Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

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, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. 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 most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * 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. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. 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 a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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