Michael Boyden

Rabbi Kanievsky should be put on trial

Chaim Kanievsky is not any old rabbi. (Israel has enough of them!) He is considered a leading authority in the ultra-Orthodox, Haredi world.

It will be recalled that after the coronavirus struck Israel and there were calls to close yeshivot because of the risk of infection, tens of thousands of charedi students nevertheless went to school as usual, following Kanievsky’s directive that Talmud Torah schools should remain open despite the Health Ministry’s order to close.

It would appear that Kanievsky was more concerned about the damage that might be caused to his institutions by an interruption in Torah studies than he was about the risk to the health and lives of his followers.

Given the high percentage of infections within the ultra-orthodox community, one would have thought that Kanievsky would have learnt a lesson and could now be counted on to be more cautious before speaking out. Unfortunately, precisely the opposite is the case.

Kanievsky is now reported as having ordered yeshivah students to avoid being tested for the coronavirus since, if the results turned out to be positive, they would then have to self-isolate, which would interfere with their studies.

His pronouncement comes on the very day that it was reported that 200 out of 400 students at a Carmiel yeshivah had tested positive to the virus.

What Kanievsky is saying in effect is that it is more important that these students carry on learning than that they avoid spreading the virus and put the lives of others at risk.

Such an attitude stands in stark contrast to the treatment of the leper as described in the book of Leviticus. There the Bible describes how the priest ordered a person suspected of having been infected to be placed in isolation. Interestingly the time that would be spent in isolation could extend to up to fourteen days, which is precisely the timescale employed in attempting to stop the spreading of the coronavirus.

Kanievsky’s behavior is not Jewish.

The Torah tells us not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. In other words, we have a responsibility to protect the lives of others. Kanievsky is doing precisely the opposite and should be put on trial for doing so.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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