Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Letter from Mother: "Please Don't Cremate Me"

Dear Son,

Please heed my silent cry.

You cannot hear it because it isn't audible.

I can no longer communicate with you, though I helplessly wish I could.

This transition is traumatic for me, and it's difficult to describe in human terms.

My earthly life has ended, but my spirit is very much alive... alive in a different way. My soul is also aware, struggling to make sense of my departure from the body that housed me for all these years, with which I had so strongly identified.

I have now come to realize that this body was never me, but a cocoon of sorts.

My earthly remains are not me, but the remnant of the cocoon I left behind.
In fact, these earthly remains are not even "mine" anymore.

They belong to the Infinite One to Whom I am returning.

This new realization is unsettling, to put it lightly, but also liberating.

Dearest Son, please understand.

I am now in a place of truth. All the plans, goals, and stated wishes I may have articulated to you during my mortal stay on earth are irrelevant to me now.

The 401K means nothing to me, nor does the yacht, wardrobe or estate I may have fretted over so much in the past.

Please don't get stuck and feel obliged to perpetuate those things in my memory. I have absolutely no need or interest in those things now.

It's not about "me" anymore. In fact, I now understand that it was never about "me" to begin with.

Most importantly:

Please don't pay attention to final requests I might have articulated that were made out of blind ignorance, misinformation and apathy that are so prevalent in the mortal world. The corporeal body was so overwhelming that it blurred my vision. Please know that where I am now, in a place of truth, I most certainly do NOT wish for the remains of my erstwhile body to be incinerated or pulverized.

That will cause me much trauma, confusion and grief.

Please treat that body respectfully. Do not destroy or deface it. Return it to my Infinite Creator Who had lent it to me for the past 80 years of my mortal life. Please gently restore it back to His earth, the same earth from which He fashioned it.

Please bury those earthly remains that served as my body for the entire eighty years of my mortal sojourn. It experienced my joy, my suffering, my deepest emotions, aspirations, all the good deeds that I accomplished. I am very proud of those, and the body through which I accomplished them serves as reminder of them.

Please don't burn it destructively. Don't reduce it to ashes. Don't destroy that lasting testimony to my sojourning on earth. Don’t dispose of me.

Don't poison the earth's precarious environment with harmful gases that are emitted when human corpses are cremated, polluting the earth's waterways and wildlife. How could I bear such a legacy... that my remains were disposed of in a way that recklessly pollutes and poisons the earth that hosted me for eighty years!

Instead, place it peacefully and gently into the earth. Let its remains regenerate the earth, giving back its fertility to the cosmos.

Let the earth embrace and cradle that lifeless body that served as my cocoon. Think of it as planting a seed. Those remains are still meaningful to me, and the site on earth where those remains are interred will always pull on my soul strings, so to say.

When my remains are planted in the earth, it represents that my legacy will germinate and flourish upon high, and also down below in the hearts of those who remember me.

Moreover, that body will someday house me again in the resurrection of the dead. I know this seems unrealistic and even mythological to you. I can relate, as I had always felt the same way in the past. Now, however, I see things quite differently. My mortal life passed like a fleeting dream. The resurrection isn't too far off, from my present perspective.

Incineration is an awful and violent way to treat those precious remains of my time on earth. It recalls the most horrific abuses against our people during the Holocaust and other times in history.

Remnants of something sacred and cherished aren’t burned but buried, like a faded Torah scroll reverently laid to rest.

Trash gets incinerated. Effigies get set ablaze and reduced to ash in an act of scorn, derision and hatred.

Please lay me to rest in an act of love, reverence, and compassion.

I know that you are probably skeptical while reading my earnest plea. You are probably thinking that some rabbi just concocted it in a creative attempt to convince you of his "religious" precepts.

No! Some rabbi may have written these words, but they capture my sentiments exactly.

I am now a helpless victim of my own poor misinformed (past) choices, and the only one who can save me is you, my dearest child.

Please don't send my mortal remains to some for-profit business where workers, who are paid barely-livable wages, manhandle corpses with their radios blasting. Instead, send it to a Chevra Kadisha ("Holy Fellowship"), a Jewish burial society run by men and women of the community who volunteer out of awe and veneration for the miracle of life and the sanctity of my soul's earthly cocoon. Those upstanding individuals, who consider it the highest privilege to care for my body, will undoubtedly treat it with love and respect it deserves.

