BY: Daniel Danesh.

In Kol Hamevaser’s last issue, Reuven Rand had a piece on Modern Orthodoxy’s understanding of interpreting natural disasters as a form of divine punishment.[i] While it is not my intention to comment on the nature of Mr. Rand’s article or the correctness of his opinions (or his choice of title, for that matter), it is my intention to protest the great amount of disrespect which he displayed towards one of the leading authorities of Orthodox Jewry.

The Torah requires us to revere and, if necessary, protect the honor of a talmid hakham.[ii] This commandment certainly includes the honor of a leading sage such as R. Ovadia Yosef, who, aside from his secondary role as the Shas Party’s chief decision-maker, is one of the most respected leaders in the Orthodox world today, with Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike showing him due honor.[iii] Therefore, I was quite shocked when Mr. Rand wrote,

“When R. Ovadia Yosef famously proclaimed that the six million victims of the Holocaust were gilgulim, or reincarnations, of earlier sinners, many Jews were justifiably outraged. Though he was talking about the beloved parents and siblings of Jews still living that had died gruesome deaths, he somehow found it within him to label them the reincarnated thugs, murderers and rapists of previous generations. But for all of R. Yosef’s insensitivity, we cannot ignore the Holocaust from a theological perspective.”[iv]

I understand that Mr. Rand refers the reader to an earlier essay by Jack Katzenell,[v] who also shows a tremendous lack of respect for the sage.  However, I am at a loss to understand where Mr. Rand himself acquires the ability to refer to R. Yosef as insensitive. It is beyond any stretch of my imagination to try to comprehend how Mr. Rand, as an Orthodox Jew, can publish such comments. Does he feel he is qualified to dismiss R. Yosef’s remarks as just those of another famous man who does not understand the Holocaust and its disastrous ramifications, like the Iranian president or some other bigoted leader? Is he of the opinion that our leaders are chosen solely because of their academic merit and not because of their immeasurable amount of care and concern for every living person? His words indicate a complete lack of respect or regard for R. Ovadia Yosef and possibly for other major Orthodox rabbinic leaders, as well.

Though the democratic society in which we live grants us freedom of expression, regarding our sages, such as R. Yosef, we are not allowed to castigate them or their actions. One can question a leader in order to better understand his statements or rulings, but to present the view of a Torah leader such as R. Yosef and begin to degrade him in a public forum is simply inexcusable.

I close by respectfully asking Mr. Rand to express sincere regret for his uncomplimentary remarks concerning R. Yosef’s statement. The true test of man is not whether or not he is above making mistakes, but whether he possesses the ability to correct his mistakes.

Daniel Danesh is a Sophomore at SSSB majoring in Finance.

[i] Reuven Rand, “On Bikinis and Earthquakes,” Kol Hamevaser 4,3 (October 2010): 18-19.

[ii] Vayikra 19:32, as interpreted by Kiddushin 32b.

[iii] In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I am of Sephardic descent and though my custom is to follow R. Yosef, by no means should anyone mistakenly assume that I write this letter out of personal affront; rather, I write because all of our rabbinic leaders – though not necessarily above making mistakes – are beyond criticism.

[iv] Rand, p. 19.

[v] Jack Katzenell, “Rabbi Says Holocaust Victims were Reincarnations of Sinners,” The Independent (August 6, 2000), available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/rabbi-says-holocaust-victims-were-reincarnations-of-sinners-711547.html. (Originally cited in Rand’s article, n. xii.)