days we have written three separate opinions about the “Massive” funeral that took place on the streets of Williamsburg, on April 28, 2020, the irresponsibility of the event, the flagrant defiance of social distancing and, well… the potential that the whole event was pre-approved by the Mayor’s office. Like the counting of the Omer, we suspect that in about 12 days there will be a significant increase of Covid-19 illnesses in New York. They likely will go unreported lest the truth be told that the attending members of the community have, indeed, helped transfer the virus from person to person.
Since that time there has been a smaller funeral in Monsey (not yet in the news but we have video of that funeral), albeit better about the social distancing, and another much larger funeral in Borough Park, social distancing be damned. An article in The Yeshivah World from April 30, 2020, tells that story, videos and all: AGAIN: Levaya In Boro Park Turns Chaotic With NYPD Response [VIDEOS]
There is no excuse for this absolute defiance of religiously observant people. The larger New York and worldwide demographic have the right to be angry. There is blame to be shouldered; and a community that allows, if not encourages, large ritualistic events should receive its fair share of the condemnation, whatever the religion.
We find ourselves wondering at what point the community that continues to defy the entire notion of social distancing will decide that far too many are dying and even more are being put at risk for each widely attended funeral, wedding, bris, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and the list goes on. The irony of putting people in danger at a funeral for someone who died of the very disease we are trying to stop is not lost on us and should not be so easily dismissed by religious fervency. We view this as a bastardization of a beautiful religion, ignoring the spirit in favor of the letter, something that should be disavowed by all. In an editorial in the the Daily News yesterday entitled “Understanding why some Hasidic Jews resist social distancing restrictions”, Eli Reiter, a Master’s Student at the University of Chicago studying anthropology and religion decided rather than to condemn, to excuse the defiance. While we maintain, post inquiry, that the Satmar shun science on a deep and integral level, as science does not necessarily comport to the “comforts” of ritualistic religious behavior, Reiter claims that despite the comforts and ritualistic behaviors, the Satmar respect science. He claims that they study science and follow it, with a caveat that they must trust the messenger in order to give credence to the scientific message. Somehow this utter devotion to ritualistic behavior as a means of showing their devotion to G-d excuses the dangers posed to the rest of G-d’s creatures.
We maintain that this is nonsense. If the Satmar trust science, they only trust it to the extent it fits within a larger religious schematic, a religion that they have tailored to fit within the leadership’s carefully scripted rule-book.
To formulate his premise, Reiter claims first that he taught science at a Yeshiva where the kids studied it as a part of their otherwise religious curriculum. Other Yeshiva students have told us science, as a serious subject in Yeshiva is somewhat if not wholly unlikely, though we dare not question the integrity of Reiter’s experiences. Reiter also supports his premise that the Satmar believe in science, by carving out a caveat that they must trust the messenger first. He points to the reliance by the Kiryas Joel Satmar community on Dr. Zelenko, who published numerous videos about Covid-19 and the Kiryas Joel community.
Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a highly respected family physician working in Orange County, New York, touted the benefits of Hydroxychloroquine, going so far as to gain the ear of President Trump. We, too, found comfort in some of his theories and to the extent they may have been viable, we applauded his efforts. In Reiter’s thesis, Zelenko is, by virtue of his “look” and “ability to speak the language” of the Satmar, referred to as a “trusted messenger”, somehow lending credence to Reiter’s message that the Satmar do trust science.
Reiter’s point might be unquestionably accepted if, indeed, the Kiryas Joel governing elite had not written off Zelenko as a respected scientist who “does not” speak for the community. Alas, Zelenko may not look and sound enough like the KJ elders to be viewed as wholly reliable.
As of this morning, interestingly, Zelenko is under investigation by the Justice Department. We would hate to think that this is the result of a very clever move of the Queen on the Satmar “Shach” (chess) board. That’s a conspiracy theory for another day.
