The above was a live video feed of a funeral in Israel from this afternoon, January 31, 2021 – in the middle of a pandemic. It was taken from a Facebook page, the link for which was sent to us.
There were more than 10,000 in attendance at this funeral. The government will not stop these events from happening because of the coalition Knesset and the power of the few ultra-religious ministers who hold the government hostage. The law enforcement will not step in because of the violence that ensues when when they try to prevent these events from happening.
This is an example of utter lawlessness.
In our opinion, these are large scale bio-terrorist events and should be treated as such. The leaders should be jailed. The people in attendance should be placed in a single location for two weeks so they cannot affect those people who have spent nearly a year abiding by the rules and were NOT in attendance. Medical attention should be denied to anyone who attended. There are law-abiding citizens who may need those beds.
This is wholly godless behavior. Doubtless more funerals will follow as others get sick, hospitalized and die. The end result is inevitable. The optics are terrible.
If there is Anti-Semitism, it is in this instance based upon a resentment and fear derived from actual and frightening events. This is nothing short of murderous conduct committed by a group of fundamentalist fanatics and endorsed by Israel’s government. Those in power in Israel have blood on their hands. There will be more.
To those religious and secular leaders who find this behavior reprehensible, we plead with you to step up and say something. We implore you to demand accountability. We ask that you protect the rest of us.
The focus of growing anger, and increasingly frustrated in turn at the government’s lax enforcement of virus rules, the ultra-Orthodox are now a political time bomb
Monday afternoon in the Knesset. MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism heads to the dais to speak about a bill advancing through parliament that will allow police to slap steep fines on schools that violate virus restrictions and even to close them by force.
He’s visibly angry; his comments are short and to the point.
“You’re only bringing this bill to vilify the Haredi public!” he declares.
Then he adds, in comments that would later go viral on Israeli social media, “It’s not our fault! You, who sent us to live in such crowded conditions, it’s your fault!”
It was an astonishing display that encapsulated the confused, anxious Haredi non-response to the crisis of rule-breaking that’s setting parts of the community aflame, and the frantic search for someone to blame.
Ultra-Orthodox violations of the virus restrictions aren’t new. The problem has simmered for months, occasionally waning as contagion rates and corresponding restrictions recede, then exploding again onto the public agenda when the pandemic returns with a fury.
But the latest round of anger and anxiety surrounding Haredi struggles with the virus has quickly reached a fever pitch. Recent days have seen violent riots in Haredi population centers as police moved in to enforce long-ignored health closures.
In the usually placid city of Bnei Brak, a municipal bus was torched to its metal skeleton after young Haredi men dragged the driver from the vehicle. Camera crews, including a Fox News team, were either attacked or had their vehicles vandalized in Haredi areas. Israeli news broadcasts have carried photogenic vignettes of such violence for days.
And throughout the rising violence, Haredi rabbinic and political leadership were nowhere to be found.
The anger and frustration have now engulfed the debate. Channel 12, sensing the public mood, decided to ask in a poll released Tuesday whether Israelis wanted Haredi political parties to be part of the next governing coalition.
Among the self-identified center-left, 78 percent prefer the next government not include the Haredi parties; just 5% want them included. That’s an extraordinary gap, but not really unexpected. The center-left is largely drawn from Israel’s secular bastions, the large cities, kibbutzim, and the like.
The surprising figure came from the other side, from the self-identified right. A majority, 52%, said they, too, didn’t want the Haredi parties in the next government. Just a third, 33%, said they wanted them.
Growing up in Crown Heights, I seldom heard the Holocaust mentioned. We had no Holocaust Day in yeshiva. Needless to say, we learned no Holocaust history either. My first real exposure to the Holocaust came from reading a copy of Night, by Eli Wiesel, that I found in our dilapidated basement. The question remains, why does the chareidi community ignore the Holocaust?
One could argue, the chareidi community’s aversion to teaching about the Holocaust is no different from their aversion to teaching history in general. As Yosef Chaim Yerushalmi famously explained in his acclaimed study, Zachor, rabbinic Judaism has exited the confines of “history” following the destruction of the Second Temple. The historical events following the Churban Bayis Sheini, Jewish or otherwise, have no bearing on rabbinic Judaism. All the frum Jew has is the daled amos shel halacha. This being the case, as a historical event, the chareidi community’s neglect of the Holocaust fits perfectly well with its general neglect of history.
