Monday, April 27, 2020

Are Rabbis Inerrant?

Dear Rabbi Green, I recently came across a long recording of a very intelligent prominent rav in our community. He was very strongly opposed to outdoor minyanim and cited various halachic reasons, but mainly he insisted that everyone must comply simply because of the fact that he, the rav, said so. I would love to daven with my block on my porch (obviously while following the strict social distancing laws), but shouldn't I be following the psak of a rav even when I may not agree with it? Strangely, there are some senior rabbonim in my community who have allegedly been permitting individuals to participate in porch minyanim when asked privately, but they haven't publicized this ruling. The only public rabbinic opinion is from the rav whose recording I described above. Please provide some food for thought on this most confusing topic. Thank you.


Generally speaking, we should follow the rulings of the rav moreh hora'ah bpoel [qualified decisor on Jewish law] with whom we consult. If we are part of a certain community, we should generally follow the rulings of the rav of that community if there is one. This is the case even if one disagrees with the rav's ruling.

If there are multiple rabbanim in one community, you can pick one to serve as your go-to rav or posek [decisor]. Just because one rav issues a ruling, you are not beholden to adhere to the ruling if you have not accepted his authority and your own rav rules otherwise.

If the community rav whose authority one generally accepts has ruled a certain way, one should do accordingly. Certainly if a number of community rabbis issue a joint statement endorsing a certain policy, one ought to oblige.

However, there are rare exceptions.

If the rav ruled precipitously and/or recklessly on a matter which is out of his skill-set or expertise, then that particular psak [ruling] carries no weight. If he is merely parroting medical advice from a doctor (or group of doctors), or worse, if he is enforcing a politically-motivated policy, without fully understanding the science of this advice or policy, then his ruling has no halachic authority. Much worse, if the doctor(s) whose directives he is enforcing is compromised and/or inept (due to empirical evidence or to his own admission), then the psak is most certainly null and void.

It is a sin to comply with such a psak. Instead, the person should consult his own competent doctor or medical expert, even better if it's a doctor who is also a friend. In our case, it would be preferable to simply follow state guidelines, or, if there is a question as to whether the guidelines contradict Torah law, should consult a competent and objective posek in this matter.

With regards to your specific question, it is deeply painful for me to divulge that numerous contemporary rabbis have seriously erred this past year in precisely the above fashion. 

For example, one particular rabbi -- although an erudite scholar and erstwhile colleague of mine whom I otherwise hold in highest esteem -- has lost jurisdiction to rule on matters that pertain to public health policies of this degree, since he relinquished his rabbinic authority to a certain doctor in that community who has sadly deemed himself unfit to serve as an objective rofeh mumcheh (competent medical advisor) in areas that regard public health.

This particular doctor claims to be the "chief medical practitioner" of his community, but there is so such designation in halacha. Moreover, he has disqualified himself due to unspeakable conduct that amounts to mesirah (informing non-Jewish authorities) against local Jewish children who weren't compliant with halachically-unjust state policies. Much worse, he petitioned the state to enact a fanatically-anti-halachic policy that banned Jewish children from school for no just reason. He instructed local schools to exclude children for no other reason than missing a single vaccine for a sexually-transmitted disease that poses no risk to school-age children. Even more shockingly, this rabbi had the temerity to abuse his rabbinic authority and enforce that doctor's bizarre policy by instructing school administrators to comply.

I wrote numerous letters to this rabbi but he made no effort to correct this egregious error or even voice a single complaint to his state or kehila for such an unjust policy.

Over the ensuing months, I repeatedly asked him to speak up or at least provide halachic rationale for his silence and tacit approval of this unprecedented violation of Jewish law in his community, being perpetrated in his name.

Clearly, this rabbi has sadly relinquished halachic authority to this unscrupulous and unfit physician, whose highest priority is enforcing a political agenda that conforms with so-called "public health policy" with no halachic basis. In fact, this doctor insisted on being much more fanatically stringent than state policy at the time.