The Satmar live in relative exclusion, a point acknowledged by Reiter; and its members find comfort in their rituals. But those rituals are day-to-day rote norms that leave little room for the outside world; and until they can play nice in the sandbox with the people around them, including viewing less ritualistic Jews as equally Jewish, there is little the rest of us should be doing to excuse their behavior. In that regard, Reiter’s seemingly apologetic tone is disturbing insofar as those rituals are inexcusable, even by Jewish terms. Simply put, their behavior in the name of religious norms put others at risk, forbidden by the very codified set of laws they purport to follow. Covid-19 is a mortal danger and should be viewed in those terms.
Reiter’s entire foray into explaining the Satmar, which he juxtaposes with the movie “Unorthodox” is undermined by the community’s disavowal of Zelenko and is largely a distraction. Unorthodox is by our account is one of the most accurate portrayals of the Satmar community in Williamsburg ever to be given a very broad audience with popular culture. Some, like Julie Jones in a piece in The Forward, would disagree. Regardless, the defiance of social distancing is inexcusable by any religion.
The event (and those that followed) was a tragedy. While the Satmar group that held it are relatively small in proportion to the larger Jewish ethos of New York, it is quite significant because of the attention the community willingly, knowingly and flagrantly draws upon itself. As such, the optics are terrible for Jews everywhere, including among other Haredi communities that are observing social distancing rules and respecting the dangers Covid-19 presents to society at large.
The funeral was inexcusable given the Covid-19 pandemic, something it would appear the Satmar of Kiryas Joel realized, thereby sending out a letter of support for their New York puppet, Mayor Bill DeBlasio. The understanding of acts and consequences when speaking to the purely ritualistic behavior inherent in a funeral is best told by a member of the Haredi community from Israel who blogged about it.
Chaim Shaulson, a Haredi blogger referred to the event as a “Chilul Hashem” basically meaning a defacement of G-d or something that is a blasphemy. In an utterly scathing piece written in Hebrew, entitled (in English) “the great Chillul Hashem and the Response of the Head of the City in New York to the Non-Compliant Haredim”
Shaulson crucifies the Haredim for holding a massive event in the middle of a pandemic, “as if the pandemic is not even happening” and with a total lack of consideration for the many dangers it poses. He mentions that this is not uncharacteristic of this group and speaks not only to the many reasons why such an event should not have been allowed but he also identifies the optics from the outside looking in.
Hebrew Text: האמת היא, כי מארגני ההלויה הזהירו את הציבור ואף פרסמו מפות היכן יתרכזו בקבוצות קטנות, אבל הציבור הוכיח שוב כי הוא לא ממושמע ועושה כפי שהוא רוצה, ומספר כל כך גדול לא היסס לעמוד זה לצד זה בצורה ודרך כאילו שאין מגיפה ואין כל בעיה עם זה
Google Translate: The truth is, the funeral organizers warned the public and even published maps where they would concentrate in small groups but the public again proved that he was not disciplined and doing as he pleased, and such a large number did not hesitate to stand side by side in a way and as if there was no pandemic and no problem with it.
Shaulson goes on to say:
Hebrew Text: אתעלם כאן מן הבעיה הפיזית, נתעכב רק בחילול ה’ הנורא, מה שקרה אתמול חיזק אצל הגויים את התחושה כי החרדים היהודים הם הגורמים להרחבת הקורונה באמריקה הם לא ממושמעים מדביקים זה את זה וממילא ככה משפיעים על הכלל, ושלא נופתע אם האנטישמיות באמריקה תתחזק עם תמונות מן הסוג הזה להוכיח כי היהודים גם כאשר מדובר בנושא הקשור בחיים ומוות לא מתחשבים ועושים את ההיפך ממה שהורו
Google Translate (with edits): Ignoring the physical problem here, we will only dwell on the blasphemy of G-d. What happened yesterday reinforced to the Gentiles the feeling that ultra-Orthodox Jews are causing the Corona expansion in America, they do not pay attention or discern one another in any way to affect the rule; and it is not surprising if anti-Semitism in America will intensify of this kind as this behavior proves that even when it comes to life and death, the Jews do not consider and do the opposite of what they were instructed to do.
