Thursday, March 19, 2020

Gather the People!

This Shabbat, the Torah portion that is supposed to be read in synagogues throughout the world is Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei:

"Vaykhel Moshe" -- "And Moses gathered the entire assembly of the children of Israel..." 
It doesn't state: "And Moses quarantined the children of Israel" or "Moses broke up their gatherings." It says: "And Moses gathered."

How are we to interpret the timeless relevance and symbolism of this parsha in light of current events in which gatherings have become verboten?

How shall we make sense of the name of this Torah portion sitting alone in our homes while synagogues and study halls are shut down? Where is the "Vayakhel Moshe" when we need it most? 

The answer is painfully obvious:

Jews gathering for prayer and Torah study is an eternal value. It is an essential, a vital necessity for the continuity of our people. It is not a luxury or a non-essential.

Tefila b'tzibur must certainly continue. The Torah studies of children must surely go on unabated.

Any effort to close down yeshivos or talmud Torahs must be met with strongest resistance.

Rabbis who issue such draconian rulings must be challenged: "מהיכן דנתונו" -- What is your basis for imposing such a dire ruling on our people? Please provide source, rationale, precedent for such a brazen breach of all that is holy.

The very survival of our people relies on the Torah learning of tinokos shel beis rabban, children in house of their studies. This disease poses no mortal risk to children and vast majority of their teachers. 

Surely the onus of isolation lies on those individuals for whom this virus poses serious risk. Halacha requires evacuating healthy children from the public during an outbreak only if there is mortal risk to the children themselves.

Ask these rabbis: have you consulted Rav Chaim Kanievsky or the rabbanim of Lakewood who ruled that the yeshivos should NOT close? Have you consulted Dr Paul Offit, a renowned medical expert who stated that closing schools is unnecessary, uncalled for, and excessive?

Yidden! Demand from your community's leaders: "למה נגרע!?" Why must we be deprived? Why can't we have bold Torah leadership who will stand up and assert our community's right to maintain Torah education as an essential need that may not be tampered with unless halacha itself so determines it?

And if halacha indeed requires locking the doors of yeshivos and study halls, then we demand rabbinic leadership who will produce an authoritative written psak that takes responsibility for such a drastic and unprecedented move.

No such luck for the poor residents of Crown Heights.

What Antiochus, Hadrian, Stalin, et al, couldn't accomplish in thousands of years, the Rabbinate of Crown Heights accomplished in 15 seconds....
with one single unsigned letter!

This letter was released several days ago, but still no signed copy. Are the authors ambivalent about affixing their signatures to such a ruling? Or was the letter forged?  
Can it be that Chabad is now bereft of any competent rabbinic leadership? How did we stoop to such a nadir?
Rough times. Unprecedented and bizarre.
Esther decreed that all Jews gather in prayer. Mordechai Hayehudi gathered 22,000 Jewish children for Torah study.
Conversely, modern-day Jewish leaders decreed that NO Jews may gather in prayer, and that Jewish children may NOT gather for Torah study.

This week's parsha begins: "Vaykhel Moshe" -- Moses gathered the entire assembly of Israel to teach them how to construct a sanctuary for G-d where Jews may gather in His holy presence.

Today's rabbis are evacuating and locking up G-d's sanctuaries, desecrating His holy Name and isolating His holy people from one another, even for whom there is minimal risk.

They are doing so over and beyond the dictates of the state or even medical experts.

They are doing so over and beyond the dictates of halacha as well. No where do we find any source for sequestering healthy people for whom the disease presents no mortal risk. No where in Jewish law is there any source for regarding a healthy person as a presumed asymptomatic carrier without empirical evidence that s/he was in fact exposed. Instead, individuals who are at risk are the ones to be isolated and distanced. 

No where in Jewish history is there a precedent for closing all yeshivos, talmud Torahs, synagogues and study halls unless there was significant mortal risk looming over the entire population. 

That is clearly not the case with regard to this current virus.

These rabbis have chosen to cede halachic authority carte blanche to the doctors or askanim who are presumably advising them.

Please understand. I am not minimizing the risk of this disease for seniors. Surely octogenarians, septuagenarians, (and anyone for whom this disease poses mortal risk) should not engage in public life at this time, and should avoid interacting with people who have been out in the public. But to shut down the yeshivos, to interfere with the studies of tinokos shel beis rabban, to suppress tefila b'tzibur, to suggest that quarantined women (who have no symptoms for COVID-19) may be prevented from using the mikva (!!)... for all those who are NOT at serious risk... is incomprehensible and unfathomable.

As Rav Kanievsky observed, the danger caused by this reckless action is far greater than the worst-case scenario of potential danger caused by COVID-19.
Is Stalin shepping nachas from his grave?

ומסיימים בטוב -- let's get clarification and/or correction of this grave error at once, and may we merit to behold the ultimate "Vayakhel Moshe", the in-gathering of all our people, young and old, in the Third Holy Temple, in the most immediate future.

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