The Orthodox rabbis who said families that have been split up by the coronavirus may use a video-conferencing program to connect for the Passover Seder have hit back at their critics, accusing them of ignorance and a lack of courage.
Several prominent rabbinical figures criticized the ruling, but there has been no substantive argument against it, those who issued it told The Jerusalem Post. Their decision was far less controversial than a commonly used leniency that allows Jews to sell leavened products to non-Jews over Passover, they said.
Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil, a highly respected arbiter of Jewish law who served as the head of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for a decade, together with Shlomi Chief Rabbi Moshe Elharar, Kiryat Gat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Ben-Hamo and Rabbi Yehuda Shlush, a municipal rabbi in east Netanya, were the leading authorities behind the ruling.
Their ruling was based on the works of notable Torah scholars, including the first Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel; and a former chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shalom Messas, Elharar told the Post.
The ruling applies to seniors and the elderly, as well as their families with whom they would want to connect, who would be alone for the Seder and would feel isolated and depressed by the situation, he said.
Elharar said his critics had not studied the works of these rabbis and were ignorant of their methodology and reasoning.
“It is the easiest thing to say something is forbidden because you don’t need to know anything,” he said.
“If you want to rule that something is permitted, you need to actually know things,” Elharar said, adding that his critics “do not even come to the ankles” of Torah scholars such as Uziel and Messas.
One of those critics was Chief Rabbi David Lau, who said the ruling was irresponsible, and the rabbis who issued it “lacked even a minimal understanding of the implications of the ruling.”
Elharar said he had not heard one legitimate, substantive argument against the ruling, adding that it was a simple notion, especially bearing in mind that rabbis had said electronic devices and video-conference programs should be turned on before Passover begins.
The activation of electricity and electronic devices on Shabbat and Jewish holidays is prohibited by Halacha.
“Rabbi Lau is a child,” Elharar said. “He has not even opened the books of scholars like Rabbi Uziel and Rabbi Messas.”
“These critics just one to show how frum [pious] they are,” he said.
Elharar denied that any of the original drafters had retracted their support for the ruling, saying only some rabbis who were asked to append their signature after it was written had backed away from it, alleging that they had been threatened in various ways to force them to retract.
Another critic, Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu told the Post his main concern with the ruling was “technological problems” and not the substance of the ruling itself.
Video-conferencing programs often required users to adjust or change some aspect of the session, meaning that those who use it on the holiday might make adjustments on their electronic devices that would violate Halacha, he said.
Elharar said Eliyahu was at liberty not to implement his ruling, adding that any technological difficulties could be worked out before the holiday.