However, I would argue that there is a deeper reason for the Holocaust neglect in the chareidi community, mainly, that the killing of 6 million Jews poses an existential threat to the chareidi ideology and belief system. Chareidim are taught to believe that they are God’s Chosen People, Uvanu Vacharta Mkol Am Veloshon. If indeed this is true, how could Hashem have allowed his chosen people to be slaughtered in such a manner?
However a chareidi may choose to answer this question, the question will always remain stronger than the answer. For this reason, the chareidi community has decided that the best way to deal with the Holocaust is to simply ignore it. The great irony is, the Jews who prize Jewish continuity the most, are the ones who least want to discuss the Holocaust.
This does not mean that chareidim are totally unaware of the Holocaust, rather, they generally learn about it through heroic tales of pious Jews who self sacrificed to observe the mitzvos even in the concentration camps. For example, in the Chabad community the most famous Holocaust survivor is Rabbi Nissan Mangel. If one listens to his five hour lecture series on the Holocaust, titled, “Where Was God in the Holocaust?” it will become apparent quickly that the answer to this question is rather straight forward: God was with Rabbi Mangel. All the heroic Holocaust tales repeated in the chareidi community add up to the same message, God was with the pious frum Jews who clung to the mitzvahs even under the most dire circumstances. That God was not with the 6 million Jews who were gassed and went up in smoke is completely ignored. The upshot is, the pious heroic tales allow the chareidi to learn about the Holocaust in a non-threatening manner. After all, Rabbi Mangel is still alive and a frum yid, clearly Hashem still cares about the Jews.
I still remember the devastating effect the “Schindler’s List” film had on me in my early 20’s. At the time, I was attending the Chabad smicha program in Melbourne, Australia. I always wanted to watch Schindler’s List in order to see for myself what really happened during the Holocaust, but never managed to get hold of the film. Then one day, through a series of events, I obtained the film from a local Blockbuster. With film in hand, I paid the night watchman at a local hotel to allow me to watch the film in one of the empty hotel rooms. Alone, I watched the film from beginning to end. About half-way through, I couldn’t stop crying. It was at that point that I understood, like never before, why the chareidi community ignores the Holocaust.
One of the most troubling aspects of today’s ultra-Orthodox community is the systemic fraud perpetuated by so-called frumme Yidden. This fraud, aka geneivishe shtick, comes in many varieties and flavors, but the common denominator is that it’s all illegal. The most prevalent of these frauds are those perpetrated against government social welfare programs.To the extent that there is welfare abuse within the hareidi community, one may ask, what makes it systemic? The answer is simple: the various Hareidi community councils (BP, CH, Willie, etc.) actively encourage and assist community members to sign up for every welfare program available. Now, it is true that many of these individuals were eligible for the programs at the time they signed up, but as their income grows, they become ineligible. However, once a hareidi individual with little secular education is dependent on government welfare, he will be reluctant to give up welfare benefits.And this is precisely the Hareidi communities’ game plan from day one. In other words, the community consciously regards the government’s social safety net — food stamps, medicaid, wic, section 8, etc. — as part of their budget, not as a last resort for a few struggling individuals. Every year, hundreds of Hareidim get married with the intention beforehand of relying on government welfare to make ends meet. The Crown Heights Community Council and the various other Hareidi community councils in NYC were established with the purpose, among others, of filling out welfare forms for community members. Thus, to use yeshiva language, welfare for Hareidim is not a believed, but rather a lechatchillah.An integral part of the welfare fraud and abuse within the Hareidi community is the wide-spread phenomena of working off the books, or under the table. Without working off the books, families’ income may increase over time to the point of risking losing welfare benefits. This is the reason that most, if not all, yeshiva teachers, rebbes, and administrators work either completely off the books or half on and half off. By working off the books, the Hareidi community also ensures that their taxes will be lower than otherwise – or that they’ll pay no taxes at all. In short, as the Talmud teaches, aveirah goreret aveirah, a transgression brings another transgression in its wake.
This is how Hareidi welfare fraud leads to tax fraud.
One might assume that welfare fraud would be more likely to be committed by the 40% of Hareidim who live below the poverty line. But Hareidi fraud is not confined to the poor alone. On the contrary, as you climb up the food chain, the fraud only gets larger and more pernicious.
Rubashkin from Crown Heights and Samet from Kiryas Joel are perhaps the most colorful and well-known criminal defendants within the Hareidi community. However, the minyan at the Otisville Correctional Facility is large and ever-changing as new members join and old members leave .This is not to say there is no fraud within the Modern Orthodox Jewish community.