Please don't dishonor my remains with chemicals or toxic injections to artificially prevent it from becoming one with the earth from which it was fashioned. Don't embalm me. Don't drain the blood from my body. Please just respect me and leave my body intact. Let it reunite with nature in its present natural state. 

Please don't imprison my body in a non-biodegradable box that prevents it from returning to the earth either. 

Instead, let those benevolent women of the Chevra Kadisha reverently wash my body with purifying waters of the mikva. Let them dress it with traditional humble shrouds and ensconce it in a natural pine casket.

In the place where I now find myself, the fact that I am Jew is incredibly important. As such, the cadaver that once housed me is a Jewish body.

Please bury my body in a Jewish place. I know I may not have lived my life in such a consistently-Jewish manner, but that's irrelevant now. Please restore me to my people. More accurately, please help me assert who I am and always was by returning my body to where it rightfully belongs, in a burial grounds surrounded by the earthly remains of my fellow Jews.

Once we're on the topic, please avoid memorial parks with fancy concrete liners. Just the plain old earth will do just fine. Even better if you can bury my body in the holy soil of Israel with no casket at all.

Whatever you do, please don't put me in one of those upright concrete mausoleums that purport to be "The Abraham and Sarah Mausoleum." That's not the Jewish way. Just let me return to the earth. That's where my body will find peace.

And please… please don't be misled by any mortuaries that offer so-called "Jewish cremations." Cremations are inherently not Jewish. Never were and never will be.

I know I may have told you differently before my mortal passing. Maybe I had expressed that I wanted to be cremated because I perceived it as expedient and economical, and the last thing I wanted at that time in my life was to be an additional burden on anyone. Maybe I didn't want to "take up space," but preferred to simply disappear without fanfare.

Dear son, know that I was sadly misguided. In fact, now I see it as the exact opposite. Burning fossil fuels to create a blazing and fiery 1,800-degrees inferno to incinerate my flesh, organs, sinews and bones... there is no greater furor and disruptive brouhaha than that. I don't want such a furious and destructive fuss over my remains. Money is immaterial to me now, so please spend the extra dollars and have me interred in a quiet and meaningful way, without all that fiery excess.

*          *          *

Yes, yes... I hear your disbelief and skepticism loud and clear. You might even be offended or enraged at the poor rabbi who sent this letter to you, who is only doing his job that our Infinite Creator entrusted him.

Please understand that this rabbi speaks the truth! He has nothing monetary to gain, no stakes in the game, so to say. He just wants to save my body from the horrific fate that awaits it in that accursed crematorium. He wishes to honor me and my memory. Don't be angry at him. Embrace him and befriend him. Thank him profusely for caring so much about me, a fellow Jew from afar whom he never met, and who’s no longer alive to reciprocate his kindness!

If money is an issue, I know that this rabbi will not rest until a traditional burial is paid for in full. It is an honor for Jewish community to pay for this. Judaism calls it a "Meit Mitzva," spiritual opportunity of the highest order. The community will gladly rise to the occasion and help you with any costs. Please allow them that opportunity. Don't be ashamed. Instead, feel grateful that you're a Jew and that Jews care for each other. In fact, you are doing them a favor by presenting them with such an awesome opportunity.

In the world of truth, there is no anger, stubbornness or resentment. I cannot blame you for doing what you unfortunately think, but I will be so eternally appreciative if you do the truly-right thing and bury my remains.

Don't be concerned about not honoring any stated requests made in the past. Realize that you will be honoring me in the highest way by burying my body.

The world of truth has no polemics either, but let me try one more angle that might appeal to your mortal intellect, a posthumous Pascal Wager of sorts:

Do you believe that I have any awareness of what is going on at present? Do you think I will have any gratification if you honor some request I had made before I died? Of course you don’t. You surely assume that it's irrelevant to me now what happens to this corpse. So then why do insist on honoring an obsolete instruction that has no relevance to me now anyway?

The rabbi is begging you not to cremate my remains. He claims that it will hurt me and cause me eternal trauma. You are skeptical, but what do you have to lose by letting this rabbi arrange a burial for my remains? No harm done. It’s better for planet earth and for wildlife. It is good for Jewish continuity and community. It is good for your descendants, who will some day visit my grave site and meaningfully remember that their great-grandmother was a Jew. It’s a win-win situation.

