Aside from the cleanup and days without power, and the continuous flow of heartbreaking stories, one of the most difficult parts of a disaster aftermath is the cacaphony of religious "explanations."
It happened after 9/11, after storms and hurricanes and earthquakes, and it can't help but happen after the devastating Hurricane Sandy.
First the relatively unknown Rabbi Noson Leiter went on a Christian radio program and declared that "a number of leading rabbis believe there are messages in this particular storm for us and the idea that the storm brou is so much unexpected flooding is cert an allusion toward the fact that a flood destroyed the world …. If we look at the same-gender marriage recognition movement that is occuring that is certainly a message for us to learn, that not just the bad people but the good people have to learn that the Lord does watch what we do. And If we dont shape up, he will deliver divine justice."
Then a more usual suspect, Rabbi Yehuda Levin came out (so to speak) with a press release offering "a traditional Jewish/Torah approach to the hurricane and the election" in which we learn that "G-d multitasks. There are probably various reasons for the hurricane. Each person should repent for his/her personal shortcomings.
"Days after same gender marriage began in New York, we were hit by Hurricane Irene. Days before the national election, (no significant repentance in NY or anywhere in the US,) Hurricane Sandy hits, further damaging our fragile economy. In 2 days: An earthquake in California, an "almost" tsunami in Alaska, Hawaii and Hurricane Sandy in the East." (Hat tip to Failed Messiah for the text.)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, issued a statement in response to Rabbi Leiter's comments.
"This catastrophic storm claimed the lives of more than forty New Yorkers," he said, in part. "This kind of hateful rhetoric has no place in our public discourse, and is particularly distasteful in times of tragedy. … I call on Rabbi Leiter to apologize immediately for his hurtful comments."
Sadly for Rabbi Levin, he didn't get a gubernatorial dress-down, but he did get to cause a major flap back in the 2010 election for the executive mansion when he handed Republican Carl Paladino an anti-gay speech at an event — and Paladino read it.
Not much is known about Rabbi Leiter (we've never heard of him.) The radio program on which he appeared, Crosstalk, lists his biography as follows: "Rabbi Noson Leiter is the Founder and Executive Director of Torah Jews for Decency and founder of HelpRescueOurChildren.org which is involved in assisting victims of child-molestation and tracking down the perpetrators. He has also been leading Orthodox Rabbis and has been spearheading a fight to repeal homosexual “marriage” in New York State."
"How sad that in the very same week we read in the Torah about Abraham defending even the inhabitants of Sodom and Gamorrah, these rabbis have thoroughly abandoned Abrahamic tradition and want to indict people rather than defend them. A hundred people lost their lives and tens of thousands more lost their homes and millions lost power and heat. Our responsibility is to protest this seeming divine miscarriage of justice and choose life as Moses commanded."
He added, "Aside from the arrogance of a rabbi claiming to know the mind of God, there is an added insult of robbing people who are suffering from their last vestige of hope by saying they actually deserve suffering."
Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, gave us a more nuanced answer in an email: "There are no prophets today and so no one can authoritatively assign any particular reason for any natural disaster."
He added: "We are, though, exhorted, as individuals and as communities, to ponder a natural disaster like the one we have just experienced, and to regard it as an impetus to try to discern where we may have fallen short of the holy vessel that is a human being. Such introspection is proper for each of us as an individual, and for every legislator as a public servant."
Reaction on the Yeshiva World News web site, in comments on a story about Rabbi Leiter, was mixed:
"What a Chillul Hashem!" exlaimed Jusrangers. "Rabbi Leiter is entitled to his beliefs, but promulgating them like this right after a tragedy is the real “toeva" [abomination]."
But Git Meshige said the rabbi didn't go far enough, and added another cause for nature's wrath: "I call on Cuomo and dirtbag Bloomberg to backtrack on this evil decree and follow the commandments of G-D. Of coarse [sic] this destruction was becuase [sic] of evil behaviour and the decision for Bloomberg to attack Millah. There is no other explanation."
(The city Board of Health under Bloomberg issued a consent decree requiring mohels to get parents' written permission before performing oral suction during a circumcision.)