Today, Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the year. It is the day that we experienced
ultimate churban, the destruction of both Batei Mikdash, and on which we were exiled from Eretz Yisroel. It also proved to be a day of additional pain and suffering
throughout the ages. Furthermore, we are told that all our suffering has its roots in Tisha B’Av.
After the Holocaust of World War II, many people wanted to declare a day of remembrance for the atrocities which occurred during that period. The Gedolim of the day were approached and almost unanimously opposed the idea. All suffering, they stated, is rooted in Tisha B’Av. We don’t need an additional day. We need to mourn on Tisha B’Av.
And indeed, numerous new kinnos were composed in remembrance of the Shoah, supplementing the already long, moving, and sad list of kinnos which are said on Tisha B’Av.
What were the events which led to this terrible destruction? What lessons can be learned? What were subsequent events which occurred throughout history, as a result of the fact that we are repeating the same mistakes over and over again?
It behooves us to understand the nature of the sins which have caused our churban.
Let’s go through some history together, and analyze the events which are recorded in Tanach, and which occurred in later generations as it pertains to the chronology of
Tisha B’Av, as well as the theme of the day.
With this deeper goal, let us now attempt to embark on our journey in exploring relevant incidents from the Torah.
The B’nai Yisroel had asked Moshe to send messengers to Eretz Yisroel to scout the
land before entering. Agents who would determine if the land is safe, and if it would be a wise decision to enter.
And so Moshe Rabbeinu acquiesced. He gathered together anashim, people of stature. Rashi tells us that they were all chashuvim, reputable “kosher” individuals. They were the heads of the shevatim. The men were sent, and came back forty days later with their reports.
What did they discover? That the land was eretz ocheles yoshveha, a land which
consumed its inhabitants. People were dying left and right. It was a dangerous place.
V’gam yelidei ha’anak ra’einu sham, the citizens were giants, literally, who were scary and dangerous. Surely it would be suicide to enter such a land. When we learn the Torah as a child, we are taught in a very simplistic way. We may still
have pictures of cartoon-like photos created by our Morah’s in our minds. Yet as adults, we need to have a more realistic and factual understanding of what actually occurred.
The fear which the Jews experienced at that time was genuine. They were concerned about an existential threat. What did they think would happen to them? Did they fear that only some of them were to die? No. They were afraid of unilateral death. Unequivocal and indiscriminate genocide. Decimation. The entire nation would be annihilated. Every last one. The kina’anim, they thought, were the Nazis of the time.
That was what was reported to them by ten of the twelve meraglim. This report gave way to creating a bonafide fear which was instilled in their hearts.
Kaleiv tried to assure them that the reports were distorted. That the land which Hashem had promised them would prove to be amazingly good. But the crowd was so riled up that they wouldn’t even listen, were he to present it as is.
Va’yahas Kaleiv es ha’am. Kaleiv quieted the crowd. Rashi tells us that they only way he was able to succeed in getting the crowd even to listen was to pretend, chas v’shalom that he wanted to say something negative about Moshe Rabbeinu. “And you know what else Ben Amram did for us?!”, he said. He opened his remarks using a disparaging appellation for Moshe Rabbeinu, referring to him condescendingly by only mentioning his father’s name, and not referring to him as Moshe.
This got the crowd silent, at least temporarily, for the hysteria had already kicked in. The fear of death at the hands of the Kina’anim had been instilled in their hearts, so they were prepared to listen to anything else which they could use to attack Moshe
Kaleiv continued: “He split the sea for us, brought us the mann and the quail…” and
began listing the tremendous chassadim which Moshe had done for the Bnei Yisroel.
We don’t need to fear Eretz Yisroel. The land that Hashem is giving us is “tovah, mi’od mi’od”, amazingly good. Moshe hasn’t failed us before, and he always listens to
Hashem, who loves us, cares for us, and would never harm us in any way. We need to look past this negative and distorted piece of lashon harah and proceed to enter Eretz Yisroel as planned, because that’s the ratzon Hashem, and He will not let us down.
But the moment that Bnei Yisroel recognized Kaleiv’s true and altruistic intentions, they stopped listening to him. His words fell upon deaf ears. Their minds were made up. The fear of death had succeeded in creating panic and hysteria which surpassed the reason and logic needed to deal with the situation rationally.
They all ran to Moshe Rabbeinu. The pasuk says, vatikrivun alai kulchem, they all
approached Moshe. Rashi says that the gathering was done bi’arbuvia. It was a
commotion. It was a tumultuous crowd. Most likely people were screaming and yelling. It was probably full of chaos. It probably wasn’t responsible people addressing their concerns to Moshe in a polite, respectful fashion, speaking coherently. And it certainly was not a crowd willing to listen to the answers. They were not looking to be placated or to have their concerns or fears allayed. It was probably more like an angry mob.
Sadly, their fears were unfounded, as Hashem would have performed miracles on their behalf to save them from the savage kina’anim. But that’s not how they saw it. They saw it as a problem. A very palpable one. And so they cried. They cried over a problem which didn’t exist.
And so Hashem said, “you cried over nothing, so I will give you something to cry about for generations.”
That night was Tisha B’Av. It would prove to be a sad day for generations. The first
beis hamikdash was destroyed on that day. So was the second. Today, we sit on the
floor to mourn these tragedies. And to mourn all tragedies which have befallen us since that day. The Holocaust. The Spanish Inquisition. The Crusades. The massacres of tach vi’tat. And so many others, big and small. Personal tragedies. Death and sickness, depression, and tzaros within our communities today. These all stem from the churban habayis, which has its roots in the chet of the meraglim.
But what did they do wrong? They were concerned about dying? Wouldn’t you have
been? Would you enter an enemy land after hearing a report given to you by
responsible, loving anashim and respectabile community members who tell you that
entering the land would be tantamount to suicide? Wouldn’t it have been downright irresponsible not to have listened to the meraglim?
