Parsha of the week

Standing up for unpopular opinions


When one reads through Parshat Shemot, one can easily become engrossed in Moshe’s story. Whether it’s the defiance of Pharaoh’s decree by placing him in a basket; whether it’s the anonymous women in 2:1-10 who save him; whether it’s the fact that he is eventually nursed by his own mother (with Pharaoh paying her to do so!) and grows up in the palace of the king, the story is incredible. And the sacrifice for his survival by everyone around him is inspiring.

Then we get into his early experiences in Egypt and Midian. We find him standing up for a Jew being beaten by an Egyptian, then for a Jew being beaten by a Jew, then for women being harassed by shepherds. All the victims were underdogs. According to the Midrash, what brought him to the burning bush was a lost sheep! Even a sheep who can’t fend for itself is an underdog.

The Talmudic tale that claims how Moshe came to be born is even more enamoring. After Pharaoh’s decree that all boys were to be thrown in the Nile, Moshe’s parents separated in order to prevent the birth of future sons.

Miriam, their daughter, said, “To prevent boys from being killed, you’re preventing girls from being born. And who knows? Maybe a boy will be born, and he will survive and be the leader to take our people out of Egypt.”

So Amram and Yocheved reunited and had a son named Moshe, and that boy grew up to save the Jewish people.

I am a rabbi of a shul. In the last few weeks, I’ve been on the receiving end of a grave concern that faces our communities. While I do not take sides, as my training is not in medicine, as a rabbi, my job is to listen.

And I have heard two sides in the discussions about vaccination. The mainstream position is that vaccinations have eradicated some diseases and held others at bay. Others argue that some vaccinations are unnecessary to give to little children and may have a track record of causing long-term damage.

As a rabbi, my job is to listen. The mainstream view is well-known and needs no defense. The other view is certainly not mainstream, but is much larger than “fringe.” People are genuinely afraid of vaccines and believe they have to make the best health care decisions for their children and family.

I will not weigh in on that debate, except to say that the character assassination of those in the non-mainstream camp is disgraceful. Not everyone is “extreme.” But the majority shuns the minority in a way Beit Hillel never did to Beit Shammai.

What concerns me is the result. And what I am asking for is solutions to the following problem.

People who do not vaccinate will not change their views. They have done their research. Now they are faced with the reality that their healthy children are being kicked out of schools and yeshivas.

And this should be a concern for all of us.

Because here is what has happened in the aftermath: hundreds of children have been thrown out of schools. Families are not inviting unvaccinated children to birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs. I heard a story of a rabbi who would not convert a couple because a condition of conversion is that their children go to day school. Since they don’t believe in vaccination, their children will not be allowed into day school, and they can’t convert. One colleague told me that people in his shul who normally cook food for families with a new baby have spoken of not cooking for a family who does not vaccinate their children.

Where will it end? Will we ask potential suitors if they are in the non-vaccination camp? Will potential shidduchim be called off? Will families stop talking to each other, will cousins no longer play or hang out together?

We are a community that has moved heaven and earth for drug addicts, alcoholics, people who are “off the derech,” baalei teshuva and converts, children with special needs, the academically challenged, children with allergies, widows, divorces, singles and the needy.

have heard every argument, each of which is absolute character assassination. “They are murderers!” “They want my children to die!” “They brought it on themselves!” “Let them start their own schools and shuls.” “Let one of their children get sick and die so they’ll learn the lesson.” “Let them send their children to public school!”

Seriously? There are significant differences many of us may have with the philosophy of our communities. Some people think differently, and they are thrown out completely?

That was Amram’s attitude.

Had it not been for Miriam, Moshe never would have been born. Those who are militant about this, in both directions, are demonstrating a sinat Yisrael I have not seen in my lifetime.

While none of us approach Moshe Rabbeinu’s stature, we can learn from him to look out for the underdog. We, as a community, cannot justify throwing hundreds of Jewish families out. We must find a better solution.