JERUSALEM (Dec. 26)
A 94-year-old Orthodox sage poured more fuel on the flames of religious controversy in Israel this week by contending in a sermon that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for the abandonment of Torah by secular Jews and could happen again.
Rabbi Eliezer Schach, dean of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak and spiritual mentor of the Orthodox Degel HaTorah party, denounced non-Orthodox Jews in an hour-long sermon at his yeshiva.
It will be published in full Friday in the party’s newspaper, Degel HaTorah, and anonymous donors are paying for the printing and distribution of tens of thousands of copies, according to media reports that appeared Wednesday.
Schach has attacked secularism in the past.
His latest admonishment comes at a time when an apparent majority of Israelis, including many who are observant, deeply resent the religious legislation demanded by the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party as its price for joining Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led coalition government.
The Agudah bills already passed or pending in the Knesset include stricter enforcement of the ban on public transportation on the Sabbath, a ban on raising and marketing pigs, a so-called anti-pornography bill aimed at what the religious consider lewd advertising and further restrictions on women’s access to abortions.
On March 26, when Labor Party leader Shimon Peres was trying to form a coalition government with the religious parties, Schach flayed the Labor-affiliated kibbutzim for abandoning their Jewish heritage.
His address from the Yad Eliahu sports stadium was nationally televised because of the political crisis at the time.
Schach’s latest sermon was in the same vein. He despaired of secular Israelis eating pork and failing to observe the Sabbath and festivals.
He advanced the idea, widely accepted in strictly Orthodox circles, that the Nazi Holocaust was the result of cumulative divine wrath over the Jewish people’s wholesale abandonment of Orthodoxy under the influence of the enlightenment, socialism and Zionism.
A well-known Orthodox scholar, Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, dismissed Schach’s remarks as “wicked and stupid.”
But Schach, who also exerts considerable influence over Shas, the largest of the Orthodox parties, maintained that “God is long suffering. But eventually, when a point of saturation is reached, he wreaks his punishment.
“Can we know when that point might be reached once again?” the rabbi asked.
“Perhaps it will be in one year’s time, perhaps in 10. And perhaps tomorrow. If there is no observance of Torah and mitzvot, that point may, God forbid, be reached again.”