Fast-forward to the current dilemma. Here we are again discussing a matter that relates to public health policy. Lamentably, this is not a rabbi one ought to consult on this crucial topic regarding which he has exhibited incompetence and/or neglect in the past. In fact, his position in the current situation reflects the same compromised bias he demonstrated last year, i.e. zealousness to enforce a certain doctor's agenda over and beyond state requirements

This is not an indictment of any one rabbi in particular, but describes a general dearth of rabbinic competence that plagues our communities.

In many cases, these rabbis aren't malicious but innocently believe they are doing the right thing.

In no way do I intend to discredit these rabbis' aptitude or scholarship in other realms of halacha. To the contrary. They should certainly be respected in areas of their expertise.

An extreme example of this was a Torah giant of this past century, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who ruled to permit traveling on Zim Cruise Line over Shabbos. When the Lubavitcher Rebbe learned of this ruling, he stated gravely: "This is not a proper psak din according to the laws of the Torah." ("אין זה פסק דין אמיתי על פי תורה"). The Rebbe maintained that Rav Moshe's psak had been in error since he was simply misinformed, unfamiliar with the mechanics of ship engines and was undoubtedly listening to insufficient information from compromised Israeli-government sources. Of course, this in no way detracted from the Rebbe's esteem for Rav Moshe's competency in all other areas of halacha.

If you live in a community in which your rav has enforced public health policy in violation of halacha this past year, I would strongly encourage you to seek out another rav who isn't compromised in this regard. It sounds like you have several there whom you might consult.

You wondered whether their opinion is as authoritative if they haven't publicized it. This is a sad reality of our present times that many rabbis who know the truth are afraid to speak out and risk suffering negative consequences, i.e. government backlash, media scorn, criticism from community members, etc. I'd still encourage you to consult with them. It sounds like they are the senior and more-experienced rabbanim in your community anyway. Maybe you can ask them to explain the reason for their silence.

One limud zechus comes to mind:

The obvious question must be asked: does any rov have authority to ban you from doing something which halacha psuka and the state policy clearly allows you to do, in your own home? Can any rov say that it's forbidden to answer omein to a kaddish that someone else is reciting from his own porch? That rabbi's entire psak is absurd to begin with. In truth, there is no reason for the other two rabbis to counter it with a public ruling of their own since the very notion of prohibiting it is entirely without basis.[1]

Entitlement to form minyanim for communal prayer is a הלכה רווחת. In truth, it requires no rabbinic approbation. In this case, since questions have been raised concerning porch minyanim, it is certainly more than sufficient to receive private permission from one of the two rabbanim you mentioned.

It is worthwhile to consider the extent of authority that rabbis wield on their adherents and the limitations thereof:

In 5738 (1977), the Rebbe suffered a heart attack. In the aftermath of his recovery, the doctor instructed him to take a daily medicine. Due to halachic constraints, the Rebbe chose not to take the medicine on Shabbos, much to the doctors' disapproval. They consulted with Rabbi Zalman S. Dworkin, the rav of Crown Heights at that time. He responded that halacha permits it, so they asked him to prevail upon the Rebbe to take the medicine.

As he entered the room, the Rebbe immediately stopped him from speaking, saying: "Please don't tell me what you came here to tell me. It would cause me great anguish to not heed an instruction of a rav."

From here we clearly see that just because a rav offers a heter, one is not necessarily obliged to accept it, although one ought to feel anguish in rejecting it. That is with regard to shev v'al taaseh. Here you might argue that kum va'asei is worse. I'd argue that a rav has no authority to prohibit you from something of that nature in the first place. He is not a king or a despotic ruler who is מושל בכיפה. He is there to answer שאלות and rule on areas which halacha grants him authority[2]. Ruling on medical matters is outside of his purview. This is why the Rebbe once explained to a doctor why rabbonim cannot prohibit smoking, but just advise their adherents to listen to the directives of a rofeh yedid.

It follows that any rav who declares a rabbinic ban on smoking is abusing his authority[3]. Rabbinic statements banning laxity in social distancing is no different, and, in fact, is worse.

There are plenty of rof'im yedidim who will approve of porch minyanim. The rabbi you mentioned has clearly stepped out of the boundaries of his rabbinic authority. Sounds to me like you ought to consult those other rabbanim, or perhaps search for a new rabbi who has humility and respect for his position.

