Dear Tanta Golda,
The Board of our synagogue came out with a policy that will allow us to gather in person. Amend that--that will allow some of us to gather in person--provided they are vaccinated. They say this is based on Jewish ethics, but what did the sages of the Talmud know from vaccines?
Fear of Needles
In last week’s Torah portion, Ki Thetze, we are told: If a (person) builds a new house, then they shall make a parapet (low wall) for the roof so they will not bring blood (injury) on (or off) the roof. (Deut 22:8)
It does not say to build the parapet only to protect the old, or only if someone in your household has a pre-existing condition that might cause them to fall. It doesn’t give you an ‘out’ for being young and healthy. Everyone is commanded to build a parapet in order to prevent anyone from coming to harm.
I suppose the Torah could have said, if you are old or have a pre-existing condition, you should stay within your home so healthy people can express their freedom to enjoy the roof without restrictions, but it doesn’t. Why? Because in Judaism we are told to put the needs of the community at the forefront. When my niece, Geri, was teaching a class on Jewish ethics at Bet Sefer, the chapter on Pikuah Nefesh cited this Torah passage as an example of how important the rabbis felt our obligation to ‘save a soul’ e.g prevent bodily harm, was.
Pikuah Nefesh overrides all other ethical obligations. All of them.
This Yom Kippur we will say the Vidui, the list of sins which we ask forgiveness. We aren’t told to say only the ones we are guilty of. We recite all of them, together, as a community because we are responsible for each other. By asking forgiveness for not only our own mis-steps, but those of our community members as well, we are holding each other up. It is the same reason we say the Mourners Kaddish only when we have a minyon (ten Jewish adults), and the reason we are told to rejoice with the bride and groom. Because in times of grief, in times of joy, we lift each other up, we watch out for each other.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, (CCAR) the oldest and largest rabbinic organization in North America, came out with a Responsa, a Jewish legal ruling, back in 1994 in response to the question of whether a Hebrew School could require students to be vaccinated. The ruling was a resounding, Yes. They cited the overriding obligation to protect the community. This April they issued a resolution in response to Covid-19 vaccine. It affirmed their 1994 ruling. https://www.ccarnet.org/ccar-resolutions/central-conference-of-american-rabbis-resolution-on-the-covid-19-vaccination/
This is not just a liberal rant from a crochety old woman. There are centuries of rabbis standing behind me. We are stronger when we support each other, when we have each other’s backs. We do have to care for ourselves, but we must also care for others. As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Kol Tov, be well, stay healthy--TG