The implosion of Platinum Partners — the shady hedge fund run by Murray Huberfeld and Mark Nordlicht — is one example of fraudulent activity perpetrated by members of the MO community. Overall, though, MO fraud is not a community organized activity. An MO council to help individuals apply for welfare does not exist in Teaneck. The same cannot be said for the Hareidi community, where the fraud is wide-spread and systemic and where many members are semi-literate at best in English.
One may ask, how can systemic fraud be so prevalent in ultra-Orthodox communities? Aren’t they meant to be the ones upholding the Torah, which directly forbids stealing?
The answer is rather straightforward: stealing from the government, ie. gentiles, is not considered stealing. The logic behind this notion goes something like this: the Talmud rules that one need not return the lost object of a gentile or excess money paid for goods by mistake. Welfare benefits are akin to a lost object or excess money – and thus need not be returned. This is where racism also comes into play. Hareidim claim that welfare fraud is pervasive among other minority communities, so why shouldn’t we also get money from the government? At least we’re using it for Torah and Mitzvot!
It’s only a matter of time before the government wakes up and realizes the systemic nature of welfare fraud within Hareidi enclaves. When that time comes, which it will eventually, Hareidi society will have to begin preparing its youth for the real world. Until then, the fraud continues.
When the established rabbis go silent, others, including civic-minded philanthropists and charismatic outsiders with inflammatory social-media presences, fill the void.
The events this autumn in Brooklyn’s ḥaredi (Orthodox) communities have been quite extraordinary, even revelatory. Contrary to popular hope, herd immunity to the coronavirus has not been achieved; the city government’s response to the new second wave has been heavy-handed and possibly discriminatory; and in turn its legitimate attempts to enforce closures, social distancing, and mask wearing have been spurned rather than obeyed, thanks in part to the emergence of the since-arrested agitator Heshy Tischler as an outspoken voice for what he hopes constitutes the silent majority of the ḥaredi world. That this convict-turned-politician-turned-radio-host-turned-riot-inciter has found significant—though by no means total or even majority—support for his combative message reflects important and overlooked changes in the ḥaredi community in recent years, most notably the appearance of a serious crisis of authority in its ranks. This is most revelatory of all. As America at large is dealing with the hollowing out of institutions and the rise of politicians with inflammatory social-media presence, the ḥaredi world is too, even if the institutions are rabbinic and the social-media platform is more likely to be WhatsApp than Twitter.
Ḥaredi attitudes toward leadership have long differed from those of their surrounding communities, Jewish or gentile. Much of the community subscribes to a theology of Daas Torah (“knowledge of Torah”), whereby leading rabbis—those with the greatest degree of Torah knowledge and therefore the greatest degree of insight into the divine mind—are empowered to make all major communal decisions. We see this approach very much in effect today in Israel, where the two senior rabbinic authorities—Rabbi Gershon Edelstein and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky—are engaged in political negotiations through the ḥaredi parties, in determining when to reopen yeshivas, and simultaneously in messaging to their communities on how to proceed. The two rabbis having often been at odds with each other in recent months notwithstanding, the fact remains that the prevailing ideology of Daas Torah dictates that these rabbis (and their courts and handlers) make policy on nearly every issue for their ḥaredi followers. In America, a similar rabbinic seat of authority rests with the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the council of great rabbinic sages, which is affiliated with the Agudath Israel of America. (The organization lost its leader, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, “the Novominsker rebbe,” to COVID-19 in April, added several members in September, in a move towards relative youth, and lost Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, one of its elder statesmen, just two weeks ago.)
For as long as there have been rabbis, those possessing expertise in Torah knowledge have been consulted on issues large and small in their areas of training—Talmud and halakhah (Jewish law). Daas Torah goes well beyond that, into a presumption that their training in Torah qualifies leading rabbis as experts to be consulted on all worldly issues. There is some controversy as to when exactly the approach took hold. Lawrence Kaplan and Jacob Katz, two historians of Jewish law, have argued that this is an innovation of the modern period, possibly stemming from the 18th-century revolution of Ḥasidism. Others, like the rabbi Alfred Cohen, have argued for roots in the pre-modern period.
This is being reprinted with permission from the administrators of the “Frum Watch” Facebook Site. It speaks to the differences among various Jewish sects. For Additional Reading we invite you to also consult a site called “Rationalist Judaism with other notes by Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin.