Good luck with your research

[1] In one particular community, the Beis Din issued repeated written letters banning public prayer of any kind, but they were not signed. Instead, the letter claimed that due to the urgency of the corona virus situation, the rabbis had rushed to issue the letters with no time to collect signatures. That sounds mighty suspicious to me in today's day and age of intimidation, rabbinic silence and fear of opposing public health policy. Moreover, over six weeks elapsed since the issuance of those letters and still not a single signature was procured. Surely an extraordinary ruling of this nature requires signatures of rabbis who are willing to take responsibility. This makes one wonder whether the letter had any validity at all to begin with.

[2] On 2 Adar 5748, the Rebbe discussed the paramount importance of heeding rabbonim. However, this had an crucial caveat. The Rebbe called upon his adherents to conduct themselves in accordance with the instructions of a beis din tzedek of each place, and especially a beis din tzedek of rabbonei lubavitch whose halachic rulings are based and firmly founded on the revealed oral Torah (i.e. halacha) and pnimius haTorah, in a manner in which there is no separation between the revealed law and esoteric doctrine, so much so that it can be fully understood in a way of wisdom, knowledge and understanding (chochma, bina, daas). Clearly, the Rebbe never instructed his chassidim to blindly follow anything any beis din says, but only one whose ruling is clearly based on authentic halachic sources and which are in sync with chassidus in a perceivable and self-evident way. Recent letters banning any tefila b'tzibur from a prominent lubavitch beis din not only did not bear any signatures, but failed to cite even one authentic source or rationale, in nigleh or nistar. 

[3] In ancient times, our sages banned certain activities due to safety risks, and instituted precautions like hand-washing after eating. Such authority to issue rabbinic enactments aren't relevant to rabbis of modern times, when there is no sanhedrin who can impose decrees over all Israel. Instead, rabbis may offer recommendations and exhort people to listen to their doctors. They no longer have authority to dictate medical policy to anyone.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Great Corona Divide

By now you have likely learned of the shocking neglect and abuse that is allegedly occurring in NYC hospitals.[1]

It amazes me to hear two opposite reactions from my social media friends when presented with the horrific nightmare that is unfolding in New York.

Some feel growing distrust for the health care system. They fear that the public medical policy is flawed and compromised. They suspect that some health care workers might not have the best interest of the individual patient in mind, but care more about a societal status quo or bottom line, or worse. This crisis has seriously weakened their trust in "public health policy."

Other people react by affirming their total faith in the medical system and doubling down on it. "See why we need to practice social-distancing? The hospitals are overwhelmed... We know it's imperfect but it's all we have," they maintain. This group would never suspect the establishment of foul play, negligence or incompetence.

This latter group ("B") is praying for "public health policy" to save us from the virus by providing a vaccine, and the sooner the better. They want it expedited. Risk of vaccine injury concerns them less than the uncertainty of the virus and the helplessness of having no other precautionary policy other than societal shut-down, which they wholeheartedly embrace since that's the "public health policy" which they will justify and defend at all costs.

Group A is growing leery of an expedited vaccine, or any vaccine for that matter from the same WHO & CDC that mishandled cv to begin with. They are growing tired of what they see as inept policies that don't seem to be saving lives, but perhaps the opposite. They view the 80%-90% mortality rate of patients on ventilators as appalling and unacceptable. They question what "flattening the curve" has accomplished. So that there be more available ventilators to kill more patients (while saving a paltry few)? So that there be more available beds in NYC hospitals where more people can be left to die with no nutrition or hydration? They want to know why the death rate is so bizarrely higher in NYC than in, say, Tokyo, where there was no social distancing? They are asking tough questions and sadly expect no honest or objective answers from a system they see as corrupt and self-righteous.

Instead of hoping for a WHO-endorsed vaccine (if there will ever be one), Group A is searching for any alternative therapies that have yielded results. They want to hear about vitamin C, zinc, and essential oils too. They want to hear about homeopathy and herbs, and general nutrition too. They are growing tired of surrendering their health to CDC-recommendations that aren't working.