Let go of those foolish cremation plans and do the right thing. Let me repose in peace as a Jew humbly returned to the earth.

*          *          *

Wait. I know what you might be thinking. You want to keep “me” near you in an urn. Yikes.

These remains are no longer me. They do not depict or embody me in any way. Please do not objectify them.
Please let them return to nature organically and naturally.

Burning is wasteful and destructive. It’s the exact opposite of what my life represents. It’s a reprehensible scorched-earth policy of sorts.

The ashes that remain after a cremation are no longer my remains. They are something else, something foreign, a waste-product of wanton and violent destruction wrought by the furious flames of an 1,800-degree inferno.

Cremation will only cause me to be detached, ever distant from you and the world in which you live.

I do not want those charred remains of my desecrated body to furnish your home, nor do I want it displayed atop the mantle of your fireplace.

Don’t you understand? My mortal passing signifies a natural end to the body and the transition of my immortal soul to a purely spiritual realm.

Instead, please adorn your home with good deeds inspired by thinking about me. Furnish your living room with hospitality, charity, and kind words that are dedicated to perpetuating my legacy. That’s all that matters to me now, and that’s how I wish to be remembered.

Please. Don’t reduce my memory to some lifeless urn stuffed with ash that represents death and traumatic destruction. It is NOT how I wish to be thought of. That’s not how I want to feel close with you now.

Instead, your blessings, your mitzvot, your Torah study, your joy and enthusiasm. That makes me feel close to you. Say l’chaim to my memory and sing a happy tune. That’s how we will feel close.

Don’t worry if a Jewish burial means that my remains will be geographically far away from you. To the contrary, by being buried the natural way, my mortal cocoon will forever be part of the earth upon which you walk. Wherever you go, I will be with you.

But more importantly, remember that my mortal remains are not me. I am now in a place where distance can no longer separate us. As my soul soars aloft, I’ll always feel closeness to you. You are my hands and feet in this world.

Please live your life to the fullest and make it meaningful. Find me in your acts of kindness, in your study of Torah. Feel me in warm rays of sun on your walk with your neighbor, in the funny stories you heard from me when you tell them to your own children. See me in a young child’s smile, in the eyes of an elderly person you visit and cheer up. Hear me in the voices of children when they study mishna to honor my neshama. Hear me in the resounding amen that people respond to the kaddish you recite in my memory, ascribing sanctity to the awesome Name of our Creator in the world that He is constantly creating.

Hear me in the sound of your coin dropping in the charity box.

That’s where I wish to be heard, to be felt and seen. That’s where I wish to be found.

My dear child. This is your only chance to make the right choice. Once my remains are cremated, it is irreversible and irrevocable.

Please don't let my earnest please fall on deaf ears. Open your heart and feel my soul vibrations calling out to you.

My soul cries out to you in desperation. The ball is in your court. This is the moment of truth.

Please bury my remains.


Your mother who loves you always, who bore and raised you, was there for you when you were unable to care for yourself, who cries out to you now in her own hour of need,

Monday, December 2, 2019

Urgent History Lesson for Rabbis

Have you heard of Yehoshua ben Gamla?

The Talmud states that he is to be remembered for good ("זכור לטוב").

Why is he deserving of such a favorable designation?

The reason is: he had the merit of instituting Torah schools to accommodate all Jewish children in all places, thereby preserving Torah study for all generations.

Originally, fathers were responsible to teach their own children (as Deuteronomy 11:19 states: "And you shall teach them to your children"). Our sages were concerned that not every father was capable of teaching his child, so they instituted that a school for children be established in Jerusalem. This was also insufficient, since fathers would bring their children up to Jerusalem to study, but a child with no father would not ascend and wouldn't learn. So they went a step further and instituted that Torah schools be set up in one city of each province, and that teenagers were brought to learn. This too fell short, since some of these youth had never had formal education and were insubordinate, refusing to learn. So Yehoshua ben Gamla came and instituted that ever single village and town be required to hire teachers for all the local children starting from six and seven years of age.