In sum, Shaulson finally says that the Haredim had a zillion excuses as to why they should not be blamed for the mass funeral including another event that occurred on the same day (the Flyover); and the Goyim who were also not abiding by the social distancing rules. Shaulson seems to understand that violating the necessity this pandemic dictates cannot be wiped away as an “eye-for-an-eye” a “tooth-for-a-tooth” response.
But unlike Reiter, who seems wholly willing to excuse the behavior of the Satmar through a notion of relying on “comfort” and “ritualism” ingrained in the community, Shaulson maintains quite cogently that this ritualistic behavior, to the exclusion of the Talmudic principle of Pikuah Nefesh (the value of life) is dangerous. What Shaulson recognizes and Reiter ignores is that flagrant defiance to social norms, particularly in the Covid-19 environment, poses an existential threat to Jews everywhere. The optics will inevitably by viewed harshly by secular Jews and Goyim (non-Jews) and will undoubtedly lead to hatred by non-Jews. The non-ritualistic community will view this utter lack of compliance, if not as bio-Terrorism, then in its literal light as that of a community potentially spreading a pandemic without any consideration for the outside world.
The same problem holds true, by the way, of the Satmar of Israel, about whom Shaulson often writes but which is excluded in his commentary on this subject.
As to the place de Blasio holds in the entire analysis and fiasco, his Presidential bid was in large part funded by extraordinarily wealthy members of the Satmar community and their advisors and attorneys. His rise to Mayor was paid for by New York’s religious elite, including many Satmar members. Mayor de Blasio has moved up in the ranks of politics as a result of a community that has mastered political manipulation to an art form. Their letter to those critical of de Blasio at this juncture speaks volumes to this point.
Contrary to the letter from the Satmar elders of Kiryas Joel, this fiasco and its blowback has nothing to do with being “friends” of Jews. It has everything to do with protecting one of the Satmar’s most prized assets. The community in question is a small, but not insignificant faction of highly observant Jews who live lives of complete insularity, govern their own with an iron fist, keep their community members under tight guard and, despite being listed as some of the most impoverished, have some of the wealthiest members of New York society as their own well-placed political allies. Moreover, so long as they have politicians in their pockets, they are not motivated to cooperate or even merely to acknowledge the rest of society.
Mayor de Blasio has indeed been a cheap political pawn, not only by the Satmar but by many who know the value of his loyalty. De Blasio has put out a considerable amount for his place in the sun. He has allowed a circumcision procedure, considered to be an abomination by many, to continue. Mezizah b’Peh is a fringe practice which is inconsistent with conventional training and wisdom on the Brit Milah and should have been outlawed long ago. It has caused infant death, infant deformation and a number of other horrifying affects due to Mohels who suffer from Herpes and either know about it or don’t. Very few Jewish communities practice it as there is nothing Halachically demanded in the practice, but those that do have the Mayor’s loyalty, despite drawing incessant scrutiny. It poses danger to Jewish infants but is allowed to continue.
Mayor de Blasio, according tomany public housing activistsand others has sold, for cheap, prized pieces of New York City real estate to the detriment of New York City’s citizens and taxpayers. To some commentators, he has allowed public housing to go out the window to the detriment of the public at large and to the benefit of his big-money real estate donors, many of whom also belong to the Satmar community. And, Mayor de Blasio has been mum about the education debate, allowing instead for a generation of educationally neglected students to continue to be disenfranchised. The debate is far too volatile for him to risk standing up to the community that wants its children to remain illiterate.
Finally, it has taken him weeks, if not months, to put his foot down and prevent or put an end to large events in the the covid-19 environment. He has only stepped in when the visibility factor has been too dangerous for his political aspirations or too egregious to ignore. Had the Williamsburg funeral not been so “massive” we contend that it would have gone ignored. The lack of plausible deniability became the politically devastating hindrance. To the credit of the Satmar ruling guard, at least with respect to Covid-19, they claim to be supporting the safety measures. As of last night the Satmar of Kiryas Joel had circulated a Warning in both Hebrew and English to all to abide by safety measures in place. Whether or not that is simple lip-service is up for debate.