Group B, on the other hand, is adverse to hearing anything that isn't sanctioned by the CDC. Anything that questions the status quo makes them feel uncomfortable, and it doesn't bother them at all when YouTube censors videos that offer such alternative therapies or treatments.

Group A sees such censorship as a grave assault on freedom of opinions and alternative views, and Group B chides them for being so upset, claiming that such opinions are illegitimate anyway since it's not endorsed by the all-knowing WHO & CDC. In fact, Group B accuses Group A of being "anti-science," since in their opinion, "science" means unwavering belief in the opinion of some experts over that of others if the former has been accepted by the mainstream.

Group B also accuses Group A of having "blood on their hands" for minimizing the need to submit to enforced social distancing and for (sic) not caring about the elderly and the immuno-compromised.

Group A accuses Group B of being thought police trying to suppress freedom of opinion. They also accuse them of obsequiously supporting govt overreach and unprecedented violation of the First Amendment, and of being cruelly indifferent to the plight of those suffering from poverty, mental illness or domestic abuse, all compounded under unjust govt shutdown that sequesters and isolates people by force.

Group A looks askance at rabbis who ban porch minyanim and  insist their communities be more strict than state requirement. They don't wish to be ordered to comply, as if they are not mature or intelligent enough to make safe decisions for themselves. Group B applauds such strict rabbis for their vigilance and for reigning in those rebellious yokels.

Group A's reaction to covid-19 is growing distrust in the medical establishment and its supporters.
Group B's reaction is growing reliance on the medical establishment and its supporters.

Group A wants to take ownership of their own well-being. They insist on medical freedom and the right to make their own health decisions.
Group B wants government to tighten its grip on all citizens, to make everyone conform to its cautious policies that profess to keep the population safe, if it will save one extra life.

Group A sees the novel corona virus as a turning point that calls for a novel and unprecedented approach to health and individual empowerment, one that sidelines the outdated and failed public health agenda.

Group B sees the novel corona virus as a time for unprecedented and extraordinary measures to enforce public safety, but beyond that, they yearn to return to same old public health policy in which the government safeguards our society's health.

Of course, these are two extremes, and most people might land somewhere in the middle.

I realize that many of you will identify with one of these two groups. I certainly lean towards one.

Let's hope that this polarity in world views won't succeed in isolating us from one another. We can have opposite views but not be polarized. We can learn how to respectfully agree to disagree in spite of our significant differences of opinion.

When we've reached the point that we cannot hear another view and hope it gets censored, then we are in big trouble.

Everyone's voice is important. It's vital we learn to listen to each other. That's the only way our nation will survive and prevail.

Praying for health, healing, and peace for all.

[1] I've heard numerous eye-witness accounts. The only videos I can currently provide are a) an interview with a son of a victim and survivor; and b) a grueling account of a NYC nurse. There are more, sadly, and I'll post them when I can locate them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Holding up the World

The Talmud tells us that the world exists solely in the merit of the breath of Jewish children learning Torah in their rebbe's house ("tinokos shel beis rabban"), "breath that has no sin."[1] 

So this begs the obvious question: 

How is the world existing now? All schools and yeshivot worldwide have been shut down for weeks with no plan of reopening. We are now being told that schools will likely not reopen until September!

This is truly unprecedented. Never before in the annals of Jewish history has the world been completely deprived of the breath of tinokos shel beis rabban... It is inconceivable how the world still exists...

There is only one possible explanation.

Over a year ago, ten thousand innocent Jewish children were unjustly banned from schools across NY (and thousands more in other states) simply because their families' religious beliefs prevented them from complying with mandatory vaccine policy. Draconian laws passed in NY and CA that cemented their fate.

What happened to all these hapless alienated children?

Parents desperately scrambled to find solutions. Some began to vaccinate their children against their better conscience. Some moved out of state while others were able to sneak their children into school unofficially... 

The remainder had no choice but to home-school. Parents had to quit or juggle their jobs to become teachers at their home school. Living rooms became class rooms. Dining room tables became study halls. Melodious sounds of children's voices chanting Torah, mishna, and gemara were heard throughout their homes and (weather-permitting) in their backyards. Some of these families struggled, but many succeeded. Of course, it was challenging to combine siblings of multiple ages in one group, but it was ultimately quite rewarding. Parents confided to me that their children's learning flourished in their new home school setting. Learning independently and b'chavrusa with their siblings and parents, children felt empowered and took ownership of their learning in ways they had never conceived of in their erstwhile schools.