Interestingly, this same Yehoshua ben Gamla wasn't so highly-regarded during his tenure as kohen gadol, and seen as mediocre at best, deemed unworthy for the high office. He actually secured the position through bribery and subterfuge, since he had married the wealthiest woman in Jerusalem, Marta bas Baitus. He was no rabbi, and hadn't even necessarily been worthy for any sort of leadership position.

Yet nevertheless, his shortcomings are irrelevant in light of his awesome deed that benefited Jewish children for all time.
He is to be remembered for good, זכור לטוב!

In light of the well-known rabbinic dictum, מכלל הן אתה שומע לאו -- we may infer the negative from the positive, the reverse is also true.

You might be a brilliant and accomplished Torah scholar, a saintly and virtuous tzadik, a worthy leader in your community... but if you act to deprive Jewish children of a Jewish education, if you sanction a policy that bans children from school... woe is to you. And woe is to all of us.

Sadly, you will NOT be remembered for the good.

Instead, you are to be remembered for the opposite of good, Heaven forfend.

Irrespective of your scholarship or anything positive you may have hitherto accomplished, you will simply be remembered as the rabbi who expelled ten-thousand healthy Jewish children from school, cruelly depriving them of an education, adversely affecting them and all future generations. You are the foolhardy and inept leader who caused Torah to be forgotten from Israel, ה' ישמרנו. That is your ignominious legacy.

You are worse than a bribe-taker, more compromised than an unscrupulous opportunist, more illegitimate than an unfit cohen gadol who bribed his way to high office. You are irredeemable. 

Don't say: "If parents choose not to vaccinate, then they are responsible for their own child's education." That's precisely the insufficient situation that Yehoshua ben Gamla came to remedy, seeing that parents are often incapable of teaching their children adequately.

You are not the CDC's enforcer and have no right to deprive that child of an education, in gross violation of halacha.
It's high time to mend your wicked ways and learn the lesson of Yehoshua ben Gamla, זכור לטוב.

Do your job and see to it that every single Jewish child in your community receives the Torah education s/he deserves.

Get all those children back into school.

And then you will indeed be remembered for good [1].


[1] "There is no good like Torah -- ואין טוב אלא תורה."
And ואין תורה כתורתן של תינוקות של בית רבן, הבל שאין בה חטא -- there is no Torah study that compares to the Torah learning of tinokos shel beis rabban, Jewish schoolchildren, innocent breath that is free of sin, upon whose merit the world exists.
Ironically, your attempt to justify your unspeakable abuses against these unvaccinated children by villifying them as noncompliant with so-called "public health policy," which you know as well as I is NOT a Jewish virtue nor halachically-sound idea. You cynically tar-and-feather these children as "sinners" and "rodfim" (!!), but our sages declared that tinokos shel beis rabban are innocent, holy and pure. Shame on you. רחמנא ליצלן היו לא תהיה. Return to the side of good and stand up for tinokos shel beis rabban!

[2] Yehoshua ben Gamla lived some 1,940 years ago, shortly before the destruction of the second Holy Temple, a difficult period for klal yisrael. Surely our sages weren't fond of the rampant corruption that prevailed during those trying time, shifty behavior that Yehoshua ben Gamla embodied. Nevertheless, his awesom deed on behalf of Jewish children was so laudatory that it eclipsed all else. This, in spite of the fact that bribery and factionalism are what ominiously presaged the destruction of the Temple and the onset of our millennia-long exile! Perhaps the sages saw in Yehoshua ben Gamla's takan an antidote to exile (as in "הקדים הקב"ה רפואה למכה -- Hashem preempted the cure before the disease") and a vehicle by means of which we will verily rebuild the Temple and gather all the exiles: teaching Torah to ALL Jewish children. Indeed, the Talmud relates that Jerusalem was destroyed because children were being prevented from attending school and studying Torah with their peers (Shabbos 119b). By following Yehoshua ben Gamla's lead and ensuring every child receive a Torah education, we will surely eliminate the cause for exile and usher in the true and complete geulah. And just as his original takana began immediately before the churban, our keeping steadfast to uphold his takana in present times will bring about immediate redemption. אמן כן יהי רצון.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Genesis: a World without Borders?

Two important lessons from the Book of Genesis:

1. There is only one human race.

We are all cousins. There is no superior lineage or ethnicity, since we all descend from the same one man and woman. No one's blood is any redder, and no one's skin color is any more evolved or refined. We are all human, no more and no less.

