Thursday, October 3, 2019

"One Agudah" -- Beware the Divisive Gashes of Factionalism

Note: I am not "anti-vax," but simply stating the obvious, that halacha prohibits the unjust marginalization of Jews who don't vaccinate. Banning healthy children from school is halachically-indefensible, as is banning healthy individuals from shul. Even worse, this discriminatory policy threatens to tear apart Klal Yisroel into factions. Factionalism is the antithesis of what we are trying to accomplish on the Days of Awe. If you can "think out of the box" and entertain ideas that challenge the so-called "status quo," please read on:

Urgent Rosh Hashana message for all rabbis and community leaders everywhere:

In the liturgy of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, 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 end of each amida prayer, ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד, "Bless us, our Father, all of us as one." When does "our Father bless us?" Only when "all of us 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 yesterday'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.

The word אגודה אחת, "one agudah," is an important term to consider:

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 god's.

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 the starving peasants, “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! (Let the heavens be aghast. 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.

This is the precise reason why many of these educated individuals decide not to vaccinate, and rightfully so. If a needle stab is indeed unnecessary for the health of THIS individual, then s/he is absolutely prohibited from getting that vaccine.

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 unequivocally 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 Ploni, 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, you 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 Rosh Hashanah?

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 – Your 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 tekios or kol nidrei. Remember the selflessness of the Alter Rebbe, the Baal haTanya, who ran out in the middle of musaf to care for woman and her baby who had been abandoned by all others in their zeal to go to shul for Yom Kippur.

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,” 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


1. For more elucidation, see my previous blog posts:

Judaic Grounds to Decline Vaccination
Bodily Autonomy and Halacha
What's Wrong with Religious Exemption?

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.

3. 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, “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. live-dissected 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.

1 comment:

J. C. Salomon said...

The Rema (Even HaEzer 154:21) is explicit that for certain social violations (get refusers in that context) the community has the right to even refuse bris milah to the child of a violator.

If you want to make the case that not vaccinating is not such a matter, make that case. But to suggest that barring children from yeshiva based on their parents’ conduct has no halachic precedent is completely false.