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
About Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. A sought-after lecturer on the international stage for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, Rabbi Cardozo is the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. He heads a Think Tank focused on finding new Halachic and philosophical approaches to dealing with the crisis of religion and identity amongst Jews and the Jewish State of Israel. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism. His ideas are widely debated on an international level on social media, blogs, books and other forums.
Richard H. Schwartz says
What a wonderful statement. Kol hakavod, Rabbi Cardozo! I hope your words are read and heeded. It would be. a. Kiddush Hashem.
Alex Igel says
Your eloquence is beyond question and I see you not just as my Rav and someone I aspire to be like. Rav Cardozo you are the worlds rabbi. You speak for me and very many others.
I too truly hope that your words are herded. You are an exemplar of humanity. Those in the Charedi community who behave in this manner are not Jews. Their behaviour is an aberration of Judaism and they need to heed your words in order to save lives which surely it’s probably one of the core planks of Judaism
Kol Hakavod. Shekoach.
With love and best wishes
Alex Igel and family
Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins says
Yishar Koah!! I hope he follows your advice!
Dov Peretz Elkins
As a Jew who sees himself as committed to the Torah and the Laws given to us by God above, I have never viewed the charedim as an example for our nation to follow. Without doubt, there are many aspects of charedi lifestyle that are worth emulating. But the entire charedi community, by definition, excludes themselves from clal Yisrael. By their dress, by their ghetto communities and by their adoration and subjugation to the gedolai of their own sects. We are commanded to only fear God. But charedim fear their leaders even more than God Himself. In so many ways, aside from the example you bring, charedim are a chillul haShem. In their unwillingness as a whole, to serve in the army. In their lack of respect for our police. In their political demands that give them benefits the rest of the population does not get. In their determination to hide and protect sexual assaults on their own people, not to speak of pedophilia. In wife abuse. By refusing to acknowledge that they are not better than other segments of the population in many ugly areas of life, while at the same time trying to hold themselves as superior to others, their children will see the hypocricy that lies deep in this community and they will either leave or rebel openly.
I thus believe that the charedi lifestyle is one that will eventually fall apart and with God’s help, these people will become mainstream Jews who are part of clal Yisrael, no better and no worse.
Avi Dzik says
I have learned a lot in the past about your outlook on judaism through nuance and an outside lens. I appreciate your ability to look at things differently than other orthodox rabbis. Having said that, I’m very disppointed in your lack of nuance. Life is not just about what I can do to live a day or a minute longer. People go out every day and take risks just crossing the street to enhance their lives. There is another side that fail to look at. Charedim live in cramped quarters and can’t always afford to have kids being idle for weeks on end. How long do you expect them to trust this govt that has repeatedly lied before they take their lives into their own hands.
I my yeshiva years, I was taught that our People was sustained on three legs, the religious one, the national one and the universal one (they related those with the Ya’akov, Yisrael and Yeshurun names, as well) Certanly, in our long galut, the religious aspect was crucial for our survival, and the other two aspects couldn’t be put at work fully, of course. But now, when we are back in our Land, reconstructing our nation, if we center in only one aspect, catastrophes follow. When the national aspect is taken as the only important one, like, for example, those early zionists that despised everything religious and wanted to erase any religious aspect of our nation, treating religious people in ways we can’t believe nowadays. It can take the form of some of our most idealist young people, that think that they are citizens of the world and from nowhere in particular and any problem, anywhere in the world is more important than anything in this despicable country that should be handed to any other people claming it. Taking only universalism, converting it to extreme cosmopolitism doesn’t bring nice things, either. Taking only the religious part, here, in our land, in our country, can bring what it’s just happening. Sorry, Rav, but I’m not surprised. As I’m not surprised with the consequences of taking one of the any aspect (or even smaller parts of the any aspect) of our People life and mission and making that an Absolute. It’s not new, it’s the meraglim again, it’s the most of rabbanim chosing to be deaf before the shoah, it’s the merciless opposition that Rav Kook suffered… Studying Torah and living it in 4 amot. Zehu.
It’s a maimed judaism, as it was the wildly antirreligious zionism or it is the antiisraeli cosmopolitism. Maimed. Of course there are wonderful midot in that world that we can learn and praise. As in any other world, I may add. Have them a role to play in our history? Bebaday, as the people from the israeli extreme left have. But I can see a fulliest judaism in someone like my friend Biniamin, that came from the North of India, 30 years ago, raised a great family, was expelled from Gush Katif, came to Beit El, works as an excellent carpenter, has wonderful midot, and a rich and practical Torah life and study.
