The head of a Haifa-area yeshiva, Rabbi Avraham Kirshenbaum, came out strongly against allowing synagogues to remain open during the coronavirus crisis, and accused religious Jews violating government directives of giving fellow Jews a bad name. Kirshenbaum also called on police to step up enforcement of virus guidelines.
"Police beating up those violating the law should do so ten times harder. From this pulpit, I urge Israeli police to give ten times more beatings. [The haredi protesters' behavior] is a disgrace," he said during a meeting with coronavirus patients at the Hebron Yeshiva. A recording of the speech was posted on Kikkar Hashabbat website.
"If you want Torah scholars to be your example in life how do you go about choosing which ones to listen to? Whom do [religious] newspapers refer to as great rabbis and which ones really are? In light of recent events, everyone in this room knows which religious leaders are the real thing and which are putting on a show. I'm not afraid to say any of this."
Kirshenbaum refuted claims that new sanctions were damaging the religious way of life and that all means were justified to continue worship and Torah learning. "Some people say that Torah is equivalent to life and that one cannot give that up. This has nothing to do with Jewish Law. This isn't the case. It's pure stupidity," he's heard saying.
"The Torah teaches that he who does not safeguard his life is deserving of the death penalty. I don't like to criticize other Jews but if someone dies while desecrating God's name, they cannot be atoned for. You can tell which [religious leaders] have integrity. It's got nothing to do with whether they're [religious Zionist or haredi].
"This is not an easy situation. Those who are not confused today have no common sense because the situation is so difficult to comprehend. The stats don't make sense. You can tell who really cares; who knows what desecrating a Torah commandment to save a fellow Jew's life really means. I am not claiming there's a clear right or wrong. Certainly there are different approaches that make sense. People have different opinions. Some individuals take shortcuts, including ones in positions of authority, but there are also plenty who simply don't care about the rules, mock them, and create some kind of conflict with police out of it. These are little kids."
Kirshenbaum noted that a rabbi who does not protest violations of the law cannot be considered a rabbinic authority. "If their rabbis don't condone their behavior, they can't be looked upon as rabbis. Personally, I don't claim to be a figure of authority, but this is an opportunity for you to look beyond the headlines," he stated.