There are no races. Just one human family. Let's learn to get along.

2. Every human is original to everywhere on earth. Borders are artificial.

Ibid 2:7 "And the Lord God formed man of dust from the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the soul of life..."

Our sages interpret it to mean Planet Earth, i.e. that God gathered dust from the entire earth, from all four directions, so that wherever a human would die, the earth would accept him for burial (Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei 3, Sanhedrin 38a).

If you are human, then since "you are from the earth," then "to the earth you shall return" (ibid 3:9). And since you were formed of the dust from all over earth, it follows that anywhere on earth is an appropriate place into which to return.

While this has specific implications in Jewish law (for example, that a corpse found in the wilderness is to be interred in the precise spot it was discovered), there is deeper symbolism here.

If every place on earth is a suitable place to be buried, then it most certainly is also an appropriate place to live.

Let no one ever suggest that a certain land is exclusive for certain humans to live, and not for others. Those others were created from the dust of that land, so they are indigenous for all intents and purposes. How dare you exclude them from that land of whose dust their bodies were fashioned?

Borders are artificial constructs. By right, all humans ought to be welcome in every single inch of the earth, inhabitable or otherwise.

Of course, humans were enjoined to respect the natural habitat, fauna and flora, resources, etc., just as Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden not just "to develop it," but also "to preserve it," (ibid 2:15). Likewise, humans were commanded by God to respect the lives and properties of others, as well as the law of the land (דינא דמלכותא). 

Nevertheless, the law of the land should never seek to prohibit a migrating law-abiding human from settling within their border. Such a law would be unjust, as it prevents a child of Adam from returning to the earth from which he hails.

Perhaps this is why the Torah adjures us: "Love the stranger who sojourns in your midst.

Coming from afar, he might seem strange to you, but his body is no stranger to the soil upon which you walk.

He's just coming home to the terrain of his humble origin that you both share in common.

Our connection to the earth (adamah) is what makes us all human, all descendants of Adam.

Let's embrace that.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Kol Nidrei, version 2019

Before reciting this year's Kol Nidrei, say:
“By authority of the Heavenly yeshiva and the earthly yeshiva, we hereby grant permission to pray with the transgressors.”
Who are these “transgressors?”

They are none other than the errant rabbis who unjustly banned Jewish children from their “earthly yeshivas.”

Has there ever been a wrongdoing as shameful and woeful in the history of our people? An epic failure of rabbinic leadership without precedent, an unspeakably-appalling betrayal of our community’s holiest members. Transgressors indeed.

Not only have they personally transgressed, they caused others to sin by following their delinquent examples. Abusive administrators, board-members and lay leaders are all complicit in their grave offense. Worst of all, all their community members are now transgressing by living in a city that deserves harsh censure and excommunication[1] (since it neglects to provide Torah education to all its children). Shuls that unjustly ban Jewish families are likewise transgressors, as they have violated the prohibition of “לא תתגודדו – do not make them into differing factions.”[2] Whoever is davening tonight in such an exclusionary shul is likewise delinquent. Who wants to be party to such offenders? Yikes.

Nevertheless, on this awesome Yom Kippur eve, permission is granted to pray with them. (After Yom Kippur, though, if their abusive policies don’t change, it’s not recommended to be part of such an unsavory shul or community, sadly.  Seek greener pastures, shuls that welcome all Jews and schools that welcome all Jewish children.

Meanwhile, here we are tonight and it’s Yom Kippur, so let’s join them in their unique Kol Nidrei declaration for this year:

"All vows, prohibitions, bans, suppression, restrictions, betrayal, coercion, intimidation, interdictions, or an any expression of unjust bans… which we vowed, imposed, banned or decreed upon innocent, healthy, and holy Jewish children and their families, between last year’s Yom Kippur and this one…
"We regret them all. All are hereby absolved, remitted, cancelled, declared null and void, not in force or in effect. 
"Let our prohibitions not be considered prohibitions. 
"Let our discriminatory policies not be considered policies. 
"Let our bans no longer be bans."

And let the earthly yeshivas be whole once more. Then we may truly conclude:

"And may the entire congregation of the children of Israel be forgiven, for the people acted unwittingly. Pardon, I beseech You, the wrongdoing of this people by the greatness of Your kindness…

"And G-d says: 'I have forgiven you in accordance with your words.'

