Vizhnitzer Rebbe Dies—The entire Haredi community mourned the passing this week at age 95 of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the leader of the Vizhnitz Hassidic group and President of Agudath Israel’s Council of Torah Sages. The funeral, attended by tens of thousands of men (women were not welcome), was held in Vizhnitz’s central study hall in Bnei Brak, with the Rabbi’s body wrapped only in a prayer shawl and placed hauntingly on the stone floor (photos).
A community that reveres great rabbis gives their deaths enormous attention, with obituaries, biographies, and coverage of the funeral dominating every Haredi newspaper. Hamodia, for example, dedicated a special section to the rabbi’s life and Mishpacha postponed this week’s publication to make time to prepare some 50 pages of coverage.
Condolence announcements sponsored by major Israeli companies, such as Bank Hapoalim and the Egged bus company, filled several days’ worth of papers. Typical of Haredi treatment of rabbinic heroes, the coverage said little about the substance of his leadership, his policies, or how he differed from other Haredi leaders, focusing instead on hagiographic descriptions of his Torah study, personal piety, and individual kindness. Hager’s two sons have already split into rival groups, each claiming to maintain the authentic Vizhnitz chain.
Hamodia and The Iranian Bomb—Despite a Haredi reputation for hawkishness, Hamodia this week dedicated two separate articles to the claim that speaking about attacking Iran does more harm than good. Haredi MK Israel Eichler, explained that “Haughty threats against Iran cause damage…. One who can act against Iran does not need threats. One who cannot do anything only causes damage with empty threats that raise oil prices.” The paper similarly quotes Likud minister Dan Meridor as suggesting that individual ministers should keep quiet on the topic. Generally, the Haredi press has avoided advocating for an attack against Iran’s nuclear program.
Haredi Women and Matriculation Exams—As part of a broader attempt to increase the number of Haredim in higher education, the government made it easier for Haredi young women to earn state-sponsored matriculation certificates (without which they cannot attend degree-granting programs). Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar decided to give credit toward matriculation for private exams given by the Szold Institute, which Haredi young women often take anyway. The new policy makes it easier for these students, who generally do not take state Bagrut exams while in high school, to earn a matriculation certificate independently. Critics demand equal treatment for all students, while advocates claim that these are just of the kinds of steps that can help combat Haredi poverty and integrate Haredim into Israeli culture without unnecessary intergroup conflict.
Haredim, Internet, and the New York Mets—Attempting to create a show of massive force and Haredi unity, the “United Communities for the Purity of the Nation” has announced plans to fill Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, on May 20 with nearly 50,000 Jews who will commit themselves to limiting Internet exposure. Ironies abound, as a community uses a sports stadium, a symbol of Western culture, to combat that culture.