Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Hotel Corona

R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, ZTL (Wiki)
What the Jewish people needs now is more tragedy. Now there is a shocking statement if there ever was one. To be absolutely clear, I made that statement facetiously. But if unity is a value among our people, then tragedy seems to be the only way of getting there. 

I watched a short video today of what is being dubbed a ‘Corona Hotel’. If I understand correctly, these hotels house people that have tested positive for the coronavirus and need to be quarantined. Since these hotels are basically empty because travel has been severely curtailed, they have been repurposed.  

That video showed me something I never thought I would see. Yeshiva students from 2 factions that have absolutely nothing to do with each other in any way were studying Torah together. B’Chavrusa – as study partners. 

Religious politics have always seemed to get in the way of unity. I will never forget what an Avreich at a prestigious Charedi Yeshiva in Israel told me many years ago. It was while we were driving past Merkaz HaRrav, the flagship Yeshiva of the Religious Zionist movement. I  had been in their Beis HaMedrash earlier in the week and I commented to him about the intense level of Torah study I saw there. That it was a strong as any Charedi Yeshiva I have ever seen.  

So I asked him if his Yeshiva ever have anything to do with that Yeshiva. His response was somewhat shocking, but at the same time not all that unexpected either. He said that as far as his Yeshiva is concerned, Merkaz HaRav doesn’t even exist! 

The implication was that they might as well be a football stadium as far as the Charedi world is concerned. Considering that the students at Merkaz HaRav are the among the most elite young people of Religious Zionism, whose level of Torah observance and Torah study is equal to the best of any Charedi Yeshiva, I realized just how divisive religious politics are. 

It’s not like the right wing doesn’t know this about Merkaz HaRav. They know it darn well. They know that Merkaz studies the same Torah, the same way they do. And that they devote as many hours a day doing so. They also know how observant they are. And they know that the character of Merkaz students is of the same caliber as their students. 

But the fact that Merkaz places religious significance to the return of Israel into Jewish hands 73 years ago - places them outside the pale. To he point of not even acknowledging their existence. To their credit, Merkaz does not see the Charedi Yeshivos that way. It’s a one way street. So I lay the blame precisely at the feet of the Charedi leadership that perpetuate this policy. 

One may ask, if the Charedi world believes that Religious Zionism is a perversion of Torah, then why shouldn’t they treat them that way? Why would they want to give the slightest hint of recognition? 

I think one would have had to ask those questions to a  man that the Yeshiva world considered the Gadol HaDor back then, R’ Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, ZTL. Because if one feels so strongly that they don’t even recognize their existence, one should not even do so even at a moment of tragedy. 

And yet when 8 Merkaz students were massacred by a Palestinian terrorist a few years ago, R’ Elyashiv who was well into his nineties by then accompanied the mourners that were following funeral procession. He explained that although we have our differences with them, they learn the same Torah we do. 

That is the right attitude. That is the way we should think of each other all the time. We can disagree. But we should never treat the other as though they don’t they exist. Instead we need respect each other even while we disagree.  

Sadly that feeling lasted about 5 minutes back then. Once those bodies were buried, it was back to business as usual. Until the current tragedy. 

The pandemic has thrust students from both factions into the same building. The sight of many religiously diverse pairs and groups of observant students studying Torah together despite the type of Kipa or the color of their shirt - all while suffering the effects of COVID was heartening. They were doing what all Yeshiva students do. Studying the same Torah. Only instead of doing it apart, they were doing it together. 

Sadly, I predict that when this is all over, it will be business as usual again. There will be no reconciliation between the two factions. And the right will continue to treat Religious Zionist Yeshivos as non entities. The unity we are witnessing in these coronavirus hotels is just an illusion that will disappear like dust in the wind once we are out of the pandemic. 

What does this tell us about our people? I only hope it doesn’t tell us that the only way we can ever have unity is through tragedy. That is not the message we should be sending to God.