We, the rabbis and spiritual leaders of synagogues and Jewish communities across Orange County, unequivocally condemn the large, unmasked, and non-socially distanced gatherings in Jewish communities across New York State and in Orange County.
We are guided first and foremost by our Jewish tradition. Our tradition teaches that “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he/she destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he/she saved an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).
Further, our tradition teaches “Behold, the commandments were only given to Israel that they might live by them, as it is written “Which a man shall perform and live by them (Leviticus 18:5)” - he shall live by them, and not die by them.”
Finally, our tradition teaches that dina d’maluchuta dina--the law of the land in which we reside is the law that we must follow. And, for nearly four millennia, whenever a Jewish community has been situated in a nation or municipality with its own, secular governance, the Jewish community properly abided by those superceding laws.
Our understanding of our tradition is clear--Judaism not only allows for our community’s compliance with public health guidance but demands it. We add our voice to those of Jewish leaders from every stream of Judaism who have called for each of us to do our part to stop the spread of this virus by complying with all public health guidance.
We applaud the Orthodox Jewish leaders who have called for compliance within their communities, and we know that many individuals and families within the Orthodox and Hasidic communities do comply with public health mandates. We know that there are many factors that make compliance with social distancing guidelines especially challenging in those communities including a culture of communitarianism and an inaccurate understanding of herd immunity, and we appreciate the many communities which have made these hard decisions in this unprecedented time.
Some of the pointed language we have seen in recent days and weeks, particularly on social media, has been unacceptable. We must find ways to condemn behavior without painting an entire community with a broad and bigoted brush. Our tradition teaches that the entire world was created with words, and we know that words used in anger or frustration can cause untold destruction. We implore our leaders, our communities, and individuals to voice their disagreements without villainizing or dehumanizing, and resorting to age-old antisemitic tropes.
We have just completed the Jewish High Holiday season, a time of prayer, of reflection and of examining who we have been and who we want to be. As the rabbis and leaders of Orange County Jewish communities, we call on each of us to examine how we can work together in the coming days, weeks, and months to combat this virus and to create a safer Orange County for all.