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


micha berger said...

I have a son named Shuby. He has Downs and Diabetes, so his immunity system stinks.

I myself am in remission from lymphoma. After cancer attacked my immune system, mine also stinks.

I have a daughter Noa, she goes to High School.If she walked through air in which someone with the measels sneezed within the past 2 hours, she could bring the disease home and infect one of us.

Even though all three of the people named are vaccinated.

And if it weren't Noa, who could bring the disease home on her skin to Shuby, it could be a classmate who is visiting her elderly bubby.

The vaccinated kids in school can bring home disease to people for whom the vaccine cannot be particularly effective.

That is an example of why we need our children in schools where there aren't fellow students who can catch measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, and so on.

And so, פיקוח נפק of grandparents, babies, and the ill everywhere, trumps any of the sentiments you cite here.

Unless you're simply denying both the science and the evidence of the recent outbreak, and think it's coincidental that it is our communities in which non-vaccinated kids go to yeshivos in significant numbers that had the recent measles outbreak. But you claim not to be an anti-vaxxer yourself.

So, for the sake of that רך הנימול, bubby, zeidi, or whomever that your advocacy would bring disease home to...
לא תעמוד על דם רעך!

micha berger said...

But I do think you imply a valid point. Just as it is assur to follow Beis Shammai and create "two Toros", it is assur not to vaccinate your kid and force two agudos. חוקה אחת תהיה לכם, and don't fall for that American idea that personal choice is a more important value than unity.

Rabbi Michoel Green said...

Thank you for your comment, Micha.
You are certainly entitled to prefer to send your children to a school where children are less likely to catch measles, mumps, rubella, or diphtheria.
You are also entitled to open a school that caters to the immunocompromised, and as such, excludes unvaccinated students and staff. I would gladly support such a school (though I doubt I'd be able to visit or teach there, since I decline the annual flu shot, and I'm probably not up to date with all my boosters either).
However, you are proposing that EVERY school ought to be exclusive to the vaccinated population. While this idea may have value from a modern secular perspective, it has no source in halacha. To the contrary: it's a grave violation of shulchan aruch to deprive healthy Jewish children of a Torah education.
Now, if you would like to open a school of your own that boasts a sterile environment in which every human who enters is fully vaccinated and treated with prophylactic antibiotics to boot, you are welcome to do so. So long as there is another local Jewish school in your vicinity that welcomes all children, your exclusive school may exist as an exception, not the rule.
Such a school would not be in violation of לא תתגודדו since it is clearly a special program that exists to protect children whose families have immune deficincies, and there are other schools which all children may attend. You have not driven a wedge in klal yisroel by alienating and marginalizing other Jews.

In your current proposal, however, you have unjustly marginalized thousands of Jewish children and their families by banning them from ALL schools. There are no halachic grounds for such draconian action.

Recent measles outbreak is a straw man argument, since I have not discussed any particular disease during an actual outbreak, but just the mandatory vaccine schedule. Surely you'll concede that your Shuby is not at any greater risk for contacting Hepatitis B if a child who hasn't been vaccinated for it attends school with him, but alas, this child cannot attend school under your ban, even if he's been vaccinated for MMR and DPT etc.

So, for the sake of thousands of Jewish children who have been unjustly prevented from learning Torah (and on behalf of klal yisroel who has become perilously divided), I implore you:
אל תגעו במשיחי!

(Touch not My annointed -- this refers to tinokos shel beis rabban)

Rabbi Michoel Green said...

Just responded to your comment below. Wishing you much health and nachas from Shuby and Noa.

Rabbi Michoel Green said...

LOL. "Force two agudos?" אין אפטרופוס לעריות ואין שליח לדבר עבירה etc. A parent who doesn't give her child MMR (because his older brother had an adverse reaction) isn't forcing two agudos. It's your draconian exclusionary policy. Let's not stoop to victim-blaming.