Lo and behold! When all schools shut down last month, the only serious learning (in "beis rabban," i.e. in their actual class room with their peers, or in this case, siblings) that continued unabated was the learning of those children in their home schools.[2]

So that settles it, folks. At this present time, the world is only existing in the merit of the breath of those unvaccinated children, breath that is untainted by sin (or vaccines).

If you know any such families who were alienated and shunned from your communities or schools last year, please pick up the phone and thank them profusely for sustaining the entire universe with their children's uninterrupted studies in these dark times.

These heroic families are a sole source of light, comfort and consolation for Klal Yisroel in such unprecedented societal shutdown.

Tell them how much you appreciate them for single-handedly bearing the weight of the entire world on their shoulders.

Ask them to teach you how to create a successful home school so that your children can also resume exhaling that holy breath of Torah study in their own "beis rabban," i.e. your home.

Seek their guidance and wise counsel. Beg their forgiveness for banning them from school last year (or for standing by silently while they were shunned, banned and humiliated).

Surely they will reply as Joseph did to his brothers: 

"Indeed, you intended evil against me, but God designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive!" [3] -- "ואתם חשבתם עלי רעה אלקים חשבה לטובה למען עשה כיום הזה להחיות עם רב!"

Befriend them. Learn from their wisdom, experience, devoted and responsible parenting.

Thank G-d for those "anti-vaxxers."

The world currently exists only because of their precious children.

G-d bless their souls.

Don't be כפוי טובה (ungrateful).

Show them some well-deserved appreciation today. 

[1] Shabbos 119b.
[2] "Online learning" isn't called "beis rabban," but perhaps only in a virtual sense. Instead, it is solitary learning. Not enough merit to sustain the world, at least not according to the Talmud.
[3] Genesis 50:19

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Long-Overdue Introspection

This article is dedicated in loving memory of my dear brother-in-law,
Rabbi Shalom a"h ben Shmuel halevi Gurewicz,
who passed away today, Shabbos Parshas Tzav, 10 Nisan 5780  
Trigger warning: 
For the past few weeks, I have hesitated to share these thoughts. I feared sounding insensitive to the suffering of our community at this time. However, I feel the sense of urgency to share this vital message now to prevent more loss of life. Too much is at stake. Unfortunately, my message may distress certain well-meaning individuals in the Jewish community who hold "public health policy" to a standard of infallibility. All who are open to objective dialogue are encouraged to read on. Please read until the end before reaching conclusions. This is not about gloom and doom, but shares a message of hope, positivity, and constructive solutions. Also, my intent is not to point the finger at any one individual, but to a communal lapse for which we are all equally responsible.   

With a broken heart I write these words.
Grieving for those who perished.
Praying for those who are stricken.
Distraught over the trauma and uncertainty.

Judaism behooves us to dig deeper.
This virus is no coincidence.
Cataclysmic collective suffering reveals a dire need for collective introspection.[1]
It's a spiritual game-changer.
How might we mend our ways and bring healing to our ailing people?

It's not just about those who are ailing. It's all of us. 
Each of us sits isolated in our homes like lepers, excommunicated, banned from shul or any communal prayer. Schools and yeshivos are shut down. The Rebbe's own shul and beis midrash, "770," is chained up and empty.  

Instead of lamenting our plight, it's time to be proactive. "Let us search and examine our ways, and let us return to G-d. [2]

There is no effect without a cause.
This novel virus and the upheaval that has ensued are truly unprecedented.
It follows that something unprecedented occurred that precipitated such a novel crisis.

What could it be?  

Evil gossip (lashon hara) has been around since time immemorial. Other sins too. If anything, the general trajectory of worldwide Jewish observance has been a positive one. Has any violation of Torah occurred in the recent past that can be said to be truly unprecedented?  

