Why Was the Temple Destroyed?

Image: Banquet scene from the first century CE. At such a dinner party the host might have had his fateful disagreement with Bar Kamtza. (Photo by Ian Scott, some rights reserved.)

A famous story about the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE:

A wealthy resident of Jerusalem gave a party. He told his servant to deliver an invitation to Kamtza. The servant mistakenly delivered the invitation to Bar Kamtza, whom the master disliked.

The master saw Bar Kamtza at the feast. He went up to Bar Kamtza and said, “You are not my friend! Scram!” Bar Kamtza said, “Look, I’m already here. I’ll pay you for what I eat and drink, but don’t embarrass me by throwing me out.”

The master said, “No. Get out!” Bar Kamtza replied, “I will pay for half the feast, if you will just allow me to stay.” The host seized Bar Kamtza by the hand and dragged him out the door.

Bar Kamtza was humiliated and angry. He had seen several of the Sages at the feast, and none of them defended him or expressed any sympathy. He vowed revenge upon them. He decided to tell the Roman authorities that they were plotting a revolt.

He went to the ruler and said, “The Sages are getting ready to revolt against you, sir.” The ruler was cautious and hoped to smooth things over. He sent Bar Kamtza back to the Sages with a three-year-old calf for a sacrifice. Bar Kamtza took the calf aside and gave it a blemish, a tiny wound, so that it would be unfit for sacrifice.

The Sages debated whether to go ahead and sacrifice the calf, to get along with the Romans. However, Rabbi Zachariah said, if you do that, everyone will think it is OK to bring blemished animals for sacrifice! Then the Sages said, we should execute Bar Kamtza then, so that he will not go and slander us to Caesar! But Rabbi Zachariah said, if you do that, everyone will think that blemishing animals is a capital crime! So they did nothing, and Bar Kamtza reported to the Romans that the Sages rejected their gift to insult them.

The Romans believed the slander of Bar Kamtza, and the Romans sent armies to surround Jerusalem. The story concludes:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The humility of Rabbi Zachariah ben Avkolas destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land! – Gittin 56a

Thus the internal squabbling among the Jews – sinat chinam, baseless hatred – was what actually caused the destruction of the Temple.

  • Identify all the various people who were indulging in pointless strife, that is, arguments that were not for the sake of heaven.
  • Rabbi Yochanan blames Rabbi Zachariah. Why?
  • Bar Kamtza wants revenge on the Sages. What had they done to him? Was it bad enough to merit reporting them to the Romans as rebels?
  • What do you think of the original disagreement between the host and Bar Kamtza? Should the host have allowed him to stay? Was Bar Kamtza wrong to try to bargain with him?
  • All this started with a mistake by a servant. At what point could someone have kept it from turning into a disaster?

Yoma 9b also makes a comment on the story, although it does not retell it:

Why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed. – Yoma 9b.

What lessons, if any, do you think we moderns could learn from this story?

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Life as a Balancing Act

Image: Woman balances on a tightrope as a hand holds the rope. (ElisaRiva/Pixabay.)

This is a time to think seriously about balance.

There are many terrible things in the news. I wrote about that in A Bitter Psalm for Our Times earlier this week, and more has happened since then.

On Twitter today, there were angry people ranting all over the place. There was some nasty gloating, too. Neither of those is going to accomplish much – it’s noise. Here’s what I propose, for those who are feeling stymied:

It’s time to strike a balance between self-care and action. These are the questions I’m asking myself, in the interest of both self-care and effective action.

  1. Am I spending energy being angry in useless ways? That accomplishes nothing. Fighting with bots on Twitter may scratch an itch, but it doesn’t effect change. Instead, I need to focus on keeping myself strong and then using my strength in useful ways.
  2. Self care is not a luxury. That includes both care of the body and care of the soul. This week I went to see my friend Delane Sims, who operates Delane’s Natural Nail Care here in San Leandro. We caught up on each other’s lives while she restored my feet and painted my toenails. Delane is a world-changer and a woman of faith, and I know that when I spend time with her, my feet will feel better and my priorities will clear up. What restores your soul?
  3. Self care includes time to hug my loved ones and appreciate the good in the world, whether in nature, or in the deeds of good people. For some of us, it means daily prayer, or exercise, or meditation, or some mix of the three.
  4. Self care allows me to take on activism in the world.
  5. Activism can take many forms, too. We tend to think of activists as people who go on marches and demonstrations, but that’s not possible for all of us. Here are some ideas from my own list of “what this disabled rabbi can do today:”
    1. This blog post.
    2. Call my senators and congresspersons with concern item each, every day.
    3. Write postcards to my senators and congresspersons, so they’ll know I’m serious, literate, and willing to spend postage.
    4. Write a letter to the editor of my local paper.
    5. Write an op-ed for a publication I read regularly.
    6. Subscribe to and read at least one newspaper.
    7. I can choose one organization that helps immigrants and use their website to be better educated, and to learn ways I can help.
    8. I can ask friends: Are you registered to vote? Would you like help registering?
    9. Send encouraging letters or emails to the people I see fighting the good fight.
    10. Encourage friends who are able to march or travel to do social justice work.
  6. I can also exercise self-care and action in what I choose NOT to do. It is important to stay informed, but I do not need to watch cable news 24/7. In fact, I don’t need to watch that stuff at all. One good newspaper or news program a day is plenty.
  7. I can choose not to argue with people. Arguing rarely changes anyone’s mind, especially over social media. Usually all it does is upset me.
  8. I can choose to make my social interactions as pleasant as possible. I can choose to be cheerful and helpful.
  9. If I truly cannot choose to be cheerful, then I can seek some help for my anxiety or my unhappiness. Perhaps I need to look into better self-care, or learn better boundaries. Perhaps I’m depressed. Whatever it is, I need to take care of myself, or ask for help.
  10. When all else fails, I can use the serenity prayer to sort things out:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Self-care is taking a little time to quietly sort through the things that are bothering me. Can I change them? Accept them? And if I cannot decide, or if I cannot see how I can possibly sort this out, with whom can I talk it out?

