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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts The Coronavirus Pandemic

Chapter 25

Mutations

I am certain that all of us have become knowledgeable regarding the subject of mutations. In my opinion, mutations are not strictly limited to viruses. The truth is that all societies continually mutate.
Rabbi Berel WeinShvat 12 5781
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Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, I am certain that all of us have become knowledgeable regarding the subject of mutations. It seems that all viruses regularly mutate in order to be able to survive. The efforts of epidemiologists are intended to stay ahead of the curve, anticipate the mutation, and make certain that the preventive vaccine is operative even against the new form of the virus after it has mutated.
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25 - Mutations
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In my opinion, mutations are not strictly limited to viruses. The truth is that all societies continually mutate, adapt, change and attempt to renew themselves. It seems that this is part of the natural law instilled within our world by its Creator. In thinking along this vein, we can view the effects of mutations in Jewish and Israeli society over the past half-century of our turbulent story.

Every section of Jewish society has mutated, so to speak, to meet the needs and demands of issues and problems that were not foreseen a half-century ago. Like all mutations, some of these have been very successful while others have been abject failures. Those that have failed become extinct and disappear. This is an inexorable law of nature. Nature is never forgiving of mistakes and wrong decisions. As such, it behooves us to look at the mutations that have occurred in Jewish society, and to attempt (to the extent that humans can) to assess current trends and future events.

The secular Jewish society in the United States has mutated in an unfortunate direction. Fifty or sixty years ago, a vast majority of that society still had connections to tradition and Jewish observance, even though they were not fully observant, and in their public and private life, they did not claim to be Orthodox Jews.

But both the Reform and Conservative sections of American Jewry have mutated further and further away from any connection with Jewish tradition and Torah observance. Influenced by the general trend of American academia, the media. With the drift towards the political left, they have become less and less Jewish, and more and more progressive. They demand to change society but are unwilling to change the individual Jew. Instead, there is almost herd instinct continuing down this path of assimilation, intermarriage, and eventual alienation from the Jewish people, and, certainly, from the State of Israel,

In Israel, the mutation has gone in a different direction. Israel, overall, is much more Jewish, if not completely observant in everyday life and values than it was when it was founded in the middle of the last century. There is an element of Jewish pride that exists amongst the Israeli population that I find lacking or at least nonassertive amongst Jews living in the Diaspora.

It is not that everyone in Israel has suddenly become observant – far from it. However, it is clear to those of us who have been here for several decades that Israeli society has mutated, and that the trend towards tradition is much stronger than it was at one time. The left in Israel no longer writes the script for the country, politically, diplomatically, or socially.

The Orthodox world has also undergone mutation. The norms of Orthodox society today are not the same ones that existed 60 or 70 years ago and are certainly not the norms that existed in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Though Orthodoxy always claims that it never has deviated from the practice and outlook of previous generations, the truth is that a great mutation has taken place.

There is a stress upon Talmudic study for the masses, and not just for the elite. Everyone should attend yeshiva or seminary, and be able to spend further years in study, even after marriage, with the expectation of being financially supported by the government or by family. There is a much greater emphasis upon externals, and upon the drive for wealth and luxury, that did not exist before. Expectations are high in the Orthodox world for financial success, home comforts, vacations and trips, large family events and extravagant weddings and other celebrations. Whether or not this type of mutation can be maintained is, in my mind, questionable. But perhaps such a mutation is necessary and is successful, specifically because it is what the times demand for Orthodoxy to survive. I believe this issue is beyond my ken of expertise. So, I leave it to you to decide for yourself about the nature of mutations in our Jewish world today.

Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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