The Hareidim – a Primer
In light of the recent civil unrest and civil disobedience displayed in hareidi communities the world over, we bring to you a short primer on the Haredim. Hopefully, this brief outline will afford our readers a better understanding of the nature and composition of the community.
Not all haredim are hasidic, but all hasidim are haredim. In general, the hareidi community comprises two distinct communities, hasidim and non-hasidim. Both are ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as frum Jews, hence the name of this Facebook group. The hasidic community contains multiple sects, such as Satmar, Chabad, Ger, Belz, and many others. For the most part, all the hasidic sects are at odds with each other, with some also at war. The reasons for this division and rancor are varied, some are battles over turf, others battles over ideology and influence. For example, the Satmar and Chabad sects have been at war for the better part of the past 50 years. However, of late, they have agreed upon a cold truce. This detente was due to the joining of forces to repel the treif influence of the internet and other evil secular influences.
Hasidic sects, except Chabad and Breslov, are led by a living rebbe, or admor (grand rabbi). Chabad is still in the throes of its failed messianic experiment, which collapsed with the death of M.M. Schneerson, their rebbe, in 1994. Unable to accept their leader’s failure to bring the messiah, Chabad leaders have refused to appoint a rebbe in his place. Most Chabad followers recognize their rebbe’s death and burial in Montefiore Cemetery, Queens; however, some still refuse to accept that he is no longer among the living. This extreme Messianic faction controls the main 770 synagogue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. They believe the rebbe is the long awaited messiah and, though we can’t see him, is still alive.
The case of Breslov is somewhat similar to that of Chabad in that a new leader was never appointed after Rebbe Nachman’s (their founder) death in 1810. Breslov, too, is a fervently messianic group. However, Breslov has never officially proclaimed Rebbe Nachman as messiah, but instead insisted that his light will burn until the messiah’s coming. Breslov hassidim place great importance on praying by Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Uman, Ukraine, on Rosh HaShana.
The non-hasidic hareidim, aka Litvish, aka yeshivish, Jews, mostly hail from the area of pre-war Lithuania and live in the Flatbush/Midwood section of Brooklyn and Lakewood, N.J. They are led by the non-hasidic faction of Agudas Israel of America. Agudah, for short, is the leading umbrella group of American ultra-Orthodox Jews. Agudah not only protects the interest of the non-hasidic community, it also tries to cover up the misdeeds of the hasidim. For this reason when the New York State Education Department ordered hasidic yeshivas to teach their students the mandated minimal secular subjects, it was Agudah who sued them in Federal Court. It was this same Agudah who recently sued Governor Cuomo when he ordered the shuls in Boro Park and Flatbush closed for Simchat Torah.
A third group of hareidim, that of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews, also exists. This group is much more prominent in Israel, where their political party, Shas, holds 9 seats in the Knesset. Hareidi Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews are primarily found in the US in the Syrian community of Brooklyn.
All hareidim are suspicious of secular authority, scientific knowledge, and anything “modern.” They feel that they must reject secular authority whenever it infringes upon their Torah lifestyle. It is this rejection of secular authority that is behind all the ills in the hareidi community. For example, cheating on one’s taxes is legitimized because leading a Torah lifestyle is expensive and very costly — from private school yeshiva tuition to the price of glatt kosher meat. Working off the books and not paying taxes is the only way for many frumme to get by. In addition, cheating and scamming the welfare system is also legitimized on this account. How else is a frum family of 10 living in a 3 bedroom section 8 apartment going to survive?
The rejection of civil authority is also behind the widespread disregard of social distancing guidelines currently wreaking havoc in hareidi enclaves the world over. They believe, as the Belzer rebbe made clear, that they cannot allow the guidelines to interfere with their day-to-day Torah lifestyle. If people have to die, so be it, the Torah lifestyle must go on.
We must emphasize that the extreme fundamentalism of current hareidi practice, theology, and philosophy is a recent creation. In earlier times, observant Jews had a healthy respect for science, doctors, and civil authority. Whether on account of the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, or otherwise, the hareidi community’s rejection of civil authority is unprecedented in the annals of Jewish history.
Please note that, though the demographics are not in their favor, there still exists a substantial group of Modern Orthodox (or MO) Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews are generally college educated professionals and businessmen. While ritually observant, this group is familiar with contemporary culture and respects the rule of secular law.