As a Torah Jew, I am quite disturbed by a number of things I’ve seen lately, posted supposedly in the name of Gedolei Yisrael: signs saying that the legs of soldiers are being blown off for the sins of women uncovering their legs, calls for Jewish women to cover more to save Israeli soldiers or take off their wigs for the salvation of Israel, as if these women are causing our fathers, brothers, and cousins deaths!
Also disturbing is the idea being promoted that men need to spend all of their time learning Torah, even at the expense of helping soldiers, going as far as explicitly calling for yeshiva students to avoid visiting them in hospitals.
We are at war. Jews around the world are up against the worst anti-Semitism in years and the best our Torah leaders can do is tell women to cover themselves? Blaming women for the horrible injuries our soldiers are facing?
At the same time, many Rabbonim are absolving those learning in Yeshiva and Kollel of all personal responsibility, insisting that they have no need to help in any direct way, and should simply continue life as usual, with perhaps adding a few more minutes to their Torah learning and saying an extra paragraph or two of Tehillim.
The hypocrisy of putting the pressure and blame on women on the one hand, and absolving the men on the other is bad enough.
However, it’s worse than that. It assumes that we understand the ways of God, which we do not, and as I will explain, is a sin to make such assumptions. Ironically, these messages are mainly directed toward women who are already dressing modestly, and toward men who are already studying Torah.
As someone who looks to the Torah for guidance, I searched for sources that speak to war and disasters being caused by women’s clothing– I found none. But what I did find is even more telling and can guide us today– if only we are willing to listen.
Presuming to know God’s reasoning is a sin
God tells Iyov (42:7) that his friends will be punished for assuming they knew the reasons that Iyov was suffering. It is a sin to assume one knows the reason that someone gets hurt or suffers. To say that soldiers’ legs are being blown off due to the possible sins of immodest women is itself a sin!
In Yeshayahu 55:8, God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways.” We simply do not know, and cannot attempt to know, the correlation between suffering and sin, and even as to whether there is a correlation between the two.
We don’t need to guess
On a general level, the Neviim (prophets) do discuss the reasons for national tragedies and exile. This is something that deserves our attention. However, as we will see, increasing modest dress and Torah learning are not the reasons given.
Yechezkel 22:29-32 laments how the Jewish people have committed fraud and robbery, taken advantage of the poor and needy, while its leaders did not address these problems, and caused God’s fury on to the Jewish people.
When false prophets in the times of Yirmiyahu 7:5-8 said, “Don’t worry, all is well, we have the Beis Hamikdash,” ignoring the societal problems of their generation and taking advantage of the weak, God said that not even the Beis Hamikdash will save Israel. Only by executing justice and the cessation of oppression of the stranger, widow, and orphan, would we merit protection.
Not a word about modest clothing. Not a word about spending extra time learning Torah.
Why didn’t Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel, or all of the other prophets walk through the streets of Jerusalem saying that women should dress more modestly and in that merit they will save our people and soldiers against the incoming armies of Sancheriv and Nebuchadnezzar?
Why did they not say to the Jewish men: “If you want salvation and to avoid being dispersed and killed en masse, go to the Beis Medrash and learn Torah”?
Did our Neviim not value Torah learning? Did they not value modesty? Does our generation appreciate Torah values more than the prophets who received messages directly from God?
Or maybe the value system that is being projected to our communities is not actually aligning with the Torah’s value system.
Zecharia (7:8-14) clearly writes that our exile occurred due to a lack of civil order and lack of compassion for the stranger, orphan, and poor, and for plotting evil against each other and ignoring the rebukes of the prophets.
Yet in our generation, whenever or wherever a calamity occurs, there are many leaders in our communities whose knee-jerk reaction is to call for the need of the men to learn more Torah and for the need of the women to dress more modestly, which in turn will be THE merit to stop our suffering.
Micha 6:6-8 and Hoshea 6:6 tell the Jewish people that God was not interested in their burnt offerings. They prophesied that God wants us to commit justice, love goodness, and be modest in the ways of God. As long as we focus on our relationship with God and ignore our relationship with fellow man, what then is our relationship with God really worth?
Similarly, the hyper-focus on Torah learning and modest clothing is at odds with messages that our Neviim have taught us.
If we really want to help the Jewish people at this time, then we must help proactively in concrete and direct ways.
– Visit wounded soldiers, offer their families support, and provide any supplies they may be lacking.
– Pay respect and tend to the many new bereaved widows and orphans.
As the Neviim clearly said, our job is to fight for justice and help the vulnerable, and it is the responsibility of our leaders to echo that message. At this time, fighting for justice includes direct and indirect participation in the war effort (see my article here for more on that topic: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/fighting-vs-torah-learning-during-war/) and being an advocate for truth combating antisemitism.
We as individuals need to be more accepting of others, despite our differences, religious or otherwise, and treat one another with kindness and fairness. It is very well understood that our unity is a very powerful tool, both on a communal and national level.
On a community level, our religious leaders must actively and loudly fight against any corruption in our religious courts and our communities. These are the demands that the Neviim have called upon us to perform. This is what our leaders should be demanding of us right now.
The Torah cannot be used as a crutch or excuse to avoid issues that are required to be addressed head-on. Learning extra Torah is appropriate when one has more time that won’t interfere with the help that the Jewish people need right now.
In our days we do see how so many people in the Jewish community are coming together. May this be the real catalyst to usher in our redemption, speedily in our days.