Monday, August 12, 2019

Open Letter to Rabbis of New York State


בס"ד

To esteemed Rabbanim who preside over kehilos throughout New York State,  שליט"א
Peace and blessing.
News of a painful and deplorable situation has reached my ears, and I must bring it to your urgent attention. Hundreds and thousands of Jewish children have been barred from attending school this September, not just from any school, but from orthodox day schools and yeshivos no less!
Rumor has it that some rabbonim have given their imprimatur to administrators of mosdos to exclude children who haven’t received all the vaccines required by New York State’s mandatory vaccine schedule, which includes the Hepatitis-B vaccine. This rumor is very disturbing.
Of course, a child who hasn’t been immunized against Hepatitis-B poses no risk to anyone. Hepatitis-B can only be spread through intercourse, drug needles or blood transfusions. In fact, an individual who is sick with it may even attend school, as it’s not contagious through casual contact. There is no halachic or hashkafic reason that obliges a parent to give their child this vaccine, and there is absolutely zero halachic basis for coercing parents to submit to this state requirement.
Even the rabbinic adage “Do not separate yourself from the congregation” clearly does not apply in this case[1], as every shot, vaccine or injection poses some risk (albeit minimal) to its recipient. Indeed, every needle puncture is considered a חבלה, a wound which halacha prohibits inflicting upon oneself[2] unless it is medically indicated for an actual and necessary refuah to this specific individual, a healing procedure that the Torah requires because of ורפא ירפא, “…he shall surely heal.”[3] Surely our sages would never wish us to submit to possible risk or halachically-unjustifiable behavior just for the sake of “not separating from the congregation.”
(It should be noted that NY State is hoping to add numerous other shots to the list of mandatory vaccines in the near future, including HPV, a dangerous vaccine that has been linked to infertility in girls, ה' ישמרנו.)[4]
Needless to say, it’s the exclusive right and prerogative of each individual to choose or decline this vaccine for himself and his children. As such, the recent law passed in New York State to bar a child from school (simply for not having been vaccinated for Hep-B) is unlawful and a violation of a parent’s First Amendment rights, as well as the most basic G-d-given rights of bodily autonomy and personal obligation to safeguard one’s own body from risk or unnecessary חבלה. Our children’s bodies do not belong to the government, only to Hashem.
But more importantly, this law is a grave violation of our holy Torah which requires us to maintain schools that educate all children without exception. Nearly two-thousand years ago, in the days of Yehoshua ben Gamla[5], our sages enacted a communal obligation on every single Jewish community throughout the world to hire Torah teachers for all children of the city[6]. Any city that does not comply and does not have school-teachers for all its children is duly excommunicated until they comply with our sages’ ordinance[7], since the world only exists in the merit of the breath of the mouths of Jewish school children, a breath that has no sin, etc.[8]
No child is excluded from this communal obligation. Even a child who cannot read[9] or whose parents cannot afford tuition must be allowed to attend. The only valid halachic reason a teacher (and community) is exempted from teaching a student is actual incapacitating illness of the student.[10] Actual, not theoretical illness based on statistical models or speculative probabilities. Whoever wishes to interpret the halacha differently or nonliterally bears the onus of proof.
It goes without saying that it is patently forbidden to exclude any Jewish child from attending school and studying Torah for any other reason, how much more so because of an unlawful state ordinance that opposes the law of our holy Torah. [11]
Thus, I was shocked to hear the disturbing news that at this present time, thousands of Jewish children have been wrongly ousted from their schools and yeshivos and are not permitted to return to school this coming Elul. The present dire situation invokes our sages’ ominous words:
"Rav Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because schoolchildren there were interrupted from studying Torah, as it is stated: '[And I am filled with the wrath of Hashem, I cannot contain it], pour it onto the children in the street...'[12] Rav Hamnuna explains: What is the reason that the wrath is poured? It is because 'children are outside in the streets' and are not studying Torah." [13]
And here we are, 1,950 years later, Jewish children are yet again “outside on the streets,” being barred from attending school, “interrupted from learning Torah.” This outrageous situation worsens from day to day, and not one single word of protest… ואין פוצה פה ומצפצף!
What has happened to our rabbinic leadership? Why the silence? Why the inaction?
Who is taking responsibility for these children!?
The silence is deafening.
Numerous administrators have been asked: “Hayitochen? How can you throw out this child? Did you get a heter from a rov?” They respond affirmatively, that rabbonim have granted them a heter and rabbinic stamp-of-approval to oust these children from school!
Hoyo lo sihye! Rachmono litzlan. Heaven forfend! Have we sunken so low that such obvious and basic Torah principles have eluded our rabbinic leadership?
Let’s judge our rabbis favorably and assume that this rumor is not accurate, and that administrators are acting independently of any rabbinic imprimatur. In that case, the question must be asked: why haven’t we heard even one single word of protest from any of our rabbonim?
Is it an example of Talmudic logic, “since they were silent, we may infer that they approve?”
Throwing a Jewish child out of school is akin to a death sentence, in the spiritual sense at least. This sad fact has been tragically borne out time and time again in recent years.  It’s clear that it is dire pikuach nefesh to keep each precious Jewish child in school, unless for some serious life-threatening reason.
Can it be that rabbonim deem not getting immunized for Hepatitis-B vaccine to be a seriously life-threatening condition that warrants quarantining the child from his peers? Is this seven-year-old boy or girl indeed a public-health risk? Of course not. That is utter nonsense.
