Frum Watch: People are Wondering it and Not Saying It – Covid-19 and Hareidim

***Journalist, governments, secular Jews, and non-Jews the world over are all wondering the same thing:Why are the coronavirus case counts higher in hareidi neighborhoods and communities?

Reposted with Permission of Frum Watch

Some like to point to the difficulty practicing social distancing with large families in cramped quarters, while others like to point to the lack of science education and general secular knowledge. Still others point to the hareidi communities refusal to put on hold its communal way of life. We would like to share with you the real reason behind the lackadaisical commitment to, if not outright rejection of, the social distancing guidelines in the hareidi community.

The answer is one word – WORK (or the lack thereof).

Let us explain. Never before in the history of the Jewish people has a Jewish community rejected the notion of the male members of the community working for a living. From the Bible to the Mishna to the Talmud — through the times of the later codes of Jewish law — husbands and male members of the Jewish community always have worked to support themselves and their families. In ancient times, some chopped wood, some made clothing, while others were shoemakers and blacksmiths. The Jewish marriage document, the Ketubah, itself attests to the importance and obligation of the husband and father of the household to support his wife and children.

However, this all changed when Rabbi Aaron Kotler, a Lithuanian yeshiva dean, arrived in the US and founded the Lakewood yeshiva and kollel in 1943. Rabbi Kotler believed and Rav Karelitz, the Chazon Ish, in Israel agreed that the secular work place was no place for a frum hareidi male. The temptations were too great; kefirah (heresy) was rampant – and besides, the hareidi world needed Torah scholars, not Torah businessman. This Torah Only theology spawned what we now know as the “kollel for life” model, where the male members of the community learn Talmud for life, while their wives and daughters support the household.

This new order is unprecedented in the annals of Jewish history. For the first time ever, we now have in Lakewood, Bnei Brak, and Jerusalem entire communities of men who don’t work for a living. Naturally, without working men, the community ultimately has become reliant on the income of the wives (usually working part-time), government welfare, and gemachim (community charities).

So what are these tens of thousands of married and unmarried men doing all day? Well, you guessed it! They pray three times a day, learn in small groups with each other, and participate in special Torah oriented get-togethers. In other words, instead of working a conventional job and meeting up with each other during morning prayers and on weekends, their communal prayers and daily Torah study sessions became their daily work. For this reason, despite the pleas of civil authorities the world over to heed coronavirus social distancing guidelines, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Telling hareidi males they can’t congregate with each other on a daily basis — all day, every day — is something they cannot accept. Once a community’s life and focus becomes dependent on daily interaction between members, not even a pandemic can disrupt the daily rhythm.

The theology behind the Kotler Kollel for Life model is complex and requires study in its own right. For those wishing to learn more about this Kollel for Life belief system and theology, we direct your attention to Professor Nurit Stadler’s work on the issue. Her 2001 PhD dissertation, submitted to Hebrew University entitled, ”The Sacred and the Profane in the Concept of Work: The Case of the Ultra-Orthodox Community in Israel,” is a good place to start.

Be it as it may, the rejection of work by hareidi males, from Bnei Brak to Brooklyn to Lakewood, is a serious problem that must be eventually dealt with. Otherwise, when the next pandemic occurs, hareidi neighborhoods will be as poorly prepared as they are today.

From the writers of Frum Watch on Facebook, click here.

One thought on “Frum Watch: People are Wondering it and Not Saying It – Covid-19 and Hareidim

  1. Cut off their funds and let them see if they like that – but it won’t happen. The pols kowtow to them; look at brown-nose DiBlasio apologizing to the black hats today for having taken measures to bring their noncompliant COVID-19-related behavior under control. Since no politician will take them on I suppose they’ll get away with their nonsense until one day it’ll be Kristallnacht on 13th Avenue, with nobody but themselves to blame.


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