ברוך שההחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

[1] Shabbos 119b. Alter Rebbe’s Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:3.
[2] Yevamos 14a.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Urgent Yom Kippur Message for All Rabbis


Urgent Yom Kippur message for all rabbis and community leaders everywhere:

In the liturgy of the yomim noraim, we recite the prayer:

"May they all form a single band (aguda echas) to carry out Your will with a complete heart." ויעשו כולם אגודה אחת 

Indeed, Israel may only stand before G-d when we are one. As we recite in the concluding blessing of shmona-esrei, ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד, "Bless us, our Father, all of us as one." When does "our Father bless us?" Only when "all of us” are “as one."

If one Jew is excluded from shul or school, we are all deficient. We cannot stand before Hashem and ask for a sweet new year. As we read in last week’s Torah portion: " אתם ניצבים היום כולכם לפני ה' אלקיכם – You stand today, all of you, before Hashem your G-d."

If one of you is missing, if it’s not “all of you,” you cannot stand before G-d.

In the Yom Kippur liturgy, the word “אגודה אחת – one agudah," is an important term to consider:[1]

In Deuteronomy 14:1, the Torah exhorts us: בָּנִ֣ים אַתֶּ֔ם לה' אֱלֹקיכֶ֑ם לֹ֣א תִתְגֹּֽדְד֗וּ וְלֹֽא־תָשִׂ֧ימוּ קׇרְחָ֛ה בֵּ֥ין עֵינֵיכֶ֖ם לָמֵֽת

"You are children to Hashem your G-d. Do not cut yourself, and do not make baldness between your eyes for the dead."

On the literal level, the verse is commanding us not to inflict ourselves with (medically-unnecessary) pokes, stabs or gashes (as was done by pagans to express their grief over the dead, or to pledge allegiance to their deities.

Our Sages expounded a deeper meaning: "לא תגודדו -- לא תעשו אגודות אגודות. Do not make yourselves into agudos agudos," i.e. different factions and groups that are at odds with one another (Yevamos 14a).

This means that we are not allowed to have a shul or community where some rule like Beis Shammai and some like Beis Hillel.

We may not divide a community into two factions. Some may attend one shul, but may not attend another, and vice versa.

This is an anathema in Judaism, a violation of the verse לא תתגודדו.

Recently, I wrote to a rav of a prominent orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn:

“How can you remain silent while thousands of completely-healthy Jewish children are banned from attending schools and yeshivos in your city, many hundreds in your neighborhood alone!?”

He responded tepidly: “I don’t understand. Let them make their own schools.”

It reminds of me of Marie Antoinette’s fateful retort to starving Parisians (l’havdil), “Let them eat cake.”

They don’t have other schools, Rabbi Ploni. Your community has a dozen schools, and they are banned from all of them! And you are silent.

Some time later, I was shocked to read about a prominent synagogue in Florida, and then another one in upstate NY, that adopted a policy to ban unvaccinated community members from shul. Even more shockingly, unvaccinated Jewish women were prohibited from using the mikva. Shomu shomayim. Unspeakable.

When these rabbis were challenged on their bizarre policy, they responded shamefully: “Let them create their own shuls and mikvas.”

These rabbis and lay leaders are committing the grave sin of לא תתגודדו, “Do not create divisions among Israel forcing them into differing factions.”

Most unsettling about this fiasco is the verse, the source of this ancient teaching:

The same verse, לא תתגודדו, literally teaches us not to unnecessarily poke, stab or gash ourselves.[2]

This is in fact the reason why many of these educated individuals decide not to vaccinate in the first place. If a needle stab is indeed unnecessary for the health of THIS individual, then s/he is absolutely prohibited from getting that vaccine.[3]

At least one vaccine on the mandatory schedule (for which children are being banned from school and families from shul) is medically unnecessary for the young child or individual in question according to all experts: Hepatitis B. Moreover, other vaccines might arguably be medically unnecessary as well, and if that is indeed the case, then they are per force prohibited by Jewish law. This prohibition, not to inflict oneself with an unnecessary wound, is alluded to in the Biblical verse, “לא תתגודדו,” the very same verse that admonishes us not to divide the Jewish people into different factions, and NOT to create an environment in which a Jewish child may attend one school but not another, or a Jewish family may attend one shul but not another. 

