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.

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