Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Woe to Us -- G-d Under Attack, Part II

In my previous post, I drew attention to the stunning rabbinic silence while shuls and yeshivos were shut down, wondering why no source, precedent or rationale in Jewish Law was ever offered in defense of these unprecedented policies. For the sake of accuracy, in this present post, I'd like to correct that. These policies are not unprecedented at all. They have been attempted several times before in history...
770 chained shut for first time in history of Chabad Lubavitch

"And it was in the days of Corona..." Oy vay.

Our sages taught[1]:

The scriptural term vayehi ("and it was") denotes calamity, (i.e. vay)[2]...
"And it was in the days of Ahaz..."[3]

Which calamity was there in those days?...[4]
A king once entrusted his young son in the hands of a pedagogue. This teacher hated the child. Said he: "If I kill him, the king will have me executed. Let me withdraw his wet nurse and he'll die on his own." So said Ahaz: "If there are no young kids, there are no mature goats. No goats, no flock. No flock, no Shepherd. If there's no Shepherd, there can be no world."
Likewise Ahaz reasoned: "If the young ones don't [learn], there are no adults [learning]. No adults [learning], no students. No students, no sages. No sages, no elders. No elders, no Torah. If there is no Torah, there are no houses of prayer and houses of study. If there are no houses of prayer or study, G-d no longer causes His presence to dwell in the world."
What did [Ahaz] do?  He rose and locked up all synagogues and houses of study, so that Jews can no longer occupy themselves in Torah study...

Why was his name "Ahaz?" It is because he seized (and shut down) the synagogues and houses of study[5]...

There had never been a time that was as severe for Israel as then, as it states: "And I shall hide My face on that day on account of all the evil that he did..."[6]

(Prophet Isaiah challenged Ahaz:) What do you hope to accomplish? "Behold, I and the children G-d gave me will be for signs and wonders in Israel (from the Lord of Hosts Who dwells in Zion." Isaiah asserted that he and his students[7] will continue to study Torah and will ensure that G-d continues to dwell in Zion, i.e. among His people.)
Once everyone saw that Ahaz seized the synagogues and houses of study and locked them up, they begain to moan: "Vai, alas. Vayehi bimei Ahaz -- woe in the days of Ahaz."...

[Similarly] Vayehi bimei Ahashverosh, it was (woe) in the day of Ahashverosh...[8]

In another midrash, our sages describe how Haman plotted to first eliminate Jewish school children. "I will first lift my hand against these children."[9]

Jewish school children (tinokos shel beis rabban) are the foundation of our people and the secret of our survival. Haman understood that the only way to destroy the Jewish people is by interfering with the studies of Jewish school children, shutting down yeshivos, locking up houses of worship and houses of study.

When Jews are prevented from teaching their young and from congregating for study and worship, it is truly woeful. 

Woe to us in our current times.

Who is responsible for this dire situation?

Will it someday be said: "And it was in the days of current Jewish leadership..." -- woe to us in the days of current rabbinic leadership, those who presided over the shutting down of yeshivos, Jewish schools, synagogues and study halls?
Our rabbis? Following in the footsteps of wicked King Ahaz, Haman, Hadrian and Stalin? 

What went wrong these past two months?

How have we stooped to such unprecedented actions of shutting down schools, yeshivos, shuls and study halls? 

Truly a nadir in Jewish history with no real precedent. Stalin shut down chadorim and shuls. Jews risked their lives to keep them open or to take them underground.

During the typhus outbreak in 1918 and again in 1920, the yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Rostov remained open, even as nearly all the students and staff became stricken with the life-threatening illness. Even as the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's life hung in the balance, the yeshiva was not closed.

How have the tables turned? Why have prominent chabad rabbonim become the most vociferous enforcers of government policy to shut down schools and shuls?

What has become of mesiras nefesh for Torah learning upon which the world verily relies for its existence?

The Tanya teaches[10]:

"Ten Jews that sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Shechinah dwells amongst them."[11] This is the whole (purpose) of man. Moreover, (man's) very descent to this world was for the purpose of this ascent, of which there is none higher. For the Indwelling (shechina) of His Might which is in the heights of the upper realms, and whose dread the heavens and the heavens of the heavens cannot contain, dwells and becomes magnified among the children of Israel. Thus it is written[12]: "For I, G-D, dwell among (toch) the children of Israel"— through the group occupation with Torah and mitvos by ten, expressly, as our sages, of blessed memory, said: "We compare toch-toch..."; of this it was said: "The Holy One in your midst"[13]; and "There is no matter of holiness with less than ten."[14]
...But "woe (vay) unto those reject the Shechinah"[15]...Indeed, "on account of three things are the Jewish people detained in exile -- because they reject the Shechinah, and because they shame the Shechinah," and so on, as stated in the sacred Zohar.[16]

This explains Ahaz' (and Haman's) zeal to lock up the shuls and yeshivos. "If there are no houses of prayer or study, G-d no longer causes His presence to dwell in the world."  Preventing group Torah study is the way to effectively "ban" G-d from His world.