Two agudos. One school and shul for the vaccinated, one school and shul for the unvaccinated. Such division is prohibited by halacha.

I find this ominous “coincidence” too remarkable to pass up, so I am bringing it to your urgent attention today, on this awesome Day of Judgment, the day we all must “stand before G-d.”

Rabbi _____, how dare you stand before Hashem in your errant community who has insolently and unjustly banned hundreds of healthy children from school?

How dare you stand before G-d, rabbis and lay-leaders of certain synagogues (and you know who you are) who have shockingly banned sweet Jewish children and their parents from attending shul this Yom Kippur?

How dare you ironically invoke the prayers “May we all become one agudah, one band, to do Hashem's will with one complete heart” when you have flagrantly transgressed the grave violation, “Do not make them into agudos agudos,” don’t divide Israel into artificial factions of vaccinated and unvaccinated!?

How can you invoke “a complete heart” when you have cruelly broken the hearts of countless Jewish children and their parents in your communities!?

Your minyan is incomplete. Your prayers are deficient. You have been found lacking before G-d, heaven forfend. It was by your own doing.

You offer empty lip-service that "they all become one agudah" while you've made them into “agudos agudos.” You have divided Hashem’s holy people, His beloved children, as the verse begins: “בנים אתם לה' אלקיכם – You are children to Hashem your G-d.”

You inflicted Hashem’s beloved children with unnecessary and divisive gashes. You’ve scarred them with factionalism and polarity. In your zeal to promote “public health,” you infected your community with a deadly and highly-contagious disease called sinas chinam, senseless hatred toward a fellow Jew.

I implore you and beg you:

Leave your shul right now and run to invite those alienated Jewish children and families.

I don’t care if it’s in the middle of kol nidrei or neilah. Remember the selflessness of the Baal haTanya who abruptly left shul in the middle of the avoda (in musaf of Yom Kippur) to care for a yoledes and her newborn who had been abandoned by all others in their zeal to go to shul on that auspicious day.

Leave your shul and run to those homes of those children you betrayed.

Welcome them. Embrace them. Make them feel welcome. Apologize to them. Beg their forgiveness. Assure them that you will not abandon them or alienate them ever again.

Rebuke your errant community members who think they are somehow doing something good by alienating and marginalizing fellow Jews.

Tell them that these families are justified in not vaccinating due to the Biblical commandment, “לא תתגודדו – Do not poke, jab or gouge yourselves[4],” and that we may NOT marginalize them due to the very same commandment, “לא תתגודדו – Do not make them into agudos agudos.”

And then we will truly be “one agudah,” one people with one complete heart.

And then our Father will bless us.

May our heavenly Father bless you and yours with a sweet new year, a new year and new decade of true unity and blessing for all.

Rabbi Michoel Green

Westborough, MA

[1] Speaking of Yom Kipur and agudah achas, at the very onset of the awesome day, we permit transgressors to join us for prayer in one agudah, since any fast day that doesn’t include posh’ei Yisroel is not a fast day (Kerisus 6b). Abaye based this on the Biblical verse “ואגודתו על ארץ יסדה – He founded His agudah on earth (Amos 9:6). See Shulchan Aruch Harav 619:1.
[2] Regarding the prohibition of "לא תתגודדו", see Mishne Torah, Laws of Idol Worship, 12:13-14, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 180:6-7. Regarding prohibition to self-inflict wound, see ibid Choshen Mishpat 420:31.
[4] With regards to לא תתגודדו, it should be noted that the verse concludes “Do not gouge yourselves or put baldness between your eyes for the dead.” Perhaps the hint here is, “don’t cause divisions among your people out of fear of death.” Along similar lines, I imagine how some might interpret it homiletically: “Don’t stab, poke or gouge yourself unnecessarily out of unreasonable fear of death.” Or even “Don’t stab or poke yourself with ingredients that come from the dead,” i.e. the DNA of babies who were sacrificed in the name of “public health,” Hashem yishmor. Furthermore, it should be noted that “קרחה – baldness” is also symbolic of divisiveness and polarity, as the verse states, “ולא יהי' כקורח וכל עדתו” – don’t be like Korach and sow dissent among Israel. ומסיימים בטוב