Our sages taught:  

"If a person sees that suffering has befallen him, he should examine his actions... If he examined and found no (transgression for which that suffering is appropriate -- Rashi), he may attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah."[3]  

So dereliction of Torah study is indeed presumed to be the culprit. But what type of extraordinary bitul Torah could have possibly resulted in such an extraordinary shutdown of society?  

We need not look too far.  

Alas, this past year has witnessed a grave preponderance of communal Bitul Torah that was truly unparalleled in the annals of Jewish history. Bitul Torah of the very worst degree.  

One year ago, in the winter of 2019, thousands of Jewish children were summarily banned from school during a measles outbreak. The reason cited was their lack of immunity to the measles virus. Public health policy deemed these otherwise healthy children a risk to others, since they can become asymptomatic carries (i.e. contagious before showing symptoms). Of course, this can occur in any child, but the unvaccinated are presumed to have a higher risk of contracting the virus than their vaccinated peers.  

Sadly, a great many Jewish schools went over and beyond  state requirement and expelled unvaccinated students even when there was no outbreak in their local zip code. In Crown Heights, the Chidon banned children from attending an educational event for which they had prepared for months, even though the Department of Health had not required such action. Even worse, some of these children were en route from overseas when the Chidon organizers notified parents. When the children entered the event during davening, they were publicly humiliated and physically ousted from shul. No one protested this egregious act of public humiliation.  

Furthermore, even after the measles outbreak concluded, many of these children were still not permitted back to school. Sadly, the rabbinic leadership of New York and elsewhere regarded these families as outliers deserving of marginalization, scorn and derision. Their children were seen as public dangers unworthy of attending school, camp, or any other public event. Numerous synagogues adopted abusive policies banning unvaccinated families from attending shul. Some communities even banned unvaccinated women from using the mikva!  

Then, on the thirteenth of June (6-13, ironically), the NY State legislature passed a draconian law eliminating religious exemption to mandatory vaccine schedule, effectively banning ten thousand Jewish children from ever attending school again in NY. This drastic move was met with zero resistance on part of the Jewish community. Nary a protest was heard. In fact, numerous prominent rabbis praised the bill and had originally petitioned their state assembly to pass it!  

The problem here is obvious. Halacha does not permit excluding a healthy child from school. The leading halachic authorities on medical matters in our times[4] ruled conclusively that healthy unvaccinated children may be excluded from school ONLY during an actual outbreak of a deadly disease. The 2019 measles outbreak was declared over in NY State this past September.  

So by what right were these children still banned from school in the fall of 2019 and beyond? 

Can it be that this lapse of rabbinic leadership in 2019 laid the groundwork for the feared virus that has been aptly dubbed "COVID-19," i.e. the "Corona Virus Disease of 2019?"  

Moreover, children were barred from school even if they indeed had immunity to measles, or were vaccinated for it, but were simply missing the mandatory hepatitis-B vaccine, which is an STD, clearly posing no risk for children in orthodox Jewish day schools and yeshivos.
Even those poskim who permitted schools to ban unvaccinated children even when there is no outbreak did so ONLY provided that the community sets up new school(s) to accommodate ALL children, including the unvaccinated [5].  

Alas, no such schools were ever set up anywhere in NY State. Instead, some parents capitulated and vaccinated under duress, some parents signed their children up for online instruction, while other children just stayed home to roam the streets.  

This dire situation was truly unacceptable. It was already foreseen by our sages nearly two-thousand years ago.  

Shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple, in the days of Yehoshua ben Gamla[6], our sages enacted a communal obligation on every single Jewish community throughout the world to hire Torah teachers for all children of the city[7]. Any city that did not comply and did not have school-teachers for all its children was to be duly excommunicated until it would comply with our sages’ ordinance[8] since the world only exists in the merit of the breath of the mouths of Jewish school children, a breath that has no sin, etc.[9]  

After learning of this unjust school policy and unjust legislative act that cemented it into law, I spent months sending letters to rabbis of NY demanding that they protest this dire lapse in Torah education. I published an op-ed in the Jewish Press stating that we are all guilty of cherem until we get these children back into school.  