But how can we explain the bizarre zeal of some modern-day rabbis to shut down shuls and yeshivos?

How far can one cynically exploit the concept of pikuach nefesh?

In my previous blog post, I asked the obvious question: why haven't any of these rabbis offered a written psak with rationale and precedent to justify the sweeping and extraordinary extent to which they have applied the concept of pikuach nefesh?

This question remains unanswered.

Perhaps the clue is in Haman's own words, "I will first lift my hand against these school children."

Indeed,the current assault on Torah learning and tefila b'tzibur was already set into motion a year ago when the same rabbis presided over the ousting of over ten-thousand Jewish children from Talmud Torah because of so-called "public health policy." Some went as far as to ban healthy families from shul.
Their crime? Simply because they weren't fully vaccinated in accordance with state law. Since when does a state law have any bearing on who is entitled to learn Torah and who isn't?

In deference to halachically-unjust state policy, thousands of children were shockingly banned from learning Torah, a dire situation which continued unabated even after the so-called measles outbreak was declared over past September.

It is no wonder that these same rabbis were shamefully quick to enforce yet another halachically-unjust state policy to shut down all school and shuls, and even to prohibit all tefila b'tzibur anywhere.

Like the accomplices of Ahaz, it has become painfully obvious that these rabbis have ceded their authority to secular officials, due to willful ignorance and profound misinterpretation of Jewish law.

Where are the Isaiahs to boldly challenge this grave assault on Yiddishkeit?
"In a place where there are no men," we have no choice but to serve as Isaiah's mouthpiece:

What do you hope to accomplish with your bans and shutdowns? How do you intend to 'keep us safe' by removing the foundation upon which our very existence depends?[17]

You have recklessly and perilously endangered us all, but to no avail. We shall no longer submit when you kowtow to secular anti-halachic policies. We will no longer tolerate your foolhardy enforcement of "public health policy" in violation of our holy Torah and in betrayal of our children. We shall prevail. "Behold, we and the children G-d gave us will be for signs and wonders in Israel. We shall protect our children and insist that they all be entitled to chinuch al taharas hakodesh with NO discrimination or government meddling. We have not survived two millennia of exile, replete with Hamans, Hadrians, and Stalins, only for our shuls to be shut down and our children to be banned from school by our own errant rabbis. Hashem yerachem.

No, we shall no longer remain silent when you ban children from school in defiance of our holy Torah, in defiance of the poskim of our generation who have ruled unequivocally that Jewish children may NOT be excluded from school simply because of non-compliance with state-mandated vaccine schedule.[18]

We do NOT consent.

Judaism is under attack, no, G-D is under attack, and it is high time for us to defend Him.


[1] Pesichta to Esther Rabba, 11.
[2] Phonetically, vayehi sounds like "vai hee וי היא" -- it is woe.
[3] Isaiah 7:1. Ahaz was the twelfth king of Judea in sixth century BCE.
[4] Ibid 9:11 implies that there was a cataclysmic disaster even after the siege and hostilities of the Aramaeans and Philistines.
[5] Ahaz אחז literally means "he held or seized."
[6] Deuteronomy 31:18. 
[7] The midrash continues: "Were they indeed his children? Were they not his students? From here we learn that one's student is called a son," since they are beloved to him as a son.
[8] According to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneersohn (the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch), the same woe (vay) that existed in the days of Ahaz (i.e. the closing of shuls, study halls, talmud Torahs) was attempted by Haman. Hence the Scroll of Esther likewise begins: "And it was [woe] in the days of Ahashverosh -- vayehi bimei Ahashverosh." See Maamar V'kibel hayehudim, Purim Kattan 5687/1927, publicly delivered several months before his arrest and imprisonment in Stalinist Russia for the "counterrevolutionary crime" of teaching Torah to children. Printed in Sefer Maamarim 5687, page 111. See also Sefer Maamarim 5689 page 237, a similar idea expressed two years after his arrest and incarceration.
[9] Esther Rabba 7:13
[10] In Igros Kodesh, Epistle 23, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe and the Baal HaTanya v'haShulchan Aruch), the founder of Chassidus Chabad.
[11] Avot 3:6 
[12] Bamidbar 35:34
[13] Hoshea 11:9.
[14] Berachot 21b.
[15] Cf. Zohar II, 7a. The Tanya applies this to those who speak idle chatter during a minyan of ten, i.e. spurning the presence of the Shechinah, but it certainly is relevant to our discussion, those who ban the minyan altogether, effectively banning the indwelling of the Shechinah in this world.
[16] III, 75b. 
[17] Berachot 61b. 
[18] Rabbi Dr Avraham Steinberg, leading world expert on halacha and medicine, ruled conclusively that unvaccinated children may NOT be banned from school unless during an actual outbreak. Furthermore, he and other rabbis ruled that certain vaccines on the mandatory schedule (i.e. hepatitis B, chicken pox, etc) should not be required at all, and should certainly not be used an excuse to ban children from school. Written psak available on request.
[19] Acknowledgment to Rabbi Daniel Green of Brooklyn, NY, for assistance with some of the points of this article.

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