Sunday, May 24, 2020

Rabbinic Betrayal?

Burning of Talmud in Paris, 1242

To my coreligionists, fellow Jews of New York and elsewhere:

Regretfully I must ask you a most painful question:

Have your rabbis betrayed you?

Have they become willing accomplices to the government usurping your rights and trampling your religious freedoms?

Alas, that appears to be the case. 



How did this happen? How did it come to be?

In response to a recent letter of protest posted here, a prominent rabbi of Crown Heights retracted his previously-inflexible stance on outdoor minyanim. He now claimed that his Beis Din had never issued any rulings on public health precautions (!), but merely had advised his community to adhere to the (sic) "legal and medical authorities." [Click here for full text].

How cynical of him to blame these draconian decrees on the government.

It reminds me of the old adage, "What is chutzpa? It's the audacity of a man who, having killed his mother and father, begs the judge to have mercy on him because he is an orphan."

Now the rabbi blames the authorities for the shul closures?

Of course, the state was only able to wield such unprecedented overreach over Crown Heights Jews due to his assistance and full cooperation. 

If he (and other rabbis) hadn't rushed to shut down schools, yeshivos, shuls, and even ban all outdoor prayer... if he hadn't advised his adherents to inform on neighbors who didn't comply with social-distancing restrictions -- a bizarre and unprecedented rabbinic endorsement of mesirah -- if he hadn't ceded halachic authority carte blanche to the state and its "public health policy," then the government never would have had the total control of our communities in the first place.

This is not the first time that such a grave rabbinic betrayal occurred. 

A year ago, a delegation from Crown Heights met with their representatives in the NY State Assembly and asked for the state body to eliminate religious exemption to the mandatory vaccine policy. The delegation allegedly consisted of the rabbi and a prominent doctor from the community.

Numerous rabbis from other neighborhoods in NY allegedly endorsed this bill as well.

A short time later, on June 13th, 2019, the NY State Assembly passed the bill by narrow margin in an extraordinary "behind-closed-doors" session, effectively banning 10,000 Jewish children from school. As of September 1st, no child was permitted to attend school in NY unless fully compliant with the mandatory vaccine schedule. 

All yeshivos and Jewish schools in Crown Heights notified families of this new policy, which they claimed was endorsed by the aforementioned rabbi.

When I learned of this shocking development, I immediately contacted this rabbi. In a letter dated August 9, 2019, I asked him if the rumor is true that he has given his rabbinic imprimatur to banning children from talmud Torah simply because they're not vaccinated in accordance with the dictates of the NY Dept. of Health? I made sure to mention the vaccine for hepatits-B in particular, since there is not one authoritative posek who has ever even allowed that vaccine, let alone required it as a prerequisite to learning chumash!

The rabbi responded to me immediately in an email.  Shirking all responsibility, he countered that it's the government requiring those shots, not him. He wrote (translated from Hebrew): "It's not possible [for him] to demand that individual schools act in defiance of government law and risk getting shut down!" 

What chutzpah. How cynical to blame the government when you sat by idly while the bill was passed, or worse, when you petitioned for the bill in the first place!


Woefully, this is not the first time in history that rabbis have erred and precipitated such dire consequences.

In my blog post on the last day of 2019, I bemoaned the dire situation in which thousands of Jewish children were still banned from school and marginalized from their communities with no end in sight.

Jews turning on Jews is an ominous sign.

Jewish opponents of Rabbi Moses Maimonides (known as "the Rambam") instigated the public burning of his writings (Moreh Nevuchim and Sefer haMada) in 1233, by order of the Catholic ecclesiastical authorities in Paris. 
In 1242, the Catholic authorities burned twenty-four wagon-loads of Talmuds (an unfathomably-tragic and irreplaceable loss at that time of handwritten manuscripts) in the very same place where the writings of Rambam had been destroyed barely a decade earlier.
Is this what we need at this precarious juncture in history? Jews defaming, excluding and marginalizing fellow Jews? Jews barring Jewish children from schools, camps, and synagogues? Jews demonizing other Jews for (gasp) having another opinion about what to inject into their bodies? 
Don't they realize that they and their children are next? 
It starts with Jews against Jews, but it never ends there. לא תקום פעמיים צרה
Alas, my fear has begun to materialize. Now, with COVID-19, all children are banned from schools and synagogues.

Even worse, the Jewish community has been singled out by the mayor of NY with discriminatory comments and threats that have provoked spikes in antisemitism throughout the city.

I shudder to think that this may be only the beginning of our woes. [1]

Have we not learned our lesson?

Shouldn't we utilize this opportunity to re-evaluate our woeful neglect of 10,000 Jewish children this past year? "Let us search and examine our ways and return to G-d."[2]

Shouldn't we take our rabbis to task and demand an explanation for their silence or complicity in the recent spate of state laws eliminating religious exemption, in betrayal of thousands of Jewish children in our communities?

Isn't it time for a serious and long-overdue introspection in our kehilos? [See my recent blog post on that painful topic].

I am not accusing any rabbi of malicious intent to betray his community. Instead, these rabbis have embraced deeply misguided ideology due to misinformation and indoctrination.

Tragically, many rabbis created a modern-day golden calf out of the so-called "public health policy" by ascribing it total authority. In an epic distortion of halacha, they have conflated the principle of pikuach nefesh with modern-day political agenda.

We cannot afford to neglect this horrific lapse any longer. Let's set out to correct this problem at once, even before our schools and camps re-open. 

Once and for all, let us assert that our right to practice our religion is G-d-given, and that no government may interfere.

Let us declare that our shuls will open when Jewish law says they should, not when some antisemite mayor whims it.

Let us resolve to teach Torah to all Jewish children in our communities, irrespective of whether their parents comply with a state vaccine policy that has no halachic basis. Let's pledge our determination to uphold the rulings of the poskim of our generation [3] that require us to educate all children, and that categorically prohibit excluding children from school because of vaccine policy.

It's not too late to correct this... we cannot afford to ignore it any longer.

As to the rabbis who betrayed us, it's not too late for them to repent their errant ways and take responsibility.

And if it's too formidable of a challenge for them to stand up to the government and its collaborators in their communities, then, as Harry Truman observed: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Find a new job and leave rabbinics to worthier individuals, rabbis who have the moral fortitude to do what's right in the face of adversity.

May we hear good news speedily in our days. 


Notes:
[1] I'd rather not articulate my fears here, as in the Talmudic dictum: "אל תפתח פה לשטן -- do not open your mouth for the satan" (Berachos 19a), and in the spirit of the Biblical verse: "In a multitude of words, transgression will not be avoided, and he who holds back his lips is wise." (Mishlei 10:19). As to my specific fears, see the words of the Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1 which I cited in footnote 8 of my previous post, Long-Overdue Instrospection.
[2] Lamentations 3:40. Maimonides' Mishnei Torah, Laws of Fasts, 1:2-3.
[3] Rulings of Rabbi Dr Avraham Steinberg, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky, and others, are available upon request. Note that there has not been even one single written psak from any authoritative posek that endorses the mandatory vaccine policy! And yet schools and yeshivos throughout NY, NJ, CA, MD, IL, etc. have adopted these bizarre policies with absolutely no halachic basis!

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