Thursday, March 20, 2008

Orthodox Jews Unite In Response To Merkaz HaRav Attack

“The attack struck a special chord with Orthodox Jews in the way that an earlier attack on a Tel Aviv disco resonated with more secular or youthful observers.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Some outsiders regard the Orthodox Jewish world as monolithic, but those of us within the community know well that quite the opposite is the case. Few religious communities are as diverse.

The Orthodox universe hosts a multiplicity of approaches to a multiplicity of issues: the inherent value of secular education, what goes by the name of “Jewish religious pluralism,” the theological significance of the State of Israel, the proper degree of separating the sexes, the application of the concept of “daas Torah” – to name a few.

Sometimes the differences in approach can appear quite prominent and, indeed, people who take their Judaism seriously can only be expected to feel strongly about issues important to them.

And so the various Orthodox bubbles, although they occasionally collide gently (as bubbles are wont to do), generally just float about independently. There are times, though, when the bubbles all merge, when distinctions simply disappear. The horrific attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva was one.
The March 6 murder of eight boys and wounding of ten others in a prominent yeshivabrought tears to the eyes of all feeling Jews, of course. And the victims of every terrorist attack on any Jews are kedoshim, holy martyrs, a term that our enemies have perversely pinned on those among them who seek to spill innocent blood.

But the recent massacre brought particular anguish to the Orthodox community, as the victims were so deeply dedicated to Torah study – and engaged in it – when they were martyred. As the New York Sun put it the next day: “The attack struck a special chord with Orthodox Jews in the way that an earlier attack on a Tel Aviv disco resonated with more secular or youthful observers.”

That the yeshiva was prominently associated with the “Religious Zionist” movement was of no interest; the sorrow swept over us all.

Heartrending reports and editorial eulogies for the murdered youths appeared in the Haredi press both in Israel and America. Haredi roshei yeshiva and communal leaders sent their personal condolences to the families of those so cruelly cut down in their prime, and wishes for a refuah shleima to the wounded. The Belzer Rebbe, who rarely leaves his house, attended one of the funerals and later visited the wounded at Shaare Tzedek Hospital. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who leads one wing of the Satmar chassidus, synonymous with theological anti-Zionism, wrote that “Yerushalayim is weeping over the fact that Jewish boys were… murdered in such a terrible way… the entire Jewish People weeps over such a bitter tragedy.”

Here in the United States, Torah Umesorah, the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools, whose rabbinical board consists of Haredi roshei yeshiva, asked the principals of the hundreds of schools it services to have their students recite Tehillim and study Torah in memory of those killed, and in the merit of a full recovery for those who were wounded. Also suggested was that principals have students send condolence letters to the families of the murdered, and good wishes to the injured; and that special memorial services be held.

Haredi rabbis and roshei yeshiva spoke publicly, with visible anguish, to their flocks and students about the depth of the tragedy and the pure-hearted dedication to Torah of those who were murdered.

No, differences in approach and theological outlook didn’t, and don’t, disappear.

Sometimes, though, they just don’t make a difference.

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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