All my pleas fell on deaf ears. The state of CA passed a similarly draconian law banning unvaccinated children, and several other states are currently trying to follow suit. These laws have been largely met with silence on part of the Jewish community.  

This betrayal of Jewish children is shockingly novel and unprecedented.  

Can it be that by banning thousands of healthy Jewish children from school, we have rendered our communities guilty of cherem for being in violation of our sages' communal obligation? And consequently, the social isolation imposed in response to this novel corona virus is a communal excommunication of sorts?[10]

Even worse, can it be that by unjustly banning Jewish children from joining their peers in Torah study, we have shaken the very foundations of the entire world? And consequently, the world economy is in collapse and uncertainty has left billions of the world's inhabitants distraught and panic-stricken?  

Can it be that the elimination of the vital merit upon which the world exists, i.e. the breath from the mouths of Jewish school children, has left us all vulnerable to a disease which threatens to take away our breath?  

We've deprived the world of the precious breaths upon which it owes its existence and now people cannot breathe?  

Is it just coincidence that the nation's hardest-hit hotspot of corona virus cases is the very state in which 10,000 Jewish children were unjustly banned from learning Torah?[11]  

Please don't counter that these children were still able to learn Torah from home or elsewhere. Our Sages use the phrase tinokos shel beis rabban -- children of their teacher's house. Learning at home or online is not called beis rabban.[12]  

There is yet another Talmudic clue into the eerie chain of events.  

Our Sages taught: "Whoever neglects the Torah in wealth will ultimately neglect it in poverty[13]... and if you neglect the Torah, there will be many more causes for neglect before you."[14]  

This time last year, we were in a position of 'wealth.' There was no state law unjustly banning children from school. Moreover, we had a relatively benign outbreak of a once-commonplace childhood illness that sickened over 1,200 people in the US, all of whom recovered with no mortality. Yet we faltered, in panic and dread, and precipitously expelled thousands of healthy children from school. We never corrected this breach, even after the so-called outbreak was over. So now we find ourselves in a position of 'poverty.' A real outbreak has come our way with dozens of thousands sick and thousands dead. All of our schools are shut down with no plans of reopening.  

Last year, we neglected the Torah study of ten-thousand children. Now we are faced with a reality of bitul Torah (albeit justified) of hundreds of thousands of children.  

Where do we go from here? How shall we proceed?  

I have received numerous notices about Sifrei Torah being written, tehillim groups, Moshiach and Geulah study groups, lashon horah groups, etc., all in the hope of averting this dreadful decree. This is all wonderful, but in my humble opinion, it ignores the elephant in the room. How can we correct the breach in the Torah study of tinokos shel beis rabban that we inflicted upon ourselves?  

Don't despair. There is hope. Our Sages have an answer for this too. The previous teaching in Avos addresses it directly:  

"Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in wealth."[13]  

Now is the time to rededicate our efforts to fulfill the Torah, even in our present state of poverty. How can we endeavor to uphold Torah study of all Jewish children even in our present state of social isolation?  

Here some vital steps that can be implemented right away:   

1. Rabbis of NY (and elsewhere) should unanimously declare that every Jewish child deserves an uncompromising Jewish education, irrespective of state vaccine-schedule compliance, finances, or any other halachically-unjust reason to prevent a child from attending Talmud Torah.   

2. Rabbis and headmasters should make public apologies to all children and families whom they hurt with their words and actions. Especially children who suffered humiliation, scorn, and isolation.   

3. All children in the community should be invited to participate in any zoom classes that schools are currently offering. They should all be furnished with computers, accoutrements, and online resources that were afforded to their peers.   

4. All NY rabbis shall call their legislators and vehemently protest the state policy that bans unvaccinated children from school in profound violation of our religion. Furthermore, they shall call upon all adherents and community members to likewise voice their complaints to the legislature. It is obvious that if the Jewish constituency were solidly opposed to the law, it would be repealed at once.[15]   

5. Community members shall resolve at once that when Hashem has mercy on us and ends this plague, they will not rest until every single child is back in school, or at least that temporary learning programs be put in place for these children who have been wrongly marginalized, until the law is repealed. These programs shall be supported by the entire community, as required by the original rabbinic decree for the past two millennia.[6]   

6. The entire Jewish community worldwide resolve to never disparage or isolate a family because of their medical choices ever again.   

