A new book of responsa by Rav Elyashiv includes a statement that cancer -- which he refers to as 'the incurable disease' -- comes as a "punishment" because people (in general) have "distanced themselves from religion" and because there has been an increase in disrespect to Torah and its scholars (See Maariv / NRG for the more detailed Hebrew original).
I do not need to elaborate on the hideousness and insensitivity of such a statement. So what does Rav Elyashiv's camp have to say in terms of damage control? Can he reassure cancer sufferers that he did not mean this at all? That his words were taken wildly out of context?
Someone in Rav Elyashiv's home offered Ma'ariv the following statement: "This is Torah from Moshe from Sinai, we don't have to react to this."
Of-course, both Ma'ariv and JPost's websites are full of statements from people declaring that Rav Elyashiv should not be criticised because he is such a great Rabbi, we don't really understand what he means etc. On a similar note, the private publisher of the volume told The Jerusalem Post that the quotations were correct, and added: "The quote is a small part of a lengthy responsa in a book meant only for specialized Torah scholars and not for the media."
a. I've said it before, last week, on another matter, and I'll say it again: for a leading rabbi to be so ignorant and unaware of the harm and hurt his words could cause is completely unacceptable. For him not to react to the aftermath is even worse.
b. I am sick and tired of the reponse that "his words were not for public consumption." Does it really make any difference who he says these things to? The implication, of course, is that his original audience understands the words for what they really meant, whilst the media distorts and the greater public misunderstands. I challenge anyone to provide a 'reasonable' interpretation of Rav Elyashiv's statement.
In addition, in today's world, rabbis have to assume that anything they say in any public forum can become widely disseminated.
c. Enough of the response, "who are we to criticise such a great rabbi." Frankly, it is such attitudes which encourage them to make such irresponsible statements in the first place, since they know they are not really accountable.
d. Last but not least, if Rav Elyashiv really thinks that cancer is a punishment for turning away from religion -- who are statements like this one going to bring 'back'?