Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef implied on Saturday night that the fire raging on Mount Carmel in northern Israel was a punishment from God for religious offenses committed by the area's residents.
During his weekly sermon, the rabbi read a section from the Babylonian Talmud, which states that "the fire only exists in a place where Shabbat is desecrated."
"A number of houses were destroyed, entire neighborhoods were lost – all under supervision," the rabbi said. He recommended that people "study Torah, engage in good deeds, repent, observe Shabbat, and know the entire Halacha, and thanks to this God will apply a full recovery."
On Friday, a day after fires began blazing on the Mount Carmel range, ultra-Orthodox newspapers called for self-scrutiny, saying the disaster was a sign from God.
In its editorial, haredi paper Hamodia said the Carmel wildfires demanded that the people of Israel scrutinize their acts and ask themselves if they caused the disaster.
Under the title "Who by Fire," the editorial said this was the time for each and every one to look inward and do what is required to improve their lives.
To touch its readers, the paper quoted two phrases from the Yom Kippur liturgy, "Unetanneh Tokef", according to which each one will be judged on the Day of Judgment – "who will live" and "who will die."
The Hamevaser newspaper wrote that an investigation committee would probably be set up, but said we must not forget that there are things beyond human control. The editorial noted that in legal language it is known as "force majeure," and that we know there is a directing force from above without whom it is impossible to even lift a finger "here below." The Heavens caused the events and lead them to such disastrous levels, the editorial claimed.
"The warning sign sent (Thursday) from above joins the previous warning sign, when we are already in the midst of drought, after a number of years of insufficient rain," according to the editorial. "These warning signs are sent to wake us, to prod the sleeping from their sleep… Each one must come to conclusions and drive crookedness from his heart… And just as in the days of High Priest Mattathias Ben Yohanan made miracles and wonders (from the Hanukkah story), also in our time, He will save us from the darkest hours."
'Invoke heavenly mercy'
In many cases haredi news channels tend to ignore major news events, especially in crime, for educational reasons. However, they were not indifferent to the human tragedy of the bus carrying prison services cadets and the fires still blazing in some areas of the Carmel Forest.
Lithuanian haredi newspaper Yated Ne'eman dedicated nearly all its news pages to the Carmel fires, and both Hamodia and Hamevaser covered the tragedy extensively.
In addition to regular updates, various particularly Jewish points of view were presented, including a red headline over the evacuation of Torah scrolls from the religious kibbutz Nir Etzion, and the instructions of Torah scholars to perform prayer vigils and laments in the yeshivas to invoke heavenly mercy.
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