Monday Dec 06, 2010
by Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Director of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel
The flames that have brought tragedy in their wake to Israel have only just been extinguished. Still, the blame game has already begun.
Former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in his Saturday night sermon, suggested that the fires in northern Israel were punishment from God for the religious sins committed by the area's citizens. He quoted the Talmud, "fire only exists in a place where Shabbat is desecrated."
He went on to say, that if the people would only "study Torah, engage in good deeds, repent, observe Shabbat, and learn the entire Halacha, then, thanks to this, God will bring a complete recovery."
Now I have nothing against Torah study. Quite the contrary. But apparently Rav Ovadia must have a direct line to God. For the sources I have read teach us that we mortals are not capable of understanding the reasons for human suffering. The book of Deuteronomy (29:29) tells us that "these secrets are known only to God."
How very disgusting? Is there no end to the contempt for others that this "spiritual leader" of Shas will spew out?
Maybe we ought to blame God for withholding the precious rains that would quench the parched earth. Perhaps it is God who has sinned against us?
Or maybe, Shas, the political party which Yosef guides, fell asleep at the wheel. But blaming the victims? Shame of Rav Yosef!
A high school student from Haifa, Elad Riban, an only child, was a volunteer with the Fire Scouts. When the news of the fire was broadcast on Thursday he asked his mother to drive him to the command center. Elad was killed trying to save others. The words of Rav Ovadia desecrate his memory.
Others were quick to blame Eli Yishai (also of Shas) who serves as the Interior Minister. This is the ministry responsible for the fire department. Over a few shekels denied his Yeshivot he would pull his party out of the government. But keeping the country safe – I guess there are more important things.
Yishai too was quick to deny blame. Although the catastrophe occurred on his watch as Interior Minister, he claimed that those calling him to task are bigots. Yishai said that he was being singled out because "I am Ultra-Orthodox, right-wing, and Mizrachi." Yes,it is because of his ancestry that he is being called to task - not because of the dozens who died on his watch.
Physicians are now warning that Israel may be ill-prepared for a massive disease outbreak.
I tremble to think what may happen if the earthquake predicted by most experts soon strikes.
As I see it we have too options. We can actually prepare for the next emergency (the option I would select) or we can check our Mezzuzot (which while I would suggest this be done I do not for a moment think this will keep tragedy at bay).
And shame on those rabbis who denied a dignified burial to one of the victims owing to doubts about her Jewish identity. The Judaism I know demands respect for all people.
Heads rolled in the States after Katrina. Bank on Eli Yishai retaining his position. Count on every minister to pass the buck. The Blame Game is our national pastime.
The preliminary investigation suggests that the blaze that scorched the Carmel was initially caused by the criminal negligence of youngsters. Human indifference. Yes, sinful behavior – but not of the sort nearly all of the Hardei news outlets blamed for this awful event.
There is time to assess blame. In deed we owe it to those who perished to do so. We owe it to the brave people who are fighting the flames to do what we can so that this need not occur again.
We must investigate who is responsible. Those at fault may not continue as if they held no responsibility. Justice must be served.
But for now, let us comfort the mourners and pray for the injured. Let us galvanize to restore some of what was lost. Let us conserve water, even as we pray for rain, and let us make the safety of our residents a priority.