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The Politics of Rabbi Kanievsky's Funeral

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky's funeral procession in Bnei Brak, March 20.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky's funeral procession in Bnei Brak, March 20.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Even before it got underway, the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) marketed the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky as the “funeral of the million.” In the end, fewer than half a million came. They also said the masses would come in honor of the “minister of Torah,” but along with the honor, the masses also attended a political funeral.

They wanted to prove that they still wield power, even when they are outside the coalition. They wanted to tell Prime Minister Naftali Bennett: Watch your step, look how many people we can get out into the street, so put a stop to the decrees being planned by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana – we can bring you down.

And in fact, Lieberman was able to pass the military conscription law on the preliminary vote, and the Haredim are afraid that in the new reality, a 21-year-old yeshiva student may be released from the bonds of the kollel (yeshiva for married men) and embark on an independent life of work and study. Lieberman also wants to limit the subsidies for afternoon child care, day care centers and property taxes to families with two working parents, which is another blow.

Kahana is also causing them nightmares. He is a courageous, revolutionary minister of religious affairs, one who has passed important reforms on conversion and kashrut that hit the wheeler-dealers in their soft underbellies: their power to hand out government jobs. He even dismantled the huge Shas job industry in the religious councils, and for the first time, women were elected to managerial positions in the councils, heaven forbid.

The funeral was also a demonstration of cultural strength. The Haredim wanted us to concede and adopt their belief that what is really essential is the endless study of Torah and Talmud.

As far as they’re concerned, the state exists thanks to the cheders (ultra-Orthodox elementary schools) and the yeshiva students, although it is easy to prove that it exists thanks to the secular community, who work hard, pay taxes and serve in the army.

Just look at the undercover soldiers who halted the murder campaign in Hadera. But as far as the Haredim are concerned, it is God who fights from above, and secular Jews are nothing more than a foreign government, as in the diaspora, which should be exploited as much as possible.

A few years ago, Bet Shemesh's Shas members wanted to divide the city in two and build themselves a Haredi city. Eli Yishai, then-leader of Shas, was furious: “Are you crazy?” he roared at them. “Who will pay the property tax and fund all the city services, if there are no secular people in the city?”

There’s no problem with the Haredim living according to their belief, on condition they don’t try to force anything on the secular community, whether on kashrut, or Shabbat or marriage. Another condition is that we won’t have to finance them.

And that’s precisely the complaint against Rabbi Kanievsky. He preached in favor of Torah study, and that’s fine, but he also preached against wasting time on mathematics, history and English, and even spoke against going out to work and doing army service, which are genuinely anti-Jewish statements.

Maimonides said: “Whoever thinks he will study Torah and not work and be supported from charity, profanes God’s Name and shames the Torah … All Torah study without work will result in waste and cause sinfulness. The end of such a person is that he will steal from others to sustain himself.”

Rabbi Kanievsky drew his strength from the fact that he sat throughout his life and studied verses. He was not a rosh yeshiva (head of a yeshiva), not the president of the Council of Torah Sages and not an arbiter of halakha (Jewish religious law). He was considered a miracle worker, which is a strange, mystical Judaism. His status as a miracle worker was forged when in 1991 he said that the missiles from Iraq wouldn’t fall on Bnei Brak, and they did in fact fall on neighboring Ramat Gan – a matter of luck. But from that time on he was considered a miracle worker whose blessings are fulfilled, and if not, the disappointed ones simply remain silent.

In circles close to the rabbi’s home, they laugh at secular people and liken them to the Wise Men of Chelm. One day a hole was created in the town bridge, but instead of repairing it, the Wise Men of Chelm built a hospital next to the bridge, to treat the injured who fell. That’s true of secular people, who spend their days working hard and doing dangerous service in the army, instead of attending to the problem from its foundation: repenting, studying Torah, observing Shabbat, and then the Messiah will come and there won’t be any more wars in the world, nor will there be poverty and deprivation, so nobody will have to work or serve in the army. Go argue with false beliefs and vain imaginings.

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