Hassidic grand rabbi: How has haredi community such contempt for life?

Grand rabbi of the Karlin Stolin hassidic community says he cannot understand how ‘important people’ are ignoring the Jewish laws of saving life.

Haredi Jews prepare for the upcoming fesitval of Rosh Hashanah, Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, September 15, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Haredi Jews prepare for the upcoming fesitval of Rosh Hashanah, Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, September 15, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
In a sharp and unequivocal rebuke to large sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community, the Grand Rabbi of the Karlin-Stolin Hassidic community in Givat Ze’ev, Rabbi Baruch Meir Yaakov Shochet, has lambasted the failure to comply with health regulations for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rabbi, who has been one of the only hassidic grand rabbis to instruct his community to strictly observe coronavirus health instructions since the beginning of the crisis, said that parts of the ultra-Orthodox community were ignoring the “simple” and “foundational” Jewish principle of saving lives, and said he was astonished at such “contempt” for the lives of others.
Shochet has only recently been released from the hospital after falling sick to COVID-19 in recent weeks, and made his comments in a recorded conversation to his hassidim.
The recording was made in Yiddish and first reported by the Kikar Hashabbat website, but the content of the recording was independently confirmed by The Jerusalem Post.
“A person is forbidden from endangering others and himself, a person is forbidden from harming another, or to cause his situation to deteriorate,” said Shochet in the recording.
“Recently, there are also important people whose eyes for some reason have become blind to simple Jewish laws of the prohibition on harming others,” the rabbi continued, seemingly in reference to senior rabbis who have given instructions to continue with communal prayer and study in violation of health regulations.
“Is it possible that there are people for whom simple Jewish laws, such as the laws of saving lives, which is the foundation of Judaism, have disappeared? We all hear and see so many incidents of people suffering distress and pain and the ill dying,” the grand rabbi told his hassidim. “It astonishes me that it is specifically in the ultra-Orthodox community that there is such contempt for the lives of others. What has happened to us?
“How have we gotten here?” Shochet said. “For God’s sake, there is no room to be lax with anything [of the health regulations], this is not a game, this is life-threatening of the first order.
“I cannot understand how we have gotten to a situation where specifically among us [ultra-Orthodox] we behave with such contempt for such an important foundational principle in Jewish life, a principle that we always knew how to observe.”
Several of the most senior and authoritative ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the hassidic and non-hassidic communities have downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic and insisted that prayer in synagogues and communal Torah study are more important than complying with health regulations.
Indeed, large components of the hassidic community have largely ignored coronavirus regulations in recent months, including the Belz and Vizhnitz communities, as well as several smaller hassidic groups.
The Karlin-Stolin grand rabbi is, however, the second senior ultra-Orthodox figure to object to failures within the community to adhere to health guidelines, after senior ultra-Orthodox arbiter of Jewish law Rabbi Asher Weiss, who said on Monday that the community should be ashamed of itself for its behavior during the pandemic.