Haredi Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi is a renowned worldwide Torah lecturer, claiming to be devoted to bringing Jews closer to Judaism. But it’s clear in light of recent remarks that his devotion to kiruv — Orthodox outreach — is anything but unificatory. It’s time that the Jewish community, regardless of affiliation, takes a stand against the divisive, misogynistic, and hurtful language of his shiurim.
Mizrachi’s most recent offense was claiming that only one million Jews perished in the Holocaust — the remaining 5 million, he said, were intermarried and assimilated, and therefore not Jewish. Haaretz quotes Mizrachi as saying in a Hebrew-language video: “If you look at the percent of assimilation that there was in Europe, which already reached 80 percent, it’s reasonable to assume that 80 percent of the 6 million were not Jews.” In another lecture, Mizrachi stated that religious women preserved their dignity even in concentration camps by covering their private parts, while secular Jewish women did the opposite as Nazis took pictures of them undressing in the gas chambers.
Mizrachi’s following is large, and includes more than 96,000 followers between his English and Hebrew Facebook pages. All parts of the Jewish community, secular and religious, must come together to condemn Mizrachi’s beliefs, including that Down Syndrome is not a punishment. My brother has autism, and this comment in particular is personally insulting. As stated in Genesis, Hashem created people b’tzelem elokim (“in his image”). People, especially rabbis, are not infallible and do not know the exact reasons behind Hashem’s decisions. Bein Adam L’Chavero (the relationship between Man and his fellow) is more important than Bein Adam L’Makom (the relationship between Man and Hashem). Everyone, Jew or gentile, should respect the difficulties of others, especially those with disabilities.
A cousin of mine was in a wheelchair most of his life before he passed away several years ago from muscular dystrophy. His mother faced questions of how he could practice Judaism, such as being in the synagogue and take part in Birkat Kohanim, which required a ramp to get to the ark. My aunt’s response: He’s a Jew who’s just in a wheelchair. Thankfully, my aunt’s response is what transpired, and my cousin was able to participate in the synagogue as a Kohen, and his perseverance inspired those in doubt of his abilities.
Mizrachi is also wrong in his claim that weddings with mixed dancing between men and women lead to cancer and other tragedies. His lectures are the antithesis of every Torah value, primarily two phrases found in Leviticus: v’ahavta l’rayacha ha’kamocha (“And love your neighbor as you would yourself”) and “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.”
The condemnation of Mizrachi’s recent remarks has already begun to pick up speed. Last month on Facebook, conservative pundit and Commentary editor John Podhoretz posted the Haaretz article with this analysis: “You miserable motherfucker. Go to hell.” An online petition, which at press time had 779 signatures out of a goal of 1,000, is calling for the removal of Mizrachi’s shiurim from TorahAnytime, an online library of recorded Torah lectures from around the world. TorahAnytime, as Menachem Kochloeffel notes in the petition, has “over thousands of hours of shiurim of his online.”
As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I do not agree whatsoever with Mizrachi’s recent comments. The time has come to condemn Mizrachi. It’s one thing to publicly shame another Jew, but another to demonstrate that as Jews we do not represent or accept the sadistic ideas of this extremist and Nazi apologist. In a Jerusalem Post piece on Mizrachi, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote, “Mizrachi and rabbis like him are a menace. Just think about how many people might otherwise embrace Jewish tradition were they not absolutely revolted by this cruel twaddle that is fraudulently passed as authentic Judaism.”
May my cousin’s memory be for a blessing that your background as a Jew, religious or secular, abled or disabled, shouldn’t be ostracized — your character and how you treat one another should be judged. I hope his followers realize Mizrachi’s character is out of touch with every Jewish and Torah value.
Jackson Richman is a student at The George Washington University.