Please don’t counter that these parents are at fault for refusing to obey state law to immunize their child for Hep-B etc. This fact is irrelevant to our communal obligation to educate this child. Imagine the state would decree that it is forbidden to do bikur cholim or put tefillin on a Jew who is delinquent on his state income taxes? Are we then required to obey such a dina d’malchusa!? Of course not. It’s obvious that dina d’malchusa dina[14] was not said when the government’s law opposes the law of the Torah.
If the rumor is indeed accurate, that rabbonim ruled to exclude children from school/yeshiva because of non-compliance of the state’s mandatory vaccine schedule, then we are obligated to turn to these rabbonim and respectfully ask: “מהיכן דנתוניwhat is the source of your halachic ruling!?” Where have you found a source to permit interrupting tinokos shel beis rabbon (Jewish school children) from their studies, something that halacha does not permit us to do even for the construction of the Beis Hamikdash!?
And if there is no source, no precedent, no rhyme or reason to this very disturbing psak, then we are obligated to protest this errant psak with all our being.
Therefore, “in a place where there is no man,” in the stunning and appalling silence that prevails throughout the Jewish world, there is no choice but for me to be the first one to sound my voice in dire and urgent protest. I hereby protest this horrific situation and this lapse of rabbinic leadership, which is causing a deeply frightening and an unprecedented Chilul Hashem, Hashem yeracheim.
It is not my intent to point fingers or accuse any one individual rabbi, Heaven forfend. With humility, I ask forgiveness in advance to any one person who feels slighted. But please understand that when Chilul Hashem is at stake, there can be no silence and no limud zechus.
I hereby make this protest on behalf of all Klal Yisroel. Truth is, every Jew of conscience who cherishes the Torah and its mitzvos should protest, irrespective of their position on vaccines. This protest has nothing to do with vaccines. It is simply about barring Jewish children from learning Torah for no valid reason.
My protest is unequivocal and unambiguous. I protest the shameful actions of brazen school administrators, as well as the misguided rabbinic rulings that are causing such an unthinkable stumbling block. I protest the silence, inaction, and indifference to the horrible travesty that has been committed against innocent tinokos shel beis rabbon, “each one more precious than gold[15].” I condemn the bizarre treatment they’ve received from administrators and directors, as if they’re lepers or untouchables, Hashem yishmor, to be publicly humiliated, scorned, and neglected by those who are supposed to represent Torah education!!
A non-Jew may not decide which child is or isn’t entitled to a Jewish education. What does a non-Jew have to do with – l’havdil – tinokos shel beis rabban, holy of holies!?
Let’s recall the bold words of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn after being arrested and imprisoned by authorities for the “counterrevolutionary crime” of teaching Torah to children in Stalinist Russia in 1927: [16]
…All the nations of the world must know this: Only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls were not given over into captivity and foreign rule.
We must proclaim openly before all that any matter affecting the Jewish religion, Torah, and its mitzvos and customs is not subject to the coercion of others. No one can impose his belief upon us, nor coerce us to conduct ourselves contrary to our beliefs.
It is our solemn and sacred task to cry out and state with the ancient steadfastness of the Jewish people, with courage derived from thousands of years of self-sacrifice: “Touch not My anointed nor attempt to do evil to My prophets.”[17]
Of course, this isn’t Stalinist Russia, but the United States of America, a nation that cherishes freedom. Let us stand up and assert our freedom.
It’s time for us all to stand firm and steadfast and oppose this unlawful decree. It’s time for us to care for each and every Jewish child, even the child from your street corner whose parents have a different opinion than you about Hep-B vaccine.  It’s time we refuse to abandon even one single child, even if the government threatens to shut down our entire school.
The Rambam rules that if gentiles will say to a group of men: "Yield us one of you and we will kill him, if not we will kill you all," let all of them be killed rather than surrender to them one soul in Israel.[18] We are not permitted to abandon one child in order to save an entire school. Each individual Jewish child has infinite value.[19] We are not permitted to sacrifice even one precious child, even in order to save the klal.
Where is our “Geon Yaakov?” Where is our mesirus nefesh and uncompromising commitment to the holy Torah!? If our holy ancestors went through fire and water to teach Torah to their children, despite all odds and horrific persecution, surely we can stand up and protest New York State’s oppressive decree.
Please let us all work together to correct this situation starting from right now.
If the Rabbonim don’t deem it feasible to order administrators to disregard state law at risk of being shut down, then at the very least, let’s hear a rabbinic statement of protest, and let them galvanize their communities to publicly oppose this unlawful ordinance. Let these children know that they will not be abandoned, and that the entire community stands with them and will work tirelessly to ensure that they learn Torah too, as Chazal decreed for the past two millennia, since before the churban Beis Hamikdash. And let us help rebuild the Beis Hamikdash by stopping the sinas chinam and replacing it with love and respect for all.
Let’s all join together to ensure that there is no "עולל בחוץ", no Jewish child left outside the walls of the Beis Hamidrash by insisting that every single Jewish child receives a Torah education.  Moreover, let’s stop the sinas chinam and marginalization of fellow Jews and their children, and replace it with love and respect.
By doing so, we will surely merit to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash in our days… and even then, we may not interrupt tinokos shel beis rabbon from their holy studies[20].
May these days of sadness be transformed to days of joy and celebration.
Sincerely, stating all the above solely for the honor of the Torah
and for the sake of the precious tinokos shel beis rabban,
in the merit of whose breath the world exists,
Michoel B. Green,
musmach of Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung
זצ"ל
Westborough, MA

