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    We Closed Our Shuls Voluntarily; Then The Government Shut Them For Us

    Notice

    This article was carefully reviewed by our Daas Torah and they encouraged its publication. The article was also carefully reviewed for factual accuracy.

    Previously, we posted a Yiddish shiur from Rav Elya Chaim Swerdloff, wherein he asked the following question:

    How could it be that our shuls closed back in March due to COVID-19? We know that Chazal tell us that our batei keneisios (shuls) will never close.

    He answered that Hashem’s promise is that HE won’t close our shuls. But if we volunteer to close the shuls on our own, then, yes, sadly, our shuls will close.

    Presently, this notion was just taken to a further notch.

    As we have been reporting, recently, Agudas Yisroel filed a lawsuit against Governor Cuomo, claiming that his executive order to significantly limit shul activity over the last days of Sukkos was unconstitutional.

    Agudah’s efforts to secure a temporary restraining order against the governor failed. In the reporting of the hearing, Agudah writes as follows:

    In her decision today, Federal District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto rejected Agudath Israel’s request for a temporary restraining order. In her opinion, the damage inflicted by Governor Cuomo’s executive order was not “irreparable.” She pointed to the fact that houses of worship were locked down in the early phases of the pandemic and that religious practitioners dealt with it.

    In other words, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto is basically agreeing with Rav Swerdloff shlit”a.

    (For the audio of the hearing, see our article here)

    Let’s recap. On or about May 8th, Agudah published their guidelines of how to reopen the shuls. Although the title of the document indicated that it was about how to “reopen”, it seemed more about how NOT to reopen, and remain closed.

    As Rav Pinchos Frankel pointed out, Rav Malkiel Kotler shlit”a, a sitting member of the Moetzes was intentionally left out of the meetings needed to make those decisions. Sources close to Rav Kotler have confirmed these reports.

    Rav Aharon Shechter shlit”a, another member of the Moetzes, was contacted late at night by the team at Agudah to pressure him into complying with the mandate to keep the shuls closed.

    Sources close to Rav Shechter tell EN that in his elderly state, Rav Shechter does not have the capacity to handle sudden and complex issues in a quick, spur-of-the-moment manner. May Hashem continue giving strength to all our zekeinim, but, the source says, Rav Shechter was manipulated.

    The guidelines published supposedly in the name of the Agudah did not have the name of the individual at Agudas Yisroel who allegedly wrote that letter.

    According to Agudas Yisroel’s own policy:

    Any authentic public communication sent from Agudath Israel will always have the name and contact of a staff member for easy authentication

    Also note that the style and approach indicated in the guidelines don’t appear to have been written in a Toradig way. They look more like something written by a secular public heath official.

    After Rav Frankel exposed some of the lies taking place at Agudas Yisroel, Agudah responded with an attack on Rav Frankel, not addressing any of his substantive claims, but rather resorting to calling his comments “slander”.

    The response further claimed that all activities which take place at Agudas Yisroel are done so with the guidance of Chaim Dovid Zweibel.

    That statement is simply a lie.

    Inside sources tell EN that several, influential, and controlling individuals within Agudas Yisroel have and continue to intentionally side-step Chaim Dovid Zweibel and keep him out of meetings in order to ensure that the outcomes are to their liking.

    Then, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky indicated that the second letter as well as the original letter were both illegitimate.

    (Moreover, we fail to understand how a letter supposedly signed by Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rav Aharon Feldman, and Rav Dovid Feinstein disproves Rav Frankel’s claim that Rav Malkiel Kotler was being left out. Shouldn’t Rav Kotler have been the very one to sign that he had not been sidestepped? Are we missing something? And why would only these three Rabbonim sign it? Where were the rest of the Rabbonim of the moetzes?)

