Why the Hasidic pilgrimage to Uman must be stopped – Haaretz

Posted By on August 24, 2020

Menahem is an ordinary ultra-Orthodox boy in Ashdods Belz Hasidic community. His life was seemingly serene until a week ago when his father, David, died of COVID-19. Menahem just finished sitting shivah for him and, in a photo that came into my hands, you can see the 13-year-old boy sitting by himself on a low chair. Opposite him, a large group of Belz Hasidim have come to console him during the seven-day mourning period. The photo is hard to look at: Why is this youngster receiving the visitors all by himself?

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It turns out that Menahems father wasnt the only family member who passed away recently. Menahems grandfather, Yehiel, died from the disease about a month ago, and Moshe, his granduncle, died from the same disease about a month and a half ago. Meaning there is now no one left to sit with him. And it transpires that David caught COVID-19 while participating in his father Yehiels funeral.

The story of this tragedy was just posted on one of the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) websites. A friend from Bnei Brak who was shocked by the case thought that publishing it in a secular newspaper might make it clear to Israels Haredi lawmakers that they have to start treating the coronavirus seriously. After all, its commonly known that a substantial part of the Haredi community pays no heed to the directives regarding social distancing, quarantining and wearing protective facial masks. A visit to ultra-Orthodox synagogues, mikvehs (ritual purification baths) and educational establishments including yeshivas and kollels proves that.

Even in the photo of Menahem sitting shivah by himself, you can see that the Hasidim who came to console him are standing close together, none of them wearing a mask.

All of this connects to the harsh pressure that United Torah Judaism lawmakers Meir Porush and Yaakov Litzman are currently applying on coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, to let 30,000 Bratslav Hasidim fly to Uman for Rosh Hashanah and pray at the grave of Rabbi Nachman. On Sunday, Porushs newspaper, Hamevaser, wrote that Gamzu has crossed a red line, in the best tradition of haters of religion.

Porush has spoken of Gamzus condescending behavior. And what shape does that condescension take exactly? The desire to save the lives of Bratslav Hasidim and everyone else, too. Litzman easily one-upped Porush and arrogantly demanded that Gamzu be fired. Remember, were talking here about the worst health minister in Israels history: Litzman refused to limit attendance at synagogues and mikvehs, thus causing a huge COVID-19 spike in the Haredi community. Will he be forgiven on Yom Kippur?

We also have to understand the depths of cynicism to which Porush and Litzman have sunk. What interests them is the 30,000 votes of Bratslav Hasidim who are threatening not to vote for their party if they dont ensure that the pilgrimage to Ukraine goes ahead. These lawmakers arent interested in the dimensions of illness among the Hasidim, or the fear of spreading the disease when those traveling to Uman return to Israel. As far as theyre concerned, let there be an outbreak and a lockdown; let those who are harmed be harmed. Whats important is only the voting booth.

Then theres the fact that the Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman is in itself a distortion, not Jewish at all. Shas late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was strongly opposed to traveling to Uman for the Jewish new year. He said this was a time devoted to the family, when everyone should stay in his place and go to Uman some other time.

Meanwhile, Gamzu is standing his ground. In a Zoom meeting on Sunday, he said he strongly opposed flights to Uman and that this craziness must be stopped. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu betrayed him without batting an eyelash. He said he was actually willing to examine the Bratslav Hasidim plan. Thats what happens when you work with a scorpion, whose nature is to sting everyone even in the middle of the river.

And so Gamzu is being put to the test. He already caved to Interior Minister Arye Dery when he approved the entry of 12,000 yeshiva students to Israel from Brooklyn. He gave in again when he didnt impose restrictions on Haredi cities experiencing coronavirus spikes, like Modiin Ilit. And he can expect a tough battle soon over mass prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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Thats why if he backs down on Uman, hes finished. Hell no longer be able to stop anything. There will be another coronavirus outbreak and hell be declared a failure.

And if that doesnt convince him, let him think about 13-year-old Menahem, a fatherless boy who also lost his grandfather and granduncle. Let him at least save the next Menahems.

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Why the Hasidic pilgrimage to Uman must be stopped - Haaretz

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