PS: With regards to protest, I submitted a signed affidavit to the judge who is hearing the case against New York State. This letter is available upon request.)



[1] Moreover, this adage was stated in Tractate Avos, “Mili d’chasidusa,” teachings of exemplary piety that exhort the student to go “beyond the letter of the law.” Surely such laudatory conduct cannot be enforced on the community. Surely children cannot be barred from school simply because their parents had not observed a teaching of exemplary piety that is not incumbent on all Jews.
[2] See Igros Moshe Orach Chaim vol. 3 siman 90, written to one who was prohibited from fasting on Yom Kippur due to a serious health condition, but would have been able to fast if he’d receive certain injection(s), to which Rabbi Feinstein ruled that he must eat on Yom Kippur and may NOT receive an otherwise-unnecessary injection.
[3] Shemos 21:19. See Berachos 60a: “ורפא ירפא – from here we derive that a doctor has permission to heal.”
[4] According to recent studies. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/29889622/
[5] Bava Basra 21a. Hilchos Talmud Torah by the Baal HaTanya, 1:3.
[6] The wording: “בעד כל תינוקות שבעיר” (ibid).
[7] It should be noted that the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1) rules that if the city still refuses to hire teachers for all its children, even after being excommunicated, then the city should be destroyed! Jewish people must move away from such a community, which is to be dismantled and abandoned since it would not provide teachers for its children!
[8] Shabbos 119b. Hilchos Talmud Torah ibid. See sources cited in the footnotes there.
[9] Yoreh Deah ibid 245:9
[10] Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 334:4.
[11] The above applies to any of the mandatory vaccines, including MMR or polio, since a child who wasn’t immunized does not have a disease at all, but simply lacks immunity, and consequently cannot be excluded from learning with his class. The din cited in footnote 10 only precludes a presently-ill child. Whether or not one ought to get these vaccines (i.e. MMR, polio, et al) goes beyond the scope of this discussion, but suffice it to say that halacha does not sanction coercing parents to accede to these vaccines either. בעזהי"ת I plan to address other vaccines in a future article. In this letter, I chose to focus on Hepatitis-B since everyone agrees that a child not immunized for it poses no risk to anyone, not himself nor his community.
[12] Yirmiyahu 6:11.
[13] Shabbos ibid.
[14] See the responsa of Rashba quoted by Beis Yosef in Choshen Mishpat siman 26. See also Mishneh Halochos volume 9, siman 334 and the sources quoted therein.
[15] Eicha 4:2.
[16] Letter from 19 Iyar, 5688.
[17] Jewish children are called “משיחי,” My (G-d’s) anointed, as per Shabbos ibid. According to our sages, when the verse states: “Touch not My anointed” (Divrei Hayamim I 16:22), it means “Don’t attempt to prevent Jewish children from studying Torah.”
[18] Yesodei HaTorah 5:5.
[19] See also Sanhedrin 37a: “Why was Adam created alone? To teach you that whoever destroys one soul from Israel, the Torah considers him as though he has destroyed the entire world. And whoever sustains one Jewish soul is as if he has sustained the entire world.”
[20] As the Rambam ruled: “We do not interrupt the studies of tinokos shel beis rabban, even for the construction of the Holy Temple!” Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:2, repeated again in Hilchos Beis Habechira 1:12.

1 comment:

D Kohn said...

Thank you for standing up for the truth in this world filled with sheker! May you be matzliach in all your endeavors!