In those yeshiva years, I even had the experience of people just taking two aspects of judaism and excluding the third. One of the rabbanim, the most promient one, a well known dati-leumi personality in Israel. began to teach also Benei Noach. A significant group of talmidim, datim leumim like him, criticized him harshly saying that “aren’t there enough yehudim in this country that he has to go to teach to goyim?”.
What is happening these days is a chillul H’, I completely agree and share the pain, deeply. But my surprise level is zero, it’s part of a whole dynamic that it’s rather old and predictable, and also a national danger as it was in the past when we commited the same mistakes of making Absolutes from things that aren’t.
Tony Sachs says
Yasher Koach Rabbi!
As always,you say it so well!
Stay safe and healthy.
Felix Perez says
We can never obtain a change of attitude of an ideological position. On top of it, humble reverences for diplomatic reasons only weaken our positions.
We should tell the brutal truth to Kasnievsky and co : dina de malkhute dina, preserve life above all, do not use violence…
Unfortunately there are situations requesting strong and clear oppositions. This is one of them.
Natania Etienne says
Rabbi, your words are gems. The consequences of this Hilul HaShem are tremendous abd destrucful fir all klal Israel. But renouncing judaism even for one minute thought is like runing away from a fire. As a daughter of Rabbi David Feuerwerker l was persecuted even as a little girl l run away from the Jews at the end of the world and if l am in Israel tiday is not because l forgive but because in the dark day of my life when l renonced the community l didn’t renonce judaism. Keeping kosher l had the luck to have my kosher meat from a Satmar that sent it with refrigerated truck at the end of the world. He was an angel and judausm is personal and community and l claim that it belongs to me as much as to anybody that want it .knowing that it’s a forest sometimes in the ugly dark and tgan with such light…….
Janet Sack says
Thank you so much for so eloquently reflecting my feelings. I am neither scholar and no longer strictly follow a religious way of life. However, I am deeply Jewish in my soul and to see Jews attacking other Jews is so distressing. This is not the Jewish values I was taught that I believe. I am so ashamed.
tziporah heller says
Dear Rabbi Cardozo,
I do not know if you remember me; we both taught Mechina in Neve Yerushalaim. I still remember how awe stricken the girls were by your brilliance and erudation, and most of all, your humanity.
I have followed your new beginnings form afar, always wishing you the greatest hatzlachah in finding the right place for your G-d given talents.
I often agreed with your views as I saw them in various news outlets, and often did not. This never changed my picture of you as a gifted teacher and as a seeker. There is one thing that I feel that I should have told you long ago.
If you care at all about anyone, you have to share your feelings with them when you think that they are crossing the road and don’t see the car coming straight at them.
Somehere along the line your poisitivity has disappeared. Every article I read is a veiled or less veiled cry from the heart, Until I read this article, I felt that you may have been embittered to the point of myopia by the fact that you had to carve your own path. I now see that you still can see the poistive, the real, and the enduring.
I just want to tell you how much I feel you could contribute to all of us if , the approach of the Chofttz Chaim, of Rav Aryeh Levine, and others who chose to see the one who Hashem calls My Dove, My Perfect One, the Jewish people in a more postive ight, and to let compassion lead y ou back to love of your people rather than pain over their shortcomings. distracting you from t he l ove I beleive y ou feel for th em. Your heroes and mind had only the
greatest respect for the Gedolei dor. Humility is the way towards love, and I hope sincerely that I have not overstepped myself by writing you a letter with t he deepest feelings of hope and respect.
Tziporah (Heller) Gottlieb
Living life through rose colored glasses can make one’s life pleasant. But true seekers of “Emet” refuse to live a life of lies and deceit.
The charedim are a chillul HaShem in many ways, not just their actions during the Covid crisis. And because they do acts that are a chillul haShem, I see no long term future for them in Israel. Yes I see their numbers rising, new towns, lots of kids etc. But the foundation is rotten to the core. Men who fake studying Torah while collecting government payments (from hard working tax payers), women sent off to work while the kids are raised by women who open up nurseries in order to collect more government handouts. Failure to do their fair share in protecting our borders (The Torah lists 3 cases where a man may not serve – studying Torah is not one of them!!). As if this were not enough, idol worshipping of their “rebbes”, protecting wife beaters, pedophiles, incest, creating agunot and more.