Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, April 23, 2021
In This Moment, April 23: Does Jewish Law Mandate Vaccinations? Bystanders and the Chauvin Trial; Breaking Down Real Barriers, Virtually
In This Moment
The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by Lisa and Eric Strom in honor of their daughter, Sarah, becoming a Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.
Shabbat Shalom and welcome back (in body or spirit)!
Mazal tov to Sarah Strom, who becomes bat mitzvah here this Shabbat. On Friday night, we'll have services outdoors (weather looks good), livestreamed so everyone can participate.
The Chauvin Verdict was a great source of relief and excitement for so many who have wondered aloud whether whether that proverbial long arc of the moral universe might finally be definitively bending toward justice. My op-ed for the R.N.S., "Bystanders in a Digital Age: The Heroes of the Derek Chauvin Trial," was picked up by The Washington Post. It speaks of how bystanding 'aint what it used to be; in fact, there really is no such thing as a pure bystander anymore. The mitzvah found in this week's portion of Achare Mot - Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:16), not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor, has been rendered nearly obsolete with the proliferation of cell phones and cameras nearly everywhere. No one can stand "idly by" anymore. If you are at the scene of a crime, you need to get involved, because you will be found.
This week Americans received their 200 millionth vaccine shot - and yet there is grave concern that too many people are backing away from taking it. Stamford's health commissioner called me this week to discuss what religious leaders can do to spread the word that these vaccines are safe and absolutely necessary. Jewish sources resoundingly concur. In short, they say, "take the shot!"
So if your question is: Does Jewish Law Mandate Vaccinations? The answer is YES!!!!
This consistent message is also connected to this week's portion, which speaks of the need to save lives as the Torah's highest value. As Rabbi Peltz writes: The Torah emphasizes that we need to take responsibility for the well-being of those around us when it says, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This is understood to mean that we do everything we can to safeguard the health of others.
There's that verse again! I'll talk more about this at services on Friday night.
Share the packets, especially with your recalcitrant friends. I'm especially concerned about young adults, who are now eligible.
My advice - and halacha's - take the shot!
Praying Out of the Box
We saw with last Shabbat's bar mitzvah just how much we can do with just a little out-of-the-bima thinking. Our hybrid service was wonderful both for those on-site and remote. At one point we had a split screen where the student's grandmother read the prayer for the State of Israel FROM Israel (see photo above) - and in real time, those in the sanctuary responded "Amen." I'm looking forward to many more such dramatic moments. The breaking down of barriers between, between in-person and remote prayer, combined with the experience of online community generated this past year by our Zoom services, reminded me of reflections I shared at the dawn of the internet age, in the late '90s, when I was putting together my initial thoughts about spirituality and cyberspace for my book, thelordismyshepherd.com:Seeking God in Cybersplace. For the past several years, and for good reason, we've become very skeptical about social media. But back in this period, before there was a Facebook, we saw the potential for community building and breaking down barriers. Covid brought us back to that - and last week's service was a stark reminder of the power of this medium, at its best See below a brief excerpt from that book:
Alone/Together: Breaking Down Real Barriers, Virtually
When we are alone in front of a blipping screen, there is sanctity and there can be community. One is truly alone, yet simultaneously in the presence of millions, and easily in the presence of a minyan who are like-minded. In any chat room, by definition, if there are ten people in the room who chose to be there because of that basic concern, whether it be saving the whales or nominating Jerry Springer for President, these are ten like-minded people. The masks come off, the hearts merge, and the aloneness is transcended. The experience of finding that minyan is incredibly powerful, obliterating boundaries, dissolving differences....
We find God on the Internet because it binds us all as One.
The Sh'ma, that central affirmation of monotheism, is speaking not about an abstract being "out there," but as that glue, that woven knot, that web, that binds us all. Jewish theologian Arthur Green has written:
"In it we declare that God is One -- which is to say that humanity is one, that life is one, that joys and sufferings are one -- for God is the force that binds them all together. There is nothing obvious about this truth, for life as we know it seems infinitely fragmented. Human beings seem isolated from one another, divided by all the fears and hatreds that make up human history. Even within a single life, one moment feels cut off from the next. To assert that all is one in God is our supreme act of faith."
Think about it:
When we receive e-mail, unless the correspondent specifies where he or she lives, the geographic address remains unknown -- and irrelevant. The artificial barriers of space are broken down.
When I read the Israeli newspapers every evening before I retire, I'm reviewing the stories that my Israeli sister is just waking up to. Even though we live seven time zones apart, my spiritual clock is in Jerusalem. The barriers of time have been obliterated.
When my son Ethan checks out the major league baseball scores on the ESPN website, then shifts to my synagogue's site to see himself listed along with other 6 and 7 year olds on our temple's junior baseball league (our teams are the Lightning and Matzah Balls), his uniqueness as an athlete and a human being are placed on the very same level as that of major league baseball players. This dissolves artificial barriers of talent, income and age, affirming that all human beings are of equal and infinite worth.
When with just a few clicks I can gain access to resources of rabbinic commentary larger than the combined libraries of all the great rabbis throughout the ages, the barriers of access to knowledge have been washed away.
When a single click can shuttle me from Newt Gingrich to Greenpeace, from Alvin Toffler's conservative "third wave information age" to what Frank Rich has called a "whopping stealth victory for the counterculture," we have dismantled the intellectual boundaries separating left from right. The Internet is a grand party to which everyone is invited, and which everyone has in common. Everyone is part of the same single in-group. Everyone, that is, who has access to it – and as computers become more common in public schools and the Internet more affordable and available through other means (e.g. cable television) – that access will become increasingly democratized.
The Internet is the first real Main Street that we've ever had.
Above, a scene from last week's service,
and below, Hebrew school returns to in-person outdoor classes.