A View from Israel: Storms of sin

Why do some rabbis often feel compelled to invent causes for tragedies?

Hurricane Sandy 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
Hurricane Sandy 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
Every time a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or tsunami occurs, I cringe and wait for the inevitable. Someone, somewhere, is bound to blame the tragedy on the sins of others.
After Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, causing $80 billion in damages and killing nearly 2,000 people, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef declared the hurricane to be “God’s punishment for president Bush’s support of the August 2005 withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.”
He said, “There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters because there isn’t enough Torah study... Black people reside there [New Orleans]... [God said], let’s bring a tsunami and drown them... Hundreds of thousands remained homeless.
“Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God... Bush was behind the [expulsion of] Gush Katif, he encouraged [Ariel] Sharon to expel Gush Katif... We had 15,000 people expelled here [in Israel], and there [in America] 150,000 [were expelled]. It was God’s retribution.
God does not short-change anyone.
“Homes were ruined, entire neighborhoods wiped out, and it’s not arbitrary,” he said. “It is all divine providence. We must repent and keep Shabbat properly.”
Yosef also once said that the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners.
After the disastrous and tragic Carmel forest fire in 2010 in which 44 people died, haredi newspapers called for the public to scrutinize their deeds and sins.
In his weekly sermon, Yosef mentioned the fire and quoted a section from the Talmud, which proclaims that “fire only exists in a place where Shabbat is desecrated.”
Yosef has tried to manipulate the public, which he knows follows his every word and movement, for his own benefit as well.
In 2006, at a pre-election rally in Tel Aviv, he said that anyone who votes for Shas in the upcoming elections is assured a place in heaven.
Other rabbis as well have made the case that God causes tragedy against those who upset Him.
Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, the head of the Elon Moreh yeshiva, warned the prime minister of divine retribution for the Migron eviction.
Rabbi Shimon Baadani, a member of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, provided an explanation for former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s illness when he said, “Ariel Sharon had a stroke because he went with Shas and hurt religious services.”
Rabbi Yehuda Levin, spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, blamed the 2004 Asian tsunami on homosexuality.
A rabbi blamed the 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti that killed over 300,000 people on the publication of a satirical comic strip that seemed to mock ultra- Orthodox Jews.
Another rabbi blamed the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, in which over 15,000 were killed, on the Japanese prosecution of accused Jewish drug smugglers.
And yet another blamed the 2011 5.8- magnitude earthquake in Virginia on homosexuality.
Whether or not these accusations could be true, rabbis cannot claim to know with absolute confidence what goes on in God’s mind, so to speak.
AND NOW, with Superstorm Sandy wreaking havoc from Florida to New England, causing billions of dollars worth of damage and killing approximately 50 people, it would not surprise me if a rabbi somewhere decides – unwisely – to speak his mind.
Others have already taken this silly step. On Wednesday, evangelist preacher John McTernan blamed the hurricane on President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s stance on homosexuality.
We can only hope that religious figures – and everyone, for that matter – keep their thoughts to themselves and refrain from making unnecessary comments.
Hillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) is a greater transgression than the ones they claim are the cause of natural disasters.