Don’t we follow the majority? After all, it was ten against two. Shouldn’t we listen to the ten?
There are many answers given by the meforshim. But one thing that we see clearly is the following: They didn’t listen. They didn’t listen to Kaleiv. He couldn’t even get a
word in edgewise. They didn’t listen to his logic. They didn’t listen to the fact that
perhaps the report of the meraglim was wrong. They didn’t use reason. They gave into fear and hysteria. They let that overcome them and take on a world of its own,
impeding their natural faculties to do what would otherwise be deemed right and
appropriate, based on common sense and ehrlichkeit.
Had their concerns been valid, they would have approached Moshe differently. Not bi’arbuvia, but with mesinus, with deliberation. Hearing the whole story comprehensively. Not just the part that they wanted to hear. It would’ve been a very different dialogue.
The Chet HaEgel
Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai and remained in Heaven for forty days. It was
time for his descent. Or was it? But that’s what B’nei Yisroel thought. Why hadn’t
Moshe returned? It was just after they had received the Torah. They were on the
highest level imaginable. The entire world had waited twenty-six generations for that
very moment. The moment that would give life and meaning, and was indeed the very purpose of creation and which would enable the continued existence of the universe. And so it happened.
Presently though, there was a dilemma. What were they to do, since Moshe was no
longer with them? Did he die? The satan showed them a fake image of Moshe having
died. Now what?
Some people decided that they ought to make an idol and appoint a new leader. This, they argued, would be the right thing to do in this situation, in light of Moshe’s
And so, many people, although not all, got caught up in the idea, and began preparing for it. The idea began to spread, and people got more involved and caught up.
But there was one person who saw the truth. His name was Chur. He spoke to the
people and told them not to create the Golden Calf. It would prove to be a terrible
aveira, idol worship, which was not sanctioned by the Torah in any way.
Chur was a gadol in his own right, and in Moshe Rabbeinu’s absence, his word should have been heeded. Yet it wasn’t. Worse yet, they killed him. They murdered him in cold blood over the fact that he dared rebuke them and tell them not to sin.
Aharon wanted to rebuke them too, but he chose not to, out of fear that he too would be killed. It wasn’t merely his own life for which he feared; he was afraid for the whole tzibbur. Were Bnei Yisroel to kill him too, they would not be spared punishment, for then they will have killed the kohen gadol and a navi on one day, which would be unforgivable.
While only some of Bnei Yisroel sinned, the results were tragic. At that time, many
Yidden lost their lives in punishment for the grave sin. But that wasn’t the end of it.
Hashem wanted to destroy all of bnei yisroel. Moshe pleaded with Hashem, and recited the yud gimmel middos, the thirteen attributes of mercy, begging Hashem to spare them. Hashem finally agreed, saying, “salachti kidvarecha”, I have forgiven them according to your word.
But things were not so simple. The world had undergone a permanent change. The
world after the chet ha’egel was not the same as the one prior to it. The luchos which
were written by Hashem had been shattered. They needed to be reconstructed. The
seconds ones were not quite the same. We lack the purity of Torah that we once had. We have Torah with shich’cha, forgetting. We have galus. Our spiritual existence is not the same. We would’ve been able to enter Eretz Yisroel with Moshe Rabbeinu and build a permanently standing beis hamikdash. But that was no longer to be.
And the punishment was just the beginning. The forgiveness granted by Hashem to
bnei yisroel at the time was limited. Hashem said to Moshe,”ֲThe punishment given at that time was but a small part of the duly deserved retribution. The remainder would be administered over year of galus that lay ahead. The seeds for galus had then been planted.
We continue to experience this “uviyom pakdi” to this day, throughout all the tzaros
which we have endured in galus, today, and throughout the generations, including ones in recent times. Rashi tells us that any suffering which we experience is due at least in part to the chet ha’egel.
But what if they would have listened to Chur? What if they would have given him the
time of day to explain his concern? What if they would have been respectful and
addressed his points with sensitivity? Perhaps the chet ha’egel would not have
Again, we suffered because the people simply didn’t listen.
Let’s move on in history…
It was towards the end of the era of Galus Bavel. Hashem promised bnei yisroel
(though the nevei’im) that they’d be returned to Eretz Yisroel after seventy years. That seventy year date was approaching, and according to some calculations it had already arrived. Yet they were still in Galus. The Babylonian empire was succeeded by the alliance of Paras and Madai. The king was none other than Achashveirosh, with whom we are all familiar. While we may view him as a dictator, and to a large degree he most probably was, there was definitely some type of political system that was in play at the time, which consisted of some mechanism compelling the king to comply with various laws of state and protocol. He may have been the one on the throne, but there were definitely other forces at power as well. It definitely had the ring of quasi-democracy, albeit with specific powers limited to a few, under the hood.
Regardless, two particular aspects of the Purim story are of particular importance on
this day of mourning.
The first was the seudah which Achashveirosh made. This party was one to be remembered. It was elegant. It was ostentatious. The finest foods of the land were
served. It was unlimited. It was a conglomerate of all the pleasures of this world, both permitted and those which are deeply assur, combined in one setting–this ongoing affair which lasted for many days.
The second incident was that of Haman’s decree that everyone bow down to him. This decree in of itself did not seem nearly as egregious, albeit perhaps arrogant.
Many leaders, including Rabbonim from the Sanhedrin permitted people to attend the party. How could we possibly defy the king? What a Chillul Hashem it would be to go against his wishes? How could we not comply with the law of the land to bow down to Haman? What a Chillul Hashem that would be! We need to be devout citizens and follow their laws. Surely that’s what Hashem wants of us.
Ironically though, nothing could be further from the truth. Their philosophy was actually the very antithesis of Hashem’s desire. And so many Jews at the time succumbed to one or both of these challenges.