7. We shall all declare once and for all that we are one inseparable people, mutually responsible for one another. Most importantly, we share responsibility for all Jewish children everywhere, and especially those in our own communities.  

Last year, during the measles outbreak, no one called for tehillim or prayer groups. Instead of turning to the Healer of all flesh, Hashem, everyone placed their trust in "Public Health Policy" and its vaccine. Now, covid-19 leaves us with no doubt Whom to turn to.

With prayerful wishes for healing and Redemption now,
Rabbi Michoel Green  


[1] Rambam, Laws of Fasts 1:2-3.
[2] Eicha 3:40 נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקֹרָה וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד ה'
[3] Berachos 5a.  
[4] Rabbi Dr Avraham Steinberg, leading neurologist and ethicist of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, recently sent me two letters confirming his ruling and rabbinic consensus on this matter. Letter available upon request. He also stated clearly that orthodox Jewish children should NOT be required to get the hep-B and HPV vaccines since they are STDs and pose no risk for children. 
[5] Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, another posek on medical matters, expressed this view to me via email. Furthermore, he agreed that children may NOT be excluded from school just for not being vaccinated for hep-B, HPV, and chicken pox.  
[6] Bava Basra 21a. Hilchos Talmud Torah by the Alter Rebbe, 1:3. 
[7] The Alter Rebbe’s wording: “בעד כל תינוקות שבעיר”. 
[8] It should be noted that the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1) rules that if the city still refuses to hire teachers for all its children, even after being excommunicated, then the city should be destroyed! Jewish people must move away from such a community, which is to be dismantled and abandoned since it would not provide teachers for its children! 
[9] Shabbos 119b. Alter Rebbe’s Hilchos Talmud Torah Ibid. See sources cited in the footnotes there.  
[10] The "six-foot rule" is eerily reminiscent of nidui, ostracization (i.e. a lighter form of excommunication than cherem). No one may sit within four cubits of a menudeh (a person who has been ostracized) except members of his household. Four cubits is approximately six feet. [Yoreh Deah 334:2]
[11] "Corona" means crown. Tragically, Crown Heights, a community that banned at least 500 children from school this past year happens to be one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in New York and perhaps in the entire nation. Metaphorically, the Torah learning of children is the crown of our people. Have we erred catastrophically by debasing our crown thereby inflicting a corona disease upon our people? On a positive note, this plague seems to only endanger adults. Children, the most precious members of our community who were innocent all along, seem to be spared from the risks of this disease. Furthermore, this virus seems to exact a much larger death toll from men than from women. It must be pointed out that Torah education of children is more obligatory on men than on women.
Oddly, a common symptom that Crown Heights residents experienced once infected with this corona virus is loss of taste. Can it be that we have lost our taam (i.e. sense and appreciation) for Torah education, so we became vulnerable to a disease that deprives its victim of the sense of taste?
Lastly, recent eyewitness accounts revealed that some hospitalized patients suffering with the virus were neglected and provided with no hydration or nutrition. Some attribute this to antisemitism while others point to overwhelmed and/or inept hospital staff, but this deplorable situation ought to give us all pause. The Torah is compared to water. הוי כל צמא לכו למים -- O all who thirst, come for water [Is. 55:1, as per Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:2:8]. The Torah has also been compared to bread and nourishment. (See Tanya chapter 5, Mishlei 9:5, Rabbeinu Bachaye on Deut.31:1, and elsewhere). Can it be that we have unjustly deprived Jewish children of Torah education that is likened to water and food for the soul, and now our loved-ones have been deprived of vital hydration and nutrition and left to die? Hashem yerachem.
[12] It should be pointed out that when these 10,000 children were banned from school, no one came to their aid to provide resources for them to continue their studies online as was done for all the children in school who were recently sent home as a result of the current corona virus. No one provided them with laptops and zoom technology to enable them to join their class. No one seemed to care that these hapless children were forced out of school with no alternatives. 
[13] Avot 4:9. 
[14] Ibid 10.   
[15] It only passed narrowly by a few votes.