Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

The end of ultra-Orthodox Judaism as we knew it

The Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, head of the American Agudath Yisrael and of the Moetzez Gedolei Hatorah of America, was one of the very few top Chareidi rabbis who understood the coronavirus danger. In the above video clip from March 20th, 2020, he called upon all, to heed doctors’ orders for a danger so great we have never seen. For himself, it would be too late. He fell sick and sadly, passed away yesterday.

I’ve seen already writings on our subject at hand that seem written with either cold distance and indifference or even glee and schadenfreude (from a fanatical Zionist and from a fanatical anti-Zionist). I hope I’ll do a better job; that the reader can perceive the tears about paradise lost. And about the survival of tens of thousands right now hanging in the balance.

I know that some deeply Muslim populations and some fundamentalist Christians also still haven’t gotten the message. But this hits close to home. I hope that I was able to write with empathy. I know that not all Chareidic groups are insular, like Chabad. And many Chareidic Jews aren’t insolated, may not have an iPhone or TV but have a PC, and some serve in the IDF.

Some have claimed that life after the pandemic will never be the same. One may speculate. But surely, this will be true for the ultra-Orthodox. These insular communities, so dedicated and so innocent of modernity.

The 2008 Gaza Disengagement was a terrible hit for Israel’s National Religious. The State they championed had let them down. Suddenly, their government betrayed them, ignoring their sacrifice, and didn’t even help them properly resettle. The shock has brought forth the Hilltop Youth.

Not so different now, is the coronavirus disaster for the ultra-Orthodox. The G^d and leaders whom they followed blindly had let them down as never before since the Holocaust. But that genocide could be blamed on wicked strangers — nothing new. Here the culprits are G^d and a virus.

Not only did their saintly leaders give no or wrong advice at the beginning of the outbreak. They also didn’t bounce back admitting their mistakes. Rather, they fell silent, in fact abandoning their flocks. The poor common Chareidi, unknowledgeable about biology and science, was misled by his inept leaders, people of infinite Torah knowledge, almost on the level of prophets if not the Messiah — or so their followers always believed.

In some areas, a third of these people were infected with the virus. While the more worldly Jews already had kept their distance during Purim, they had been blissfully unaware. How could fidelity to a Commandment be dangerous? They together danced, prayed and celebrated grooms and brides as if there would not and could not be any hazard in doing so.

(Of course, G^d didn’t betray anyone. Rather, the emergency had pushed many regular Commandments aside. Saving lives became the main thing.
It’s not supernatural that so many of the great rabbis were ‘targeted’ early. When all kiss their hand, it takes only one sick congregant to infect them.)

And those who came to feed, teach, protect, and heal them were largely sent by the secular State. This all is a big shock. That is not going to heal quickly. We see that already now, with Chadreidi youths running amok.

It’s long-standing medical practice to help patients who gets sick through their own stupidity without judging them. The smoker, the alcoholic, and the not-social-distancing alike. Thankfully, critiquing is not a doctor’s job.

And so far, I haven’t here mentioned the heartache in these communities of losing so many, including leaders and rabbis, or the bad name that this failure has given them in society at large. These are big traumas too but the main problem is yet the culture shock of the superior coming in last.

Judaism will never be the same for a lot of Jews and communities.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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