    Meanwhile, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel did not ever shut down his minyan. They continued to daven bi’tzibur (with proper caution, distancing, etc.) throughout the first wave of the pandemic. Rav Yosef Rabbinowitz of Flatbush never closed his minyan. Rav Leizer Ginsburg and many others continued to daven with a minyan. Rav Reuvein Feinstein davened in a backyard minyan every day. Rav Yisroel Reisman (who is listed as a plaintiff in the recent lawsuit) had a backyard minyan. As did so many others. Rav Malkiel Kotler and other Lakewood Rabbonim wanted shuls and minyanim to continue unabated.

    Meanwhile, there was a lot of bullying taking place. Laymen and doctors bullied Rabbonim to close their shuls. Sadly, even some Rabbonim intimidated, threatened and bullied other Rabbonim to close their shuls.

    Rav Herschel Zolty, Rav and Rosh Yeshiva in Brooklyn wanted to keep his shul open, with distancing, but was pressured into keeping it closed.

    Inside sources tell EN that numerous Rabbonim in the Five Towns were also pressured into complying with the “consensus” to keep their shuls closed.

    The same was true in Lakewood. And probably in many communities around the world.

    One pro “public health” Rav said that anyone who davens at a back yard minyan during the shutdown is acting in a way which is akin to “evil with a streimel”:

    Is HaRav Elya Ber Wachtfogel evil with a streimel?

    Hashem Yerachem.

    One Rav even banned women from using the Mikvah if their husbands davened at a backyard minyan.

    Hashem Yerachem.

    One individual even ran into someone with his car for davening with a minyan.

    Hashem Yerachem.

    A prominent Orthodox pediatrician (who, by definition is untrained in matters of infectious diseases) from Flatbush shamelessly admitted to being mechallel Shabbos to call the police in an effort to violate the severe aveira of mesira, by reporting on a group of people davening with a minyan.


    He also called up the supporters of Mir Yeshiva Central Institute and told them to withhold funding from the Yeshiva until they agree to close their minyan which was open at that time (and being conducted according to the law, with proper distancing).

    (See our article regarding the severity of the issur of mesira as pertaining to the COVID crisis, as ruled by Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit”a.)

    Abie Rotenberg and Baruch Levine composed a misplaced, albeit beautiful sequel to their Journeys I Sefer Torah song, The Place Where I Belong, bemoaning the fact that our shuls were forcibly closed, when in fact scores of Rabbonim wanted their shuls to remain open. There was no legal mandate to shut down at that time.

    Yet bullies in the community, most of whom have financial gains and conflicts of interest, chose to put unfair pressure on the community as a whole to shut down the shuls.

    We must note that the notion that some minyanim should have been curtailed or limited may have been the choice of some Rabbonim, based on their personal view of the underlying medical question, the nature of the overall health conditions of their congregation, as well as their understanding of Halacha. Rabbonim can always disagree and there will always be more than one opinion on any serious issue.

    That is OK, and not of concern. Rather, the issue is the subliminal notion which is becoming increasingly more of a concern, wherein pushy activists believe that Rabbonim or laymen are simply not allowed to disagree in matters pertaining to public health. And if one individual believes that a shul should close, then he must demand that everyone else close their shul too. Even if they’re following their own Rav, or their own doctor, who is not employed by the CDC or other bureaucratic entities and does not have political ties or a vested interest in a particular outcome, that’s not enough. We need to follow the “official narrative”, and anyone who doesn’t, must be coerced into capitulation (and worse, oftentimes without even trying to understand their position).

    That’s alarming.

    Well, the judge felt similarly. Effectively, she said: if you can close your shuls, then so can I.

    Thousands of doctors and scientists around the world have questioned the legitimacy of the lockdown. Shouldn’t we have had emunas chachamim in those who still believe in hevu zehirin bi’rshus, and that we shouldn’t necessarily trust everything that the government tells us, even if it comes from the health department?

    Surely, Judaism is our religion. But is it perhaps, to some of us, only our second religion, with public-health-ism being our first religion? When will we learn that health comes from Hashem, not from the CDC?

    Rabbi Reuvein Schwartz
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