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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 

Prayer alone isn't enough to defend against terrorism

Almost 2 weeks ago, the Jerusalem Post reported that a Bnei Brak rabbi said something very naive:
...the dean of Bnei Brak’s Ponevezh Yeshiva Rabbi Gershon Edelstein told his students on Thursday morning that they must “strengthen their Torah studies, because the Torah provides defense and deliverance; it is the only thing that defends and delivers.”

In response to several questions on whether residents of the South should leave their homes, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, one of the most senior haredi rabbis in the country, replied in the affirmative, telling anyone asking that they should go to Bnei Brak, where he resides.

Edelstein echoed Kanievsky’s comments, saying that in a place where Torah is studied, damage cannot be inflicted, and – in reference to the 1990-1991 First Gulf War, in which Iraqi 42 Scud missiles hit Israel – noted that Bnei Brak was not struck.

“Therefore we should redouble our Torah study because it is the only guarantee and the only defense,” Edelstein said.
And then, four days afterwards:
Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, one of the most senior haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis in the country, has issued a public statement declaring that no rockets will fall on Bnei Brak and that residents of the city should not be afraid.
After at least one rocket landed not far from Tel Aviv, I think that's an awfully naive thing to say too.
...Hiddush, a religious- freedom lobby group, issued a statement denouncing the pronouncements coming from the haredi leadership.

“Bnei Brak and the other haredi cities have served for decades as cities of refuge for tens of thousands of rabbis and yeshiva students who evade military service and turn the Torah into ‘a shovel to dig with,’” said Hiddush director Rabbi Uri Regev, quoting a Talmudic instruction not to take advantage of the Torah for personal benefit.

“Operation Pillar of Defense illustrates this perfectly,” he continued.

“In the past, the haredi community had [the] little bit of tact to lower its profile during times of war, and it’s a shame this wisdom has been forgotten. It can only be hoped that after the operation in Gaza, the public discussion on mandatory military service will be renewed.”
He's right, it's foolish to think that prayer alone will stave off missiles when technology is advancing all the time, and Bnei Brak alone shouldn't be the only place important to the Haredi community. The Jerusalem Post published a letter yesterday disagreeing with the two rabbis:
Sir, – I begin this letter with a great deal of trepidation. It is essentially being written in reaction to statements made by two men, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, both saintly Torah giants for whom I have the utmost esteem and reverence.

I feel compelled to respectfully differ with their joint response when asked during Operation Pillar of Defense whether people from the South who were under bombardment should leave their homes. Both answered in the affirmative, saying these people should go to Bnei Brak, where they themselves reside. In a place where Torah is studied, they said, damage cannot be inflicted (“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: May our enemies fall by the sword before our soldiers,” November 16).

Unfortunately, their explicit promise of safety cannot find support in the historical record – the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva and the plague that decimated thousands of his pupils; the annihilation of entire Torah communities by the Crusaders; and the Holocaust’s extermination of Europe’s greatest Torah centers together with six million of our brethren.

I am troubled as well by the obvious impracticality of the suggestion.

Is the city of Bnei Brak in fact able or willing to accommodate an influx of a large group of outsiders? Most troubling, however, is the negative and divisive implications in the worthy rabbis’ advice (perhaps unintentional) that separated those who might choose to make the move and the many left to their fate.

Would it not be far more appropriate for the rabbis to have issued a declaration that all of Israel is worthy of the Almighty’s favorable countenance, without distinction of location? Should they not have been among the first to acknowledge with pride that in fact there is more Torah learning by more Torah learners in the State of Israel today than in any other period of Jewish history? Finally, should rabbinical leadership not be offering a message of encouragement and solace to the myriad of people whose lives and well-being have been shattered by years of constant terrorist violence? Should they not be the leaders who joyfully point to the daily miracles that we witness in our relatively few casualties, and the miracles being performed through the Iron Dome defense system? Should they not be involved with urging and beseeching the general populace to listen to and obey the safety instructions of the Homefront Command? And should they not be praying for and thanking the Creator for his care for all those who participate in the defense of our beleaguered country, and joyfully and publicly proclaim that the “Guardian of Israel neither slumbers or sleeps?”
That's something to think about. It's not just prayer that keeps us safe. It's also vigilance and the courage to defend against enemy assaults.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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