But there was one Yid named Mordechai. He saw something that others had not. He
saw through the sheker. He saw what was truly ratzon Hashem and what wasn’t. He begged them not to attend the lustful and despicable party of the king. And he defied
Haman and did not bow to him.
The story of Purim evolved. A decree was signed to annihilate the Jews from all lands. It was a real threat. Not like the one imagined by those who listened to the meraglim. This time it was real.
We don’t know how events unfolded at that time beyond what Chazal tell us. Perhaps
they ridiculed Mordechai. Perhaps they blamed him for their woes. Perhaps they felt
that the troubles they were experiencing were because of his attitude. Perhaps they
alledged that the anti-semitism of the time was due to his defiance, and unwillingness to go with the flow, and to assiimilate into Persian society according to socitel norms and expectations of the time. Perhaps people even attacked Mordechai verbally and called him a rotzayach, for being the supposed cause of their suffering and inevitable death would invariably ensue due to the king’s decree to have them all murdered in cold blood.
We don’t know. But what we do know is that he was ignored. And consequently, the
decree was enacted against them. We have the hindsight of chazal who tell us quite the opposite. That it was because of those who didn’t listen to Mordechai that they had suffered the decree.
Eventually, a spirit of teshuvah was stirred deep within them, and they began to listen. Leich kinos es kol hayehudim. They all gathered to do teshuvah. They gathered in prayer and repentance. They embraced the Torah with love. They fasted and mended their ways. The horrific decree was nullified, both in Heaven as well as on Earth. In this merit we celebrate Purim to this day.
The tragedy was ultimately averted, but it sure came mighty close. We were almost
annihilated. Why? Because they wouldn’t listen to Mordechai. He was outnumbered.
He was not in the majority. They thought that they were right. And they simply refused to listen.
Another tragedy due to not listening.
It was in mid 1600’s. Klal Yisroel had just endured the torture and suffering from the
horrendous Cossaks, the infamous Chmielnicki Massacres which occurred during the
Hebrew years of Tach V’Tat, gzeiros tach v’tat, as they have become known. The
massacres wreaked havoc on entire Jewish communities across Europe. The pain and
destruction was indescribable. We as Jews had suffered so much over the years, yet
this was a chapter of its own in the book and long saga of galus. Perhaps it was finally time for Mashiach to arrive.
And so began the next era of destruction in Jewish history.
A man named Shabsai Tzvi started a following. He was quite a learned man, one that
by most standards would have granted him the title of Talmid Chacham.
He was deeply involved in the mystical aspects of Jewish thought, Kabbalah. His
prayers, his actions, and his approach. His following grew stronger and larger with time.
Finally he “revealed himself”, claiming to be Mashiach. We know from history that
nothing could be further from the truth, but at the time, he had a very real and large
following. Ordinary, “regular”, devout, ehrliche Jews began flocking to him. Disputes broke out within Jewish communities across Europe debating the legitimacy and authenticity of his claim to be Mashiach, and indeed of his very caliber.
There were definitely many red flags which were present. Yet, on the heels of previous massacres and the hope to turn the pages of suffering, and to put galus to its final end, many succumbed to Shabsai Tzvi’s evil ways. He was no tzadik. In fact, he was a most horrible rasha. Yet many were swept along in the excitement. Slowly, more and more individuals, communities and Rabbonim of the time were caught up in it too.
His true colors were ultimately revealed, and his plans defeated when it all came
crashing down with a cresencdo, when he converted to Islam.
At that point, it became apparent to most religious Jews that Shabsai Tzvi was an evil and dishonest man, a conman at best, and certainly not the Mashiach.
But what happened throughout the episode? Much machlokes in Klal Yisroel had been
generated. Much anti-semitism had been stirred in its wake. Battles occurred, amongst Jews as well as with non-Jews. People were even killed.
Could it have been avoided? Most certainly. But why wasn’t it? Because well-meaning people were too caught up by something sensational to even bother listening. Perhaps there were kol korehs at the time which were signed by venerable Rabbonim, endorsing Shabsai Tzvi for his remarkable accomplishments. But few bothered to do a first-hand, independent investigation to identify who this man really was, and who he wasn’t. Once again, fear, or perhaps a hysterical, misplaced excitement caused people not to think carefully. The results proved to be devastating. Even after the original Shabsai Tzvi movement had died, spinoffs continued for years to come, as we shall see in the next section.
R’ Yonasan Eibeshetz
It was now the 1700’s. Klal Yisroel had just gotten over the horrific Shabsai Tzvi
debacle. And so the pendulum began swinging the other way. Presently, R’ Yonasan
Eibishetz, the venerable ga’on and talmid chacham, had been accused of being a secret Sabbatean, a student of Shabsai Tzvi, and one who was looking to promote the corrupt values of the latter. To be sure, he wasn’t. And today, one would be hard-pressed to find a beis medrash which doesn’t have the sefer Urim ViTumim, or one of the many other beautiful works composed by R’ Eibeshetz. Notwithstanding, that was the accusation.
The basis for the accusation was based on various kabbalistic acts which he
performed. The details are out of the scope of this work, but suffice it to say that he
was a true tzadik.
The controversy eventually reached the stage of intense and bitter antagonism. The
machlokes once again wreaked havoc within the Jewish community causing
devastation for years to come.
An innocent man, a genuine gadol, his life was destroyed by callous disregard to the
In an effort to be overzealous and correct the wrongdoings of the previous generation which blindly followed Shabsai Tzvi the rasha, many blindly went along with the claim that a true tzadik was in fact a talmid of Shabsai Tzvi, when in fact he wasn’t.
But did the ones making the accusations do proper fact-checking? Did they listen? Were there distortions of truth? Clearly there were. Was sensitivity given to ensure that we act only with evidence-based information and not to make assumptions before destroying his life and creating enormous machlokes in Klal Yisroel?
A similar incident happened at that time with another outstanding Jewish leader, the
Ramchal, R’ Moshe Chaim Lazzatto. He was also a venerable talmid chacham of the
highest caliber. His seforim are revered today by Jews around the world. Perhaps his
most famous work, the Mesillas Yesharim, is enjoyed by Chassidim, Litvish and Sefardic Jews to this day.
He also published many other seforim. Yet many of them are no longer available. They were burned and destroyed by other Jews. Other Jews who incorrectly believed that he too was a Sabbatean. Moreover, the Ramchal was certainly not Yeshivish. He definitely did not fit the mold. He hosted plays which were used to teach about Hashem and Yiras Shamayim and in many ways did not fit the typical mold.
He was put in Cherem and forced to stop much of his teachings and flee Europe. He
eventually resettled in Eretz Yisroel. But the seforim which were burned were gone
A similar narrative had occurred years earlier with the Rambam. He too was “different” and did not fit the mold. For a variety of reasons, many of his seforim were burned as well. Today, we know that the Rambam was one of the greatest Rishonim whoever lived. The Chazon Ish writes that the mesorah of Klal Yisroel is channeled through a chain from Moshe Rabbeinu through the Rambam and other leaders until this day.
Yet their reputations and works were destroyed in their lifetime. They were persecuted by their very own brethren due to unfounded charges. Charges which were invoked and promoted by people who refused to listen. People who believed that zealousness overrides one’s career, reputation, livelihood, and dignity. Even if the subject was a talmid chacham of the highest caliber. The interest of zealousness overrode logic, seichel, sensitivity, and basic derech eretz.
What Can We Learn?
If there’s but one common thread in all these stories it is that we need to start listening. We can always make mistakes, but when we’re making decisions that affect the lives of others, we need to assume the prudence and responsibility needed to make those decisions. We need to hear all sides before we act. Surely all those who acted wrongly thought that they were correct. Perhaps they thought that they were performing the greatest mitzvah. Perhaps they justified following the majority. Perhaps there were additional justifications. If our actions are wrong, perhaps we can repent. But what if we just didn’t’ listen? There’s never a justification for that. Perhaps this is why we’re still in galus.
Sinas Chinam Today
Very recently, our community has been and indeed remains faced with a medical controversy. Many feel that the responsible medical approach is to vaccinate their loved ones. Yet there are others who disagree. This disagreement is hardly new. It has existed for many decades, if not for over a century. Yet the intensity of it, and specifically how it affects our community to this day is quite devastating. It is a true social crisis, and it’s not going away anytime soon unless we do something to solve it.
It is particularly complicated because those who believe in vaccines feel that the
opposing position is not merely wrong, yet dangerously wrong, and puts the entire
community at risk of disease.
Yet those who hold the opposing position feel quite differently. In fact, they feel that
they are the subject of bona fide sin’as chinam.
The responding sentiment of the pro-vaccine groups is: Sinas Chinam?! What does that have to do with anything?! This is not sin’ah for no reason. And frankly, it’s not even sin’ah at all. This is a health issue. And we just don’t want to get sick!
But before we dismiss the issue off-handedly, let us recognize that no story of sin’as
chinam ever occurred in our history, wherein the perpetrators acknowledged that it was truly sin’ah, much less sin’as chinam. It was always under the guise of something allegedly genuine. And the meraglim too, although not a story of sinas chinam, also asserted their position stating that they had a legitimate fear of death which loomed ahead were they to enter Eretz Yisroel. Yet there was something wrong with their position.
We’ve also seen how over history, quick, rash judgements can have catastrophic results, as things aren’t always how they appear. So, today, as we mourn galus, the beis hamikdash, and the Churban, let’s take a deeper look before we jump to conclusions.
Pro-vaccine advocates have posed numerous questions over time. Some have been
expressed explicitly, and others merely implied. Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the main questions which they pose. Most, if not all are extremely valid questions, all of which call for an answer.
- Why does your position matter if you’re not a doctor?
- Vaccines have saved us from devastating fatal and life-altering diseases of previous times. Why in the world would you want to take the world back to that black and terrible place?
- Why are you being petty and concerned about some very silly issues, some side effects which are so remote, inconsequential, and highly infrequent, putting us at risk of things much more serious, such as real, and debilitating disease?
- The entire origin of the concerns of the “anti-vaxxers” comes from a fraudulent paper written by a doctor over twenty years ago claiming that vaccines cause autism. The doctor subsequently lost his license as a result of the fraud. Why is this still even a conversation?
- If there would be real issues with vaccines, why wouldn’t we hear about it in the news? There would be lawsuits. Congress would do something.
- Like all drugs, vaccines are tested by the FDA. They’re all safe and very effective.
- Why are you going against the CDC?
- Why don’t you follow Halacha? All or nearly all Rabbonim say to vaccinate.
- How can you honestly claim a religious exemptions to vaccines? The claim is such sheker! Where in Halacha does it say that there’s a problem vaccinating? On the contrary, nearly all Rabbonim say that one is Mechuyev to vaccinate!
- Don’t you care about others? You’re putting others at risk. Are you taking advantage of others who vaccinate, allowing them to get the immunity, while you reap the benefits without doing so yourself? That’s just selfish!
- Vaccines have been a victim of their own success. The reason why you’re not afraid of the deadly diseases of yesteryear is because we no longer have these diseases, precisely because of vaccines. If people would stop vaccinating, we would be getting these diseases back!
- The measles kills 1 in 1,000. Even more can become seriously
- compromised/hospitalized temporarily or long-term. Why would you want that?
- Why are you adopting such strange, weird views which are cult-like, which come from newly-formed ideologies, based on misinformation spread by ignorant people on the internet?
- Why don’t you care about the Chillul Hashem that you’re making?
These, and perhaps more, are some of the very valid and warranted questions being
asked by pro-vaccine advocates. It is deeply commendable that these questions are being asked. It is proper and appropriate that we ask questions in life. We grow through asking. We need to ask. In fact, it would be callous, imprudent, and downright irresponsible if we wouldn’t ask.
But since when is the existence of a question used as a basis for not willing to hear the answer to said question? On the contrary. A question is the beginning of a conversation, not its end. A question is an opportunity to listen to an answer, not to
Did you say, “You know, my neighbor/chavrusah/sister-in-law/etc. is such a nice, normal person. Why would they take such a strange, and irresponsible view, namely, to be an ‘anti-vaxxer’? Why don’t I sit down with him/her, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and start listening. Perhaps I will learn something.”? Or did you say, “This person is nuts. I will suppress their very opportunity of being able to explain their position. I used to be really close to him, but now I will keep my distance.” Or even, “I will no longer be inviting my sister to my simchas.”
Is that Menchlichkeit? Is that family? Is that achdus? Is that love? Is that listening? You don’t have to adopt their views. You don’t need to be in physical proximity of
someone who may cause you physical harm, but don’t Yidden deserve the benefit of the doubt? Ask them your questions. Ask away. But ask questions, not statements. Listen to the answers. Then, and only then, decide.
Those who oppose vaccines actually have deeply compelling answers to the aforementioned equally deeply compelling questions, as well as to additional questions not mentioned above. But they haven’t been given the opportunity to present their views in a reasonable fashion.
As mentioned, pro-vaccine advocates claim that they are merely acting for the benefit of their health. That is their true, altruistic and only goal. Not chas v’shalom to hurt another Yid.
But is that true? Let’s take a look at some of the actions which were taken in our community and see. Perhaps the actions taken do not match up with the stated purpose of said actions, which should raise concern.
A proud and upstanding member of a shul for over ten years was kicked out of the shul when it was discovered that their children were not vaccinated. The
parents told the Rav, “But my children pose no risk, as they already got the actual disease. We have blood work to show that they have titers and cannot hurt
anyone in any way. What’s the issue?” But the cries and pains of the family fell
upon deaf ears. Even though it was biologically impossible for the family to pose
any medical threat to other families in the shul, they were expelled. The Rav was
screaming over the phone at the parents in a nasty way.
A sixth-grade girl was kicked out of her school for having been unvaccinated, and had to remain home for the remainder of the year. At the end of the year, all girls submitted stories and memories which were to be shared in a printed calendar that the class had worked to produce. All girls contributed to the project, except for this unvaccinated girl who was not allowed to contribute. Is measles communicable via a printed calendar?
Many schools kicked out kids who had not received vaccinations for measles.
These schools could have allowed the students to continue learning with the class, remotely, via Skype, yet many didn’t. Is measles communicable via Skype?
A prominent Rav told someone that “the ‘anti-vaxxers’ should be lined up in front
of a firing squad and shot”. Is this the way for a human being to talk, much less a
Yid, much less a Rav? Does this rhetoric help promote public health? Whether it
was said in jest or meant to be taken literally, either way, is such hurtful talk
permitted or appropriate?
A Rav in New Jersey publicly told his congregation: It’s better to spend ten hours
watching shmutz on the internet than to go to an “anti-vaxxers” rally. Al eileh ani
A vaccine-skeptic journalist said the following (paraphrased): “I have attended
many vaccine-safety awareness rallies, and I’ve often been attacked by
pro-vaccine advocates who raise valid questions about the views which I hold.
But never before have I been so viciously attacked as I have by ultra-Orthodox
Jewish pro-vaccine advocates who simply jumped on me with personal attacks
and baseless statements that don’t even address the issues. I told all of them
that I’d be happy to address their questions one by one, but they weren’t
interested in that. They just wanted to attack.” Frum, Jewish pro-vaccine
advocates share the same beliefs as non-Jewish pro-vaccine advocates, yet in this
epic display of Chillul Hashem, the non-Jewish journalist recognized the utter
nastiness displayed by the Jewish ones which took things to an entirely new level.
An eighth-grade girl was kicked out of her school for having been unvaccinated,
and had to remain home for the remainder of the year. At the end of the year, it
was time for the graduation. The teacher decided that it was OK for the girl to
attend graduation as well as graduation practice. (After all, the girl was 100%
healthy; she was just unvaccinated, allegedly being able to spread disease were
she to get sick). However, there was a 45-minute private meeting which was held
between the teacher and her students. The teacher refused to allow the girl to
attend that part, just to be mean. During that time, the girls were offered warm
wishes, goodbyes, and ices (treats) to be enjoyed. As instructed, the girl showed
up only for the actual practice, was handed a container of liquid (melted) ices
which she was unable to eat then anyway since graduation practice had just
begun. When later questioned by the parent as to why the girl was not allowed to attend that gathering (since she was to attend later anyway), the teacher merely
blushed and walked away.
A rally was held in the frum community to help promote vaccine safety
awareness. In a cynical, cunning, and intimidating fashion, multiple frum news
sites posted an article telling would-be attendants to “dress nicely”, as their
picture would be taken at the event and posted on social media, so that we could
know who’s truly an “anti-vaxxer”. A non-Jewish journalist once again proclaimed
sheer shock over the existential threat to Jews by their own brethren.
A Ba’al teshuva and active member of the local community and school had a
number of concerns regarding vaccinations, not the least of which was that his
older child was verifiably vaccine-injured and he didn’t want to vaccinate his other
children. Understandably, the school was concerned with his position, as, in their
view, the unvaccinated pose a threat to the vaccinated. He completely
understood their position too, and wanted to address it in a way that addresses
the concerns of all parties. So they arranged a meeting to discuss it. But at the
meeting, they were downright nasty to him, mean, and uncooperative, completely
invalidating his view without even hearing his position. They made him crazy,
and lied to him about what their intentions and plans were (because he was a
supporter of the school and they needed his money, so they couldn’t be straight
about it, for fear of losing support). Afterwards, he said to himself, ”What do I
need this for? I was moser nefesh to come to a life of Torah, only to be berated by
my own kind? I don’t need this. I will just send my kids to a non-Jewish school.
They too may be pro-vaccination, but at least they will be more menchlach and
more understanding.” Al eileh ani bochi’a.
At a local neighborhood women’s gathering, one woman got up and started
yelling at another woman and blaming her for spreading misinformation and the
measles. This was due to the fact that some of her children were unvaccinated.
Yet she didn’t listen to the facts. She didn’t listen to the facts that there already
was a vaccine injury in the family. She didn’t listen to the facts that the children
already got the measles and as such pose no risk to anyone. She didn’t listen to
many other things as well. She simply jumped to conclusions and took matters
into her own hands and decided that it was permitted to scream at, humiliate, and
embarrass another Yid without doing fact-checking. The fact that Rabbeinu Yona
says that one is required to give up their life before embarrassing someone
apparently didn’t matter to her.
One person said: “Every shul should ban anti-vaxxers. They are not practicing
Judaism and are actually heretics. Their kitchens should be deemed to be treif and they should be put in real cherem for the safety of the community”. Is this
promoting health? Is there halachic basis for rendering one’s kitchen treif? Is this
Another one said: “The truth is that the anti-vaxxers are din rodef [sic] and it
would be a mitzvah to kill them all were it not for the fact that secular law makes
that illegal” Did HaRav Elyashiv zt”l say this too?
Two friends, Reuven (for vaccines) and Shimon (opposing vaccines) had a
conversation via text messaging. First, Reuven forwards a copy of an article
indicating the severity of a vaccine-preventable disease to his friend Reuven.
Shimon responded: If you want to have a scientific discussion, we can. But just
to send drive-by shooting clips or links without willing to hear the whole story,
and to agree to only speak with derech eretz and not to be over on onaas devarim
Reuven replies (word for word): Like the nations of the world said to Hashem
when he asked them to accept the Torah, and that, I cannot accept, so you’ll have
to have that conversation with someone else.
Meaning, to request that we have a scientific conversation about vaccines and
wanting to see the whole picture and being unwilling to accept something blindly,
that is akin to the secular nations telling Hashem that they won’t accept the Torah
blindly, without knowing what’s in it. Yikes!
A Rav who had previously come out with a letter saying that one must vaccinate
later spoke with doctors and professionals on the other side. He also met with
parents whose children clearly had vaccine injuries. After careful thought, he
recognized that it’s not so simple, and vaccinating isn’t necessarily the right
route, or at least not for everyone. Yet he refuses to get involved at this point,
saying that he just doesn’t have the head or time for it. He later said that he
cannot publicly come out saying that he has hesitations with vaccines, even
though he admits he does, because he has children who work for a particular
pediatrician, and if he would do so, they’d lose their jobs.
From a mother: My name is Faigy and I have two sons in a well known cheder.
My sons had been out of school for nearly a month. I worry very much about my
children falling back in their academics. My boys have a physical disposition that
could and did cause them to have an adverse reaction to vaccines, but I am not
eligible for a medical exemption. The day they were “removed” from school, they
were not allowed into their classrooms. The principal claimed he was getting a
lot of pressure from teachers and parents. How do these unknown “people” know my children are not immune to MMR? I feel my privacy of choice has been defied-
why is it anyone’s business besides my doctor’s what medical approach I decide
to follow- especially not the parent body in my child’s school- I wouldn’t dare ask
them what diagnosis and treatments their child is receiving! Can you imagine
standing by the principal’s office waiting to be picked up by your parents for no
fault of your own- at least let them finish the day. If the school was afraid of
contamination then it’s too late, they were in the school building already. I
specifically asked the school when they called that my children are by the office
waiting to be picked up, “can they at least stay till the end of the day, so as not to
embarrass them.” They said, “absolutely not”, reminiscent of Kamtza and Bar
Additionally, my sons have suffered peer humiliation. They were constantly
talked about by peers and teachers. Both sons had an MMR shot when they were
younger but only Dovid showed immunity on a titer. Dovid was asked publicly by
teachers “oh, how is your brother Chaim, what’s he doing, is he learning? Dovid, of
shy nature, came home embarrassed and upset daily. After presenting
information to the principal to return my Chaim back to school and discussing his
medical situation, he first agreed but then changed his mind the next day saying
that based on new undocumented measles cases my son must stay home. He
also said that he no longer has any power to return him to school, that this is a
decision that was made by the “board.” I have taken a great financial loss for all
the days I took off to entertain my son. My poor Chaim has started to misbehave
from boredom. It’s been difficult without a structured school schedule. Will we be
able to ever return back, it seems like the “tricks” to keep these children home will never end.
A Rav said: “Klal Yisroel in America is being run by a meshugana Rebbitzen”,
disgracefully referring to the wife of a venerable Rosh Yeshiva who opposes
vaccines. The implication was that this Rosh Yeshivah’s position is not based on
facts but merely on the fact that his wife has a holistic approach to health in
general, and thus their fears for vaccine safety is highly and pathetically
exaggerated, in his eyes. What the Rav didn’t do though, is ask the Rosh Yeshivah
what his views are based on? Are they based on a preconceived holistic position,
or perhaps they’re based on the fact that this same Rosh Yeshiva spoke to over
thirty MD’s who’ve confided in him that vaccines may be quite dangerous and
unnecessary but they’re afraid to state so publicly in fear of losing their license? Did this Rav fact-check, or did he just disparagingly repeat what he heard everyone
From a parent: Our two sons both had immediate reactions to their MMR shots.
One couldn’t walk, he kept losing his balance and falling over. The other’s lips
turned blue. They both subsequently developed a lifelong condition that I don’t
wish upon anyone. One immediately and one gradually. Currently, we were now
forced to vaccinate my 5-year-old daughter for her to be allowed back to
playgroup (despite her medical exemption). We cannot vaccinate my 3-year-old
son and he is home with his mother.
From a parent: My 2 year old son attended a certain playgroup. After
investigation we discovered that the frum pediatrician himself had called the
morah and told her that it’s dangerous for other kids to have my son in the
playgroup. My son is a NICU baby and has a medical history of pulmonary
hypertension. Four parents threatened to pull out and after weeks fighting the
morah just gave in to them and said her rov told her to ask us not to come. Said
would only accept a medical note from this particular pediatrician, not anybody
From a parent: My 7-year-old daughter was a trauma victim having drowned as a
toddler and being in a coma. As a result she is unable to be vaccinated. One
afternoon I was waiting for my 7-year-old’s school bus. When it pulled up the
doors opened up… and no one came out. I immediately called the school and was
told that she was in the kept in hallway from 9 o’clock in the morning until 3:40
dismissal. Subsequently she still wasn’t allowed to board the bus because she’s
expelled from school… Nobody from school besides her morah had the decency
to call us even once with any sympathy.
From a parent: My 11-year-old Moshe has an intrinsic asthma and many allergies. He has a medical exemption as he truly had very severe reactions to vaccines. His Yeshiva refused to accept our medical exemption and said that
they would only accept medical exemptions from Dr. A., Dr. B., or Dr. C. I told
them that Dr. A. is the one who time and time again would not attribute my sons
conditions to vaccines despite evidence to the contrary; Dr. B. has no practice at
all. He is an emergency room doctor, and Dr. C. is a pediatrician in Monmouth
Hospital who does not know my child. I cannot understand why out of the whole
the world they picked these three doctors, one not even a pediatrician, from the
whole NJ, while ignoring my doctor who knows my child and says that he cannot
receive the vaccine.
From a parent: After I told my school that it’s illegal, they said, “Keep low, if you
want us to deal with you. Otherwise, will not even talk to you.” In simple English,
threatening one not to take legal action is called obstruction of justice, and keeping a child out of school for no reason is called retzicha. The school claims
that they will call me when I can come back… I’m still waiting.
From a parent: Our family chose not to vaccinate for personal reasons. With my
son out of school during the measles outbreak, we decided to deliberately
expose him the way our parents did, and this way he would be immune for life.
After he recovered, we went ahead and did blood work to show that he had
adequate titers to measles. The blood work came back positive and he returned
to school. Afterward, I got a call from the school that Dr. A. said that only titers
that were from before the measles outbreak are acceptable. But titers that
appeared within the last 3 weeks are unacceptable. The logic escapes me. Is this
the way we value teaching our children Torah?
From a parent: My 16-year-old daughter has a congenital autoimmune disorder
which makes her severely immuno-compromised. After getting a couple of
vaccines as a baby and getting very severe reactions such as compromised
breathing and multiple instances of pneumonia and almost losing her when her body shut down so severely, we realized together with our pediatrician that she
was unable to tolerate vaccines as her immune system was way too
compromised. Besides the fact that she has multiple medical conditions that
rendered her sick more often than not as we were in and out of hospitals and
surgeries, we were constantly struggling to keep her healthy without adding in
any additional live viruses and allergens (as she was allergic to eggs among
others) from vaccines.
With the recent outbreak of measles, we were devastated when the school
refused to let her attend since she hadn’t gotten an MMR shot. No amount of
explaining about her condition or speaking to her doctor helped as this was
officially an “outbreak” even though there hadn’t been a single case in her school.
My daughter was crushed as she was already suffering so much from her
genetic condition as it is, should she now be punished as well for being born with
this?? She had a clear medical exemption and yet it didn’t suffice. Being a
teenager, she tried so hard to fit in and not be different and now everyone would
know why she’s absent for so long besides that she missed a major melava
malka that she helped organize and a full week of testing! The school told me
they’re not forcing me to vaccinate her. I said but if you’re not letting her come to
school that is forcing me. You’re pushing me into a corner.
From a parent: We sat with our pediatrician for hours trying to come up with a
solution but concluded that it’s way more dangerous for her to receive the
vaccine being it’s a live virus that she cannot fight off than the small possibility of her catching the measles. He showed me all the contraindications on the insert
of the MMR vaccine label from the CDC and he said it fully states here that
someone with your daughters condition is NOT ALLOWED to receive this shot.
He said he’d be stupid and can be held liable if he gave it to her and something
chalilah happens. He told me I have no choice but keep her home. After 2 full
weeks of seeing her wither into herself and become withdrawn and angry, I
begged the school to reconsider once again, explaining how there is a 2 -4% of
the population that are unable to be vaccinated and that’s why everyone else
needs to be to protect those who cannot. My child is of that 2% and if 96 to 98%
is immune then it’s enough to protect her. They said they will have a meeting with
some doctors in town (not mine who knows her best and I trust) to see what they
advise. That night, at midnight, I got a call that since she’s immuno-compromised she
should get the single measles only vaccine. and not the mumps or rubella since
those are worse and this way she will be able to tolerate it. I spoke to my doctor
who couldn’t believe which doctors suggested this since this option has been off
the market for almost 20 years! He said he used to administer single vaccines 20
years ago and they are no longer available. Then he said that even if it was
available he would never give it to my daughter as the measles vaccine is a live
virus, as the rubella one, and in his experience from giving that one even as a
single it was the worst from all 3. He was incredulous that doctors can even
suggest this and said either they don’t know what’s going on and, in that case,
shouldn’t be advising anyone or they are trying to fool people into thinking that
they’re getting a single vial measles vaccine when in reality not. This begs the
question, did he actually read the package insert of a vaccine that doesn’t exist
and arrive at the conclusion that this vaccine doesn’t have side effects that
would possibly kill my child? Is my child’s life so hefker that based on utter
nonsense, he would put her into such danger?
