There have been several reports of price gouging following super hurricane Sandy. Petrol dealers, home repair companies and hardware suppliers have all been warned by government officials that steep increases in prices and work fees will not be tolerated and will even be prosecuted. This is a clear statement that there is no tolerance for adding insult to adversity by looting unfortunate homeowners who were hurt by the storm. This is precisely how it should be. At a time when many are in need it is heartless to prey on those suffering by inflicting more pain. 

There is, however, no legal action to prevent people who purportedly represent religion from spiritually gouging the belief system of those harmed by the storm. There is, however, strong condemnation for these people.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called a Monsey based Rabbi “offensive and disgraceful…(and) ignorant” for suggesting that Hurricane Sandy was payback to New York State residents for legalizing gay marriages. This Rabbi, apparently with several others claim that a clear link exists between the two events – the passage in New York of gay marital equality and the destruction caused by Sandy. According to this Rabbi G-d staged a direct payback to New York. What the Hurricane had to do with New Jersey the rabbi did not say.

The Governor of New York went on to say about this Rabbi and his cohorts that New Yorkers will not tolerate “hateful rhetoric” which is “divisive.” The Governor also called the linking of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction to gay marriage equality ”bigoted”.

The obvious issue here is that no one can pretend to know G-d’s ways. To publicly decree that they have such powers of insight and awareness places these rabbis in the realm of being prophetic, and we know that in our times prophecy was given to fools and idiots. On that count the Governor may be solidly correct. But there is another component to these rabbis need to promulgate an agenda of connectedness between events that Judaism does not espouse. It is espousing an agenda that deliberately threatens and, in turn, pushes believers away. Though they may not see it theses rabbis are creating a religion that is painful for those who wish to follow them.

Just a few years ago the community I live in experienced the passing of a few men in their 40′s and 50′s. It was a series of tragic events; one man went jogging and died while running, another just passed out at work and could not be revived. These events occurred over the course of about 16 months. Some local rabbis seized on these events to proclaim that the cause of this spike of tragedies was an increase in a lack of tznius. They organized a gathering and a series of lectures to address this new death causing scourge. Note: there was no indication that I was aware of that modesty had changed at that time.

A skeptic asked me what I thought of the connection between modesty and the death of these young husbands and fathers, sons and brothers. I decided to check out some basic demographics for the community. Mortality and morbidity rates are available at several government agencies and are often accessible through their web sites. While the deaths of these men was tragic the rate of death in the community, even for people of their age, had not shifted in well over 10 years. There was no spike in death rates and therefore, the link with tznius became provably meaningless. While I approached this scientifically many knew this fact by simple emotion and instinct. And to hear that one’s father, husband, son, brother died because of a lack of tznius when it is simply untrue, shakes the faith in religious leaders and what they espouse.  

I have no problem if a religious individual believes that the downfall of a society can be linked with the shifting of moral and ethical behaviors away from that ensconced in religious doctrine. That is part of their belief and they are entitled to it. I do have a problem when the belief is turned into a mandate that is disprovable that harms individuals and is itself bigoted and divisive. It further harms those already harmed and pushes away those who need comforting from their adversity within their religion.

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