Dear Rav Kanievsky, may you live long,
My name is Nathan Lopes Cardozo. I am a child of a mixed marriage and made Giur in the Portuguese Spanish orthodox Community in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, when I was 16 years old. Today I am 74. I studied for twelve years in Chareidi yeshivot in England and in Israel, and for the past 40 years have lived with my wife, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren in Eretz Yisrael.
All of my children and grandchildren are religious, some of them chareidi and some deeply religious Dati Leumi. All of them have studied in yeshivot and seminaries. One of my grandsons is named after Rav Shach, z.l.
I learned to greatly revere my teachers at Gateshead Yeshiva, one of whom learned under the holy Chafetz Chayim. My Rosh Yeshivah learned in chavruta with Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman. These people were walking angels.
I have had the merit to meet your father z.l., the Steipler, many years ago—a most remarkable tzaddik and Talmid Chacham.
I converted because I was deeply impressed by orthodox Judaism, its awe of Heaven, its teachings, and above all its ethics. I was fortunate to have a very good secular education—and even obtained a PhD in philosophy, and yet I came to see that no tradition is as great as Judaism. It stands heads and shoulders above everything else.
All my life I have taught Judaism in various orthodox schools, yeshivot, seminaries, and universities. My love for Judaism has only increased over the years, and I am proud to be a religious Jew. I am often invited to explain the beauty of Judaism to those who are not orthodox in Israel and in the diaspora. I cannot imagine a greater honor, and I thank the Ribono shel Olam every day for this great privilege.
While I no longer blindly follow the chareidi point of view, I strongly believe that the chareidi way of life has a lot to offer. I’m deeply impressed by the devotion of its adherents and by their readiness to live a life of simplicity, sometimes under very difficult circumstances. I am sometimes envious of them, because I have not yet reached their level of piety. I do not know whether I ever will; it gives me sleepless nights.
I also know that among the chareidim live some of the greatest of all tzaddikim, remarkable people who show infinite love for all of humankind, and who go out of their way for their fellow human beings. Their institutions of chesed—lovingkindness—for religious and non-religious Jews are remarkable. I have lived in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood for many years and have seen this firsthand.
Even while there are many issues within the chareidi world with which I disagree, I also feel that this community has been unjustifiable attacked by the media, who do not understand that world, are afraid of it, and sometimes judge the chareidim unfairly by double standards.
I have never wavered in defending the rights and merits of this community, and I am proud of the community even when some of its members have attacked me for my views, or when I have disagreed with some of their policies or halachic rulings. I have always seen this as an unfortunate misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge, or merely the fear for anything new.
However since the beginning of the Corona epidemic, I have been put in an impossible position. Everything I stand for—and which the chareidi world as I know it stands for—is being violated in ways I would never have imagined. It is as if my whole world is falling apart, as if Judaism has become a farce.
I see, read, and hear how violent mobs of so-called chareidim bring all of our people into mortal danger by refusing to wear masks, violating the instructions of the government which is trying to save lives. By refusing to close their chadarim and yeshivot, they are putting their own students, their families and friends, and the rest of us in danger. When the police try to enforce the regulations they are physically attacked and called Nazis and other things I do not want to repeat.
Yes, it is true that the way in which some policemen behave is more than despicable, and that other groups who violate government regulations are not treated as the chareidim are, but is that an excuse to behave as some of the chareidim do?
And this behavior is seen on television by Israelis, and by the rest of the world. The Chillul Hashem—the desecration of God’s name—is beyond description.
While I know that large proportions of the chareidi world do adhere to the regulations, this substantial group of people violate everything we stand for. Are we not commanded to value life above almost all else? Are we not committed to create a Kiddush Hashem—a sanctification of God’s name—wherever we go? Should the chareidi community not be an example to all human beings—and at least to our own people?
And what I simply do not understand is that much of this is done in your name, Rabbi Kanievsky, and in the name of a few other chareidi leaders. I know that most chareidi leaders have instructed their followers to adhere to the government regulations. I find it hard to believe that you stand behind behavior that violates the most fundamental values of Judaism: to keep people alive and healthy to serve God in righteousness and to bring them closer to His service.
I feel deeply ashamed when secular people ask me what is behind this behavior, and see me as part of it. After all, I too wear a beard and a black kippa.
Why is it that the chareidi community can’t see that this is the moment to inspire millions of secular Jews by exemplary behavior?
And yes, I too believe that learning Torah is of supreme value and that it may protect us from many things; it has sustained us for thousands of years. But when the chareidi community, which today makes up 12% of Israel’s population, constitutes almost 40% of the COVID-19 infections in this country, it is clear that learning Torah is not a protection against disease. It is now obvious that the community most committed to learning Torah learning is also the one most affected by this deadly illness!
How many needless deaths will follow from this willful disregard for people’s lives?
Should we not bow our heads before God and admit that this time we are wrong; that our learning does not protect us as we had hoped, for reasons known only to Him?
Or have I been wrong all this time in seeing Judaism as the most profound and elevating voice in this world, capable of creating a better and healthier world? Was I wrong in believing that we Jews were “chosen” to achieve that goal? Should I perhaps renounce my conversion and say that I no longer want to be part of this people because some of the most “religious” of them are now creating an unprecedented Chillul Hashem?
I know too much of Judaism’s greatness to believe for one moment that Judaism is a farce. Our tradition has influenced us as Jews—and all of humankind—in ways that have been a great blessing.
But I also know that more and more Israelis, who see the chareidim as representing authentic Judaism, will come to hate our tradition.
Rabbi Kanievsky, I do not know what your role is in all of this. There are many—often contractionary—things said in your name. I cannot believe that this comes from you. It may instead come from people surrounding you who misuse your authority.
I am just a simple Jew without any “yichus”, no bearing on the future of this country. But I ask you with all my heart to make an end to this terrible Chillul Hashem, and to persuade all these people to immediately cease their appalling behavior. I ask you to excommunicate or otherwise depose those who are responsible for this disaster, and to return the Crown of the Torah to its former glory.
And if this does not work, perhaps your only recourse is to resign as the leader of the Charedi community and no longer allow anyone access to you, as a protest against what is done in your name. This may very well be the only way to make it clear that you do not want to have any share in this. It will shock all those so-called chareidim as nothing else would, and perhaps bring them to their senses.
In the name of those of us who have dedicated or lives to Torah, I ask you to stop this Chillul Hashem in whatever way you can. If you cannot, we will see more deaths, and even civil war. The disaster which will follow could, chas ve-shalom, destroy our lives, those of our children, and of many generations to come.
May the Ribono shel Olam bless you.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo