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Q&A:Guard Yourselves Very Well

November 5, 2018

Question: Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will soon be celebrating our son’s bris, but I am worried about some of my wife’s relatives coming. They do not vaccinate their children, and I am scared that they could bring measles into the shul or hall, and endanger my family. What do I do?

(The questioner lives in Brooklyn, NY.)

Answer: First, pray for mercy. The recent news of measles outbreaks in large and prominent Jewish communities in Israel and America has created one of the worst desecrations of God’s name in history. Horrible diseases that God granted us the ability to eradicate have been brought back in the all of their horrifying fury due to a misguided application of allegedly Torah-based ideals and ideologies. The sad truth is that even if certain men are very wise in Torah, if they are not experts on certain matters, they should not express opinions on them. Rabbis should never use their authority as talmudists, halachists, or kabbalists to get involved in either politics or public health, for example. In the last weeks we have unfortunately been witness to many incidents of both, and we have seen the horrible outcomes.

Similarly, this week we have seen truly heartbreaking incidences of refusals to heed the basic commandment of w’nishmartem m’od, “guard yourselves very well,” the injunction to avoid danger by taking the necessary precautions. Last night I visited the home of the vanished Attar family of Psagot, a shiv’a the likes of which I have never seen. Because the entire family was wiped out at once by one man’s callous negligence, only the siblings of the parents were there to sit shiva, and there were no parents weeping over children, nor orphaned children weeping over parents, and it is well know that the parent-child relationship and the inverse grieving are much stronger than the sibling equivalents. The house was as the family had left it when they embarked on their trip, and now it is frozen in time, suddenly with no one to make heads or tails out of all that they left in this world. It was something out of an apocalyptic vision. Tragic in its silence, and silent in its paradoxical simplicity and complexity. The rabbi accompanying us summed it up nicely: “What do you say and to whom do you say it? There is so much nothing to say…”

But life-threatening irrationality disguised as legitimate halachic or medical opinions is making a comeback, and it just keeps getting worse, as today I was horrified to learn that the practice of human placentophagy is being both advocated and practiced in my own town, even though it is borderline insanity and the perfect example of a biblical curse (Deuteronomy 28:57), and I read this by Rabbi Enkin:

It was once believed that eating fish and meat together was the cause of a terrible skin condition and was extremely dangerous to one’s health.1 As such, the rabbis instituted a prohibition against eating fish and meat together.2 It is forbidden to eat fish and poultry together, as well.3

Although nowadays there are no known health concerns about eating fish and meat together, the ban against doing still applies. This is true even though what was unhealthy in the past may not be unhealthy nowadays and vice versa. In fact, in Talmudic times it was believed that rotten fish was good for you!4 It is noted that the Rambam does not cite the prohibition against eating fish and meat, leading many to believe that he permitted it. So too, some authorities argue that times have changed, and what was unhealthy or dangerous in ancient times might not be so today.5 There is also an opinion that the prohibition against mixing fish and meat only applied to a specific species of fish whose identity is no longer known.6

He then continues with some discussion concerning the relevant “halachot.” Rabbi Enkin would do well to write an article about how there are absolutely no halachic sources indicating that children should be immunized, and therefore those who do not do so to their children have on whom to rely. To present this as a purely halachic issue, “some permit, some prohibit,” is  a farce. In truth all agree to the premise that danger must be avoided, the only argument is whenever this is dangerous. We can excuse 16th centuries halachists for not having the resources to make that determination, but it is entirely indefensible to say that this particular issue is still not clear. Yes. Today we know better. Rabbi Herschel Schachter has said that it is funny how some people make sure never to eat fish and meat together because of the “danger,” but they’ll smoke and drink and eat every form of hydrogenated and sugarized processed poison. Rabbi Enkin, why do you not write the truth, that this idea and so many more pieces of what used to be ancient conventional wisdom has been discredited, and that is why it is not mentioned by Maimonides, and that is why it is not a matter of halacha? Why do you declare that the ban against meat and fish together still applies? When was it banned, and even if it were, on what authority do you make such a declaration? People are dying, babies are dying for crying out loud, because of this conflation of cultural taboos with halacha. They asked Rabbi Schachter why rabbis do  not declare smoking tobacco to be forbidden, and he responded that he does declare it forbidden, and that with regard to these and all similar issues, we should value today’s medical professionals, just like the sages followed theirs. Humanity has learned so much regarding medicine and health, and it’s time to say more. There is much that is forbidden that people believe is permitted, and there is much that is permitted that people believe to be forbidden. If something is discredited, we have to act on that, and if something is proven, we have to act on that too.

Every one who messes with his cell phone, or other such distraction, while driving, is a potential killer.

Every public figure who does not insist on any potential followers getting properly inoculated has their blood on his hands.

Every public figure who proclaims that it is a religious duty to vote for a particular politician (the vast majority of whom are certainly not moral or ethical figures no matter what the their political affiliation) is destroying the Jewish community.

When you see someone about to drive drunk, the halacha says that he must be stopped, even at all costs if necessary, because whether or not he is trying to get behind that wheel with malicious intent, he poses a clear and present danger to innocents others. That’s the sad truth. And that applies even to close family, and even if their way of endangering the lives of others is merely by honoring them with their presence. The Torah prescribes that the inadvertent killer be exiled, and that the lepers be quarantined and removed from society. Those who are anit-vaxxers or who may be harboring the worst infectious diseases need to be removed from contact with others, and then forbidden further contact with society until they mend their ways. Woe to our generation that it has come to this. If you need, I can be the one who will tell your relatives that they are not welcome, but you have to know that they must accept.

I also believe that this Wednesday, the 29th of Marheshwan 5779, should be established as a Jewish National Fast Day to gather in prayer and repentance for the sins of replacing halachic discourse and practice with nonsense such as partisan politics, superstition, and pseudoscience, and neglecting the commandment to do what is in our power to preserve our safety, health, and lives.

 

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