The Satmar, amongst many other of the most ritualistic religious communities, have been manipulating de Blasio’s strings well, a credit to their political puppet-mastery. We will see how this plays out considering his wife’s foray into New York City – Kings County politics. Needless to say, the small community will continue to hold significant political strength if they are not compelled to play nice in the sandbox. In our opinion, the letter sent out by Kiryas Joel’s ruling elite (above) tells that story in starkly unsettling detail.
אתמול את הדיווחים בטלוויזיה איך שחרדים בווילימסבורג מפרים את ההוראות משתתפים בהלוויה בצורה ודרך מסוכנת ביותר, והגיעו הדברים לידי כך, שהיה מי שדיווח על כך, וראש העיר בכבודו ובעצמו הגיע למקום לראות האם אכן אמת מה שדיווחו או שמי מבקש להזיק לחרדים
האמת היא, כי מארגני ההלויה הזהירו את הציבור ואף פרסמו מפות היכן יתרכזו בקבוצות קטנות, אבל הציבור הוכיח שוב כי הוא לא ממושמע ועושה כפי שהוא רוצה, ומספר כל כך גדול לא היסס לעמוד זה לצד זה בצורה ודרך כאילו שאין מגיפה ואין כל בעיה עם זה
אתעלם כאן מן הבעיה הפיזית, נתעכב רק בחילול ה’ הנורא, מה שקרה אתמול חיזק אצל הגויים את התחושה כי החרדים היהודים הם הגורמים להרחבת הקורונה באמריקה הם לא ממושמעים מדביקים זה את זה וממילא ככה משפיעים על הכלל, ושלא נופתע אם האנטישמיות באמריקה תתחזק עם תמונות מן הסוג הזה להוכיח כי היהודים גם כאשר מדובר בנושא הקשור בחיים ומוות לא מתחשבים ועושים את ההיפך ממה שהורו
נס היה שראש העיר הגיע עם השוטרים ופיזרו את הציבור, מפני שאם זה היה לוקח הרבה יותר זמן מי יודע להיכן היו מתגלגלים הדברים, הגויים המקומיים היו מנצלים זאת נגד היהודים
To continue reading Chaim Shaulson’s piece click here.
Hasidic Jews are being called a lot of things as people react to the defiance of social distancing rules by a few thousand people at a funeral in Williamsburg. Many of the things they’re being called are wrong.
The community is insular, but not ideologically anti-science. I taught science in a Yeshiva middle school. It was an all-boys’ school that stressed religious study. Parents and teachers were forced to make Faustian bargains because time and energy were limited resources.
Schools must choose between religious study and the study of other topics. Should the morning be spent on Talmud, or should it be spent on history? Should the hour in the evening be spent on math homework or reviewing that week’s Torah portion?
This community is not anti-intellectual. It is selectively intellectual, as are many other communities in different ways.
Another important factor to understand is the unspoken bond between scientists and members of society. Citizens trust researchers to give them verifiable truth, and experts typically trust members of society to follow their advice. But when a community feels vilified by a group of thinkers, there is an erosion of trust and they lose a sense of obligation to follow that group of experts.
To continue reading click here.
WILLIAMSBURG – About 2,500 people gathered on a Williamsburg street last night at a funeral for Rabbi Chaim Mertz who had died from the coronavirus. People were wearing masks, but there was absolutely no social distancing.
At around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28, mourners filled the streets including Bedford Avenue and Rutledge Street, despite gatherings of any sort having been banned by the City to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has killed 3,678 Brooklyn residents so far. This isn’t the first time such a large gathering has taken place after the social distancing rules went into effect. At the beginning of April, dozens of mourners gathered in Boro Park for another rabbi’s funeral.
After the pictures of yesterday’s funeral spread on Twitter, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary Tweeted, “I empathize with the desire to mourn those we’ve lost, but this is absolutely unacceptable. The Mayor is on the scene and the NYPD is breaking this up.”
To continue reading click here.
The Justice Department is probing the communications of Vladimir Zelenko, a New York doctor who has promoted hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment and has been touted by Fox News host Sean Hannity, the Washington Post reports.
