Uman, Judaism, Coronavirus, and Pogroms

I couldn't be more strongly opposed to this mass trip to Uman. But this year, I found that I could be even more strongly opposed.Op-ed.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer ,

United Hatzalah
I have always been strongly opposed to the mass exodus from Israel to mark Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur in Uman. For years I have published my feelings on the matter. In normal years, the mass exodus is wrong on many levels. In no particular order:

1. Men leave their wives and families for Rosh Hashannah? For Yom Kippur? Where does this come from? A family, if at all possible, should spend the High Holidays together. The father should be on site for the children to observe and to learn from him and how he conducts himself on such a day of awe. Even on a regular Shabbat, a husband should eat his meal with his wife and children. OK, sometimes there is an emergency and someone has to be away on business. OK. But that is not Uman.

Yes, I know that Rabbi Nachman told his followers to come to his grave to pray, but the Ra'avan (Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman)'s closest talmid, Rabbi Levi Yitschak Bender, said in a Yiddish recording that Rabbi Nachman's words were not intended for those in Eretz Yisrael (the informationis from a Hebrew article).

2. The cost of flying to Uman from Israel and back, even if it is one shekel, is one shekel too many. When so many tens of thousands fly out of the country for this purpose, exporting their Israeli currency for airfare, for food, for lodging, it is a massive loss to the Israeli economy even in a normal year. OK, sometimes a person goes on a vacation, a trip to visit family abroad. But to encourage a mass exodus from Israel — and on the holiest days in Judaism, when Jews all over the world fly to Israel because they understand that is where a Jew belongs particularly on such a day? Where does this come from?

3. Consider the holy graves in Israel. Our patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Our matriarchs Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. In T’veriah (Tiberias) alone: the Rambam, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva, his wife Rachel, Rabbi Meir Baal Ha-Ness. Or in Meron, near Tzfat (Safed): Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. One can list so many. On what justification can there possibly be such an exodus away from Israel to visit specifically the grave of Rabbi Nachman? In the Exile what makes his gravesite holier than those of the Chofetz Chaim, the Rama, and all the Torah giants of the centuries of Exile? Where does this come from?

I could not be more strongly opposed to this. But this year, I guess I found out that indeed I could be even more strongly opposed.

1. Last year the returning Umanists brought back with them a chicken pox epidemic that made people in Israel, New York, and other places in the world furious and that engendered enormous anti-Jewish hate.

2. This year with COVID, even Prof. Roni Gamzu’s equations and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest political shufflings are less consequential than the obvious issue. Just focus on commonsense: A massive gathering of 30,000 Israelis flying into Uman is a recipe for bringing a coronavirus surge from Israel into Uman and also for bringing a follow-up surge from Uman into Israel.

Knowing everything we know about the darling Ukrainian love affair with the Jewish people, particularly over the past century, how can it possibly be sane for 30,000 Jews to go there now? If COVID does not erupt literally while they are there, the surge surely will take place and be manifest soon enough afterwards. Ukrainians never have needed proof that Jews caused their problems to believe so. Or that Jews carry disease.

Given the realm of simple commonsense, why would anyone even quasi-contemplative think it sensible to bring tens of thousands of Jews there this year? Where does this come from?

3. And of course Prof. Gamzu is correct that, when the Umanists return, there will be a surge of infected in Israel. Anyone can foresee where that leads: shutdowns and quarantines in Orthodox communities, then the Orthodox communities accusing the government of prejudice. Well, sometimes it is not prejudice, especially when people do foolish things, akin to the insistence by Arabs in their neighborhoods to continue holding large weddings and other large festive gatherings that result in their communities being deemed “red zones” in Prof. Gamzu’s “traffic light plan.”

It is ironic that this all is happening when the governmental head of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is a Jew. It puts him in a terrible position. First, as the head of his country, he cannot let 30,000 irresponsible foreigners create a regional health hazard.

He does not want pogroms, but he also does not want to be unfair to Jews. So he compassionately met with rabbis, decided to close down this year’s Uman nonsense anyway, and then pinned the blame on Netanyahu. Netanyahu then had to scramble politically because, all of a sudden, he now has all these Umanists joining the likes of people who disrobe on the Knesset menorah and who demonstrate at the Prime Minister’s residence for leftist causes to bring down the government.

So, amid political left-wing demonstrators who hate Orthodox Judaism in general and hassidim in particular — and joined by anarchists, legitimate demonstrators concerned about inconsistent economic policies and outraged by a government that can be more focused on the internal politics of whether the national budget should for one year or two years than they are over the financial impacts of the shutdowns — amid all that chaos, the Umanists now join too? Where does that nonsense come from?

And they go so far as to vow not to vote for the religious-national coalition in the next elections if Netanyahu does not now get Zelensky to get them into Uman for Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur? Where does that nonsense come from?

If I could not be more strongly opposed to the outright nonsense and halakhic improprieties of the annual exodus of 30,000 to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, I underestimated because actually I could be even more strongly opposed than I thought. It is a terrible thing. A terrible, terrible thing.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, congregational rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served for most of the past decade on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, and Israel National News. Other writings are collected at .