I’m posting this statement that was issued in the name of Harav Chaim Kanievsky responding to the Lag Ba’Omer disaster at Mt. Meron in Israel. Some forty-five people were killed at a stampede at a religious pilgrimage site, a mass event about which you can read here. By way of a in-real-time religious response to the problem of suffering. It’s bare-boned and simple:  there is no way to understand the calculations of God,  the victims who died in a “strange and terrible way” were unblemished, and  here is the human obligation; the entire community is connected. It is maybe an anti-theodicy. The statement does not not justify God, but nor does it justify God. While one can appreciate the theological modesty, there is a strange and terrible human flip side, as Marilyn Braiterman notes in the caustic comment below. The statement makes no communal cheshbon nefesh, no public accounting for a disaster that was not unpredictable and for which community leaders are responsible. What Marilyn Braiterman does not note is that, in a theological system, God has to have a part to play in the human debacle, and it is what makes this particular statement interesting.
BS”D Erev Shabbos Kodesh Emor, Lag Baomer 5781
The hand of Hashem has stricken us: amidst the simchah shel mitzvah, dozens were killed in a strange and terrible way at the tziyun of the G-dly Tanna,Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Among the victims are fathers of children, sweet bachurim and children, tinokos shel beis rabban.
We do not understand Heavenly calculations and every individual is obligated to do teshuvah. Teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity) avert unfavorable decrees.
As an atonement for our souls, we have requested that Kupat Ha’ir establish a fund to support the families of the dead and wounded, and the money will be distributed in accordance with the need, based on the decisions of the undersigned rabbanim, shlit”a.
Every individual should contribute NIS 430, the numerical equivalent of nefesh, as an atonement, and may the merit of tzedakah for the families serve as atonement for Am Yisrael and the blood that was shed.
No one can absolve himself, because all residents of Ererz Yisrael are close to the victims, who were pure and unblemished.
May Hashem help us do teshuvah sheleimah before Him, amein kein yehi ratzon.
Since some of the victims were fathers of families, whoever contributes NIS 3000 (NIS 100 X30 payments) is considered a “saver of lives,” and this is a great merit, when middas hadin is prevalent, to be spared.
A few days later came this statement, also in Kanievsky’s name, which I am posting below and which you can read here.
The statement contains a communal cheshbon nefesh. It confirms that the disaster was a decree from God and that people need to be “mechazeik b’Torah and in hasmadas haTorah,” and “women should be mechazeik b’tznius,” and that “people aren’t mapkid enough in the halachos of netilas yadayim for a seudah in all its details. And we have to be mechazeik to have kavana when we say brachos in order to feel kirvas Elokim.”
These statements are barely articulate. I would not want to read them except being steeped in sadness. But there’s no “realism” in this theological frame, no understanding about how and why things go wrong in this world. What a critical reader might think is cynicism might be more like innocence. Unlike Kanievsky’s statement, reading the Haredi press online reads like sharp pain and shock and confusion coupled with a commitment to a way of life in the stories about ordinary people and the loss of life, but little to nothing by way of critical questioning or comprehension.
For more against women, see here in relation to a mass death event.