How it happened: Jerome Corsi, a Roger Stone associate and former Infowars employee who had been under scrutiny in the Mueller investigation, accidentally emailed federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky instead of Zelenko about the drug.
- Zelinsky, who investigated Corsi during the Mueller probe, now investigates coronavirus-related fraud crimes for the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland. Corsi told the Post that Zelinsky then emailed Corsi’s lawyer to request all of his communications with Zelenko.
- In the email, Corsi wrote that Zelenko had “an FDA-approved randomized test of [hydroxychloroquine] underway.”
- Corsi told the Post that Zelinsky found that Zelenko had no such approval from the FDA — and that he believes Zelenko was not trying to defraud anyone, but simply misunderstood the FDA’s guidelines.
What they’re saying: Corsi said that he and Zelenko have not broken the law and added that he plans to cooperate with Zelinsky’s request.
“I did nothing wrong. Zelenko made a mistake. He’s got no case and we’re following all the rules,” Corsi told the Post.
Corsi’s attorney confirmed what happened to the Post, while an attorney working with Zelenko said he had not been contacted by federal prosecutors.
To continue reading, click here.
Coronavirus Drug Exclusive: Meet The Doctor Behind The Hydroxychloroquine Treatment, And What’s Next For Its Use
OSLYN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – One New York doctor claims to have kept hundreds of coronavirus patients out of the hospital with a cocktail of medications.
It’s been criticized as unproven, but now a major hospital in New York is launching a clinical trial based on the treatment, reports CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
To continue reading, click here.
Four recent cases of neonatal herpes infection following a Jewish circumcision ritual have health officials once again urging parents in New York City’s ultra-Orthodox population to avoid the practice or at least limit its risks.
Health officials on Sunday said there have been three cases of herpes simplex virus 1 infections in infant boys reported to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene since Dec. 1, 2019. The fourth case was reported in September 2019.
Health officials don’t believe the cases are linked. The infants were hospitalized, received intravenous antiviral drugs and are now recovering, health officials said.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, declined to comment.
The ritual is known as metzitzah b’peh. A mohel, a religious leader who performs the circumcision during a bris, uses his mouth to suck blood from the cut.
Since April 2006, when reporting of cases became mandatory, 22 babies were reported to have developed infections following metzitzah b’peh. Two died.
City health officials have struggled through several attempts to stem the religious practice.
Five commissioner’s orders, including one recent one, have been issued since 2014 to mohels. The order prohibits them from engaging in direct orogenital suction. Violating the order is a misdemeanor.
To continue reading click here.
The practice of applying direct oral suction on the wound left behind by the removal of the foreskin—known in Hebrew as metzitzah b’peh—is not common in Judaism, but is practiced in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.
As is tradition, the unnamed boy was circumcised eight days after being born. Ten days later, a rash presented across his genitals, groin and posterior. He was taken to a hospital and a specimen was taken from a lesion, which tested positive for herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), responsible for most cold sores.
To continue reading click here.
There was chaos in Boro Park on Thursday afternoon, as the NYPD worked to disperse a crowd that gathered for a Levaya.
An NYPD source tells YWN that police were told that a vehicle carrying an Aron (coffin) would be passing by a home on 43 Street near 13th Avenue to recite Tehillim and hold a short Levaya, and took action ahead of time.
Not taking any chances, the top brass of the NYPD arrived – including the Chief of Patrol and at least one other 3 star chief as well as the Chiefs of Brooklyn South.
The NYPD allowed family only to be on the block, but people did not listen to authorities. It prompted the police police to order the vehicle carrying the Aron to leave, prompting a wild scene that was caught on video and immediately went viral.
One person was arrested and released. He was given a “Type C Summons”.
Thursday’s Levaya took place just two days after the Levaya in Williamsburg which has since turned into a national story, and has prompted a massive NYPD crackdown in Williamsburg. Around 100 summonses were issued in Williamsburg on Thursday for not keeping with social distancing and not wearing masks in public.
To continue reading click here.