To make a long story short Chasdei Hashem my daughter is back in school at
this time, but it still took lots of time and we needed to get the rabbanim of the
school involved so the school can agree to take her back. I cannot describe the
pain and agmas nefesh we went through. How our arms were twisted so many
times to try to get us to vaccinate when it was clearly against medical and legal
advice. Would they agree to take responsibility if anything should happen to my
child? Of course not. But we need you to vaccinate to attend school. Do you
make sure that no one with the flu, fever or strep or any illness comes to school
before they’re really well so that my daughter won’t get sick from them?? Are all the foreign workers in the school and stores, janitors, bus drivers immunized?
What about all the adults that are no longer immune despite having been
vaccinated. Are you worried about them?? Is this how we treat each other fellow
yidden?? Is moshiach supposed to come like this?? Will he say if you weren’t
vaccinated you can’t come to Yerushalayim?? Where is Hashem in this picture?
Does everyone believe that there’s Hashem in this world and you cannot catch
ANY disease, measles or anything without Him saying so?
There are so many more stories to share, each conveying a slightly different idea, perhaps one more shocking than the next. But the overall message should be very
clear. The side opposing vaccines has not been heard. Saying that you know what their position is and as such you know that their position is wrong does not in any way constitute listening. Saying that you spoke to a doctor who told you that their side is wrong does not constitute listening to their side. Saying that you spoke to a Rav who told you that you don’t need to listen to their side does not constitute listening.
It’s time to start listening. Notice that we haven’t answered a single one of the
questions previously mentioned, which are often raised by pro-vaccine advocates. The reason for this is because that’s not the avodas hayom of Tisha B’Av. It’s not about the answers. It’s about how we deal with the questions. This is not a medical compilation. It is a human one. One about interpersonal acts. It’s about how we go about obtaining answers. There are answers to all the aforementioned questions. But you won’t know them if you don’t listen. It all starts with listening.
Some say, “I don’t have time to listen.” But is it really about time? Don’t we have time for all kinds of meaningless things in life? It is both sad and shocking to see how people in our community who are otherwise the most loving, warm, giving, and selfless people can transform into entirely different, nasty, vindictive, subhuman individuals when it comes to suppressing vaccine hesitancy. Almost as if this is a gezeira mi’shamayim.
What about a husband or wife who disagree on this issue and the pro side refuses to
even listen to their spouse who is of the opposing position? Is that what marriage is
about? Is that what will bring the shechinah to a home or to klal yisroel? Listening
doesn’t mean agreeing. It just means being a mentch. Emes is not afraid of sheker, and when two genuinely sincere and truth-seeking individuals work together on an issue and research thoroughly, they will come to the emes, regardless of their previous position.
So I ask two questions: 1) Yes, there’s a health concern, but did you hear the other side? 2) Is your response commensurate with your claim that the reasons for your actions is because of health, or is there a mismatch? Is there an over-zealousness for other reasons which perhaps have nothing to do with thwarting an immediate health concern?
ְכֵּצאתי֙ ֶאת־הִע֔יר :Middah Kinnegged Middah
There are a number of events which occurred over the last several years which appear to be connected, both politically as well as hashkafically. On this sad day, it behooves us to see the Yad Hashem in daily events and see if we can connect the dots where applicable. To say that things are merely coincidence, mikrah, is a terrible sin, in that we are denying hashgacha pratis. Let us glean from these recent events and come out with a more profound understanding of our surroundings and hopefully have a better understanding of Hashem and our mission.
One final thought. In Sefer Bereishis, we are told of the story of Yosef and his brothers. They tried killing him. They sold him. But we are told by the meforshim that they believed that they were correct. They believed, based on actions which Yosef had committed that their responses were justified.
Later, when they were standing before the Egyptian viceroy whose identity was still
unknown to them, they made a cheshbon hanefesh. The pasuk in Parshas Mikeitz
(Bereishis 42:21) tells us:
וַיֹּאְמרוּ ִאישׁ ֶאל אִָחיו ֲאָבל ֲאשִׁמים ֲאַנְחנוּ ַעל אִָחינוּ ֲאשׁר ָראינוּ ָצַרת נְַפשׁוֹ ְבּהתַחנְנוֹ ֵאֵלינוּ וְלֹא ָשָׁמְענוּ ַעל ֵכּן ָבּאָה ֵאֵלינוּ ַהָצָּרה ַהזֹּאת.
They said, each one to his brother, we are guilty regarding our brother because we saw the pain of his soul as he cried out to us and we didn’t listen; that’s why this tzarah has befallen us.
Clearly, they felt that they were right. But Yosef had called out to them in pain. And they didn’t listen. They ignored him. When someone calls out in pain, if you’re a Yid, you listen. It doesn’t matter what you think.
Those who choose not to vaccinate have not had their position truly heard. I mean
listened to for real. Not like when your wife is talking to you and and she says, “Are you listening?” and you say, “I’m listening, I’m listening” as you continue scrolling through your smartphone. I mean listening for real. They might actually have validity to their position. It may surprise you. The quieter you are, the more you hear.
They may be wrong.
But you won’t be punished if you listen and then act accordingly.
But what if they’re right? Anyone can be wrong. The Torah tells us that even Moshe
Rabbeinu made mistakes, because we’re all humans. And you may not be held
accountable after a hundred and twenty years if you made an honest mistake. Perhaps. Because you’re human. But what if the mistake was because you simply chose not to listen to someone crying out in pain?
Let’s repeat and state unequivocally. The medical questions being raised are very, very compelling. The questions are genuine and they demand answers. But no one is willing to give the opportunity to allow for the answers to be answered. Rabbonim are not listening. Doctors are not listening. Laymen and community members are not listening. And we’re still in golus. You won’t be punished for being a listener. What will you say after 120 years knowing that you could have listened, but chose not to? Let us bring the geulah today.