Sixteen prominent Orthodox rabbis released a statement on Tuesday slamming controversial lecturer Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, an international lecturer known for making contentious statements.
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Mizrachi caused an uproar earlier this year over offensive comments in video lectures, claiming that "fewer than 1 million halachic Jews died in the Holocaust," that women contract cancer because of sexual promiscuity, and that Down syndrome and autism are punishments for sins of a past life.
In one video he explains that Ashkenazi Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves, because they became assimilated. He has also celebrated the deadly Nepal earthquake of 2015 with a Facebook post showing a destroyed temple: "All [t]he idols [sic] worshiping places [i]n Nepal are now destroyed."
The letter was addressed to the leadership of a Los Angeles yeshiva, Yeshivas Ner Aryeh, whose space was slated to host a lecture by the Israeli-born rabbi.
Mizrachi has a cult-like following around the world, with over 150,000 followers on his Facebook pages and over 9,000 on his YouTube channel. The day after the U.S. presidential election, Mizrachi gave a lecture in which he celebrated the Trump victory as a divine sign: "Baruch Hashem, today should be a very good day for the Jewish nation, as the miracle that Hashem made to us [sic], that Trump won the election."
In their letter, the group of rabbis decried Mizrachi's populist outreach approach: "As rabbonim [rabbis] and mechanchim [educators], we are greatly concerned about the popularity in some circles of a “kiruv” [outreach] approach that does not bring honor to the Torah ha-Kedoshah [holy Torah] but, on the contrary, creates considerable chilul Hashem [desecration of God's name]," the letter stated.
Mizrachi, they said, "reduce[s] complex issues to simplistic and misleading sound bites," and his assertions are "objectionable, and even dangerous." "That method may entertain and even stimulate some audiences, but it does no justice to the Jewish mesorah [tradition]."
The statement went on to warn Jewish institutions to "act responsibly" and be more "discerning" about the guest lecturers they invite to their communities.
The letter featured the signatures of Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz (head of the Beth Din of America, the American rabbinical council), Rabbi Mayer Alter Horowitz (Hasidic Bostoner Rebbe of Jerusalem), Rabbi Joseph Dweck (leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community of the United Kingdom), Rabbi Shalom Baum (president of the Rabbinical Council of America), Rabbi Daniel Feldman (a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary), and Rabbi Avi Shafran (spokesperson of Agudath Israel), among others.
This statement is a major step for traditional Orthodox leadership, which has previously been hesitant to publicly and collectively criticize Mizrachi – perhaps concerned about the backlash of his devoted following.