As disturbing as things are, they are not hopeless. There is much that can be done to relieve the suffering in this world, including our own.

He [Rabbi Hillel] used to say: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when? –Pirkei Avot 1:14.

 

Angry that US Agencies Separate Families? Some Things to Do.

Image: A crying child. (TaniaVdB/Pixabay)

Last week I wrote Human is Human is Human, looking at the fact that my government, to whom I pay taxes, is using those resources to punish immigrant families by separating parents from children at the borders.  While this is not the first appearance of this behavior in American history, it is reprehensible. Several readers had good suggestions for action. I’ve seen several other suggestions online. Here’s a compilation of options for those who want to right this wrong:

The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is an organization dedicated to protecting immigrant children. Support them with donations and publicity; they don’t get a lot of attention and they do great work. ( from Slow Lorist)
Support the ACLU in their legal work on this issue.
Contact Your Elected Officials. Write, tweet, email, phone – you know the drill. Be clear, be concise, say how you feel and what you want. Avoid swear words and hyperbole, and don’t make threats. (The link will take you to the League of Women Voters page that can get addresses and other contact info.)
Educate Yourself. Two different issues have been conflated by some concerned individuals. This link will take you to an article in which the Washington Post sorts the issue out a bit. It’s a very important article.  This article from the Political Charge blog has both good information and excellent suggestions for action.
Use Social Media Judiciously. If you are a user of social media, you can help by several strategies.  First – I cannot say this strongly enough! – educate yourself on the issue. Focus what you want to say. Then when you are ready to say it, you can do these things:
– On Twitter: We can boost the signal of Congresspersons and Senators who express concern about this issue. Retweet them. “Like” their messages. This accomplishes two things: it brings attention to the issue and it rewards legislators who are doing the right thing. This is one time when we CAN influence someone even if we aren’t in their district. Remember that these are the people who actually have the power to do something.
– On Twitter: We can boost the signal of particularly good messages on the subject. One of the beauties of Twitter is that we don’t have to generate content: we can save time by making good content go farther.
– On Twitter: Beware of coarse language, name-calling, etc. It does not add emphasis to what we say. Instead of calling someone a bad name, say, “I’m angry about….” Be direct.
– On Facebook: We can link to good, informative articles if we are sure they are good information. We can refrain from publicizing dubious info.
– In both venues: Boost what’s good. Ignore what’s bad, or reply with a link to better information. Ignore, mute, or block bad actors. Fighting with them excites and rewards them, and attracts attention to them, which isn’t going to help.
– In both venues: Remember that not everything we read can be trusted. The more sensational a story is, the less likely it is to be true. See what the major journalistic outfits (NYT, Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, BBC, NPR) have to say before we spread a story.
These principles apply in other social media venues as well – I mention these because they are the ones I use.
I hope that something here is helpful. Let’s do what we can.
If you are interested in following me or interacting on Twitter, you can find me at @CoffeeShopRabbi. 

Human is Human is Human

Image: A child holding hands with her mother. (Stocksnap/Pixabay)

This past week a story entered the news that took things to a new low, or so I thought until someone on Twitter (I wish I could remember who) pointed out to me that it isn’t “a new low” – it’s an old bad low that we never really left behind.

That story is the forced separation of parents and children at the U.S. borders.

The Democrats are right: it’s reprehensible, sinful, evil.

The Republicans are right: similar things happened under the Obama Administration too. In fact, it has a long history, going all the way back to the earliest days in our republic. This does not justify the current policy. Given that we know about the horrific damage such separation does to children and parents, and we should be even more anxious to avoid it at all costs.

Human beings are human beings are human beings. I could stretch that tautology out to the stars, and it would not change. Human beings are not “animals,” and they are not “vermin.”

Jewish tradition teaches us that each human being is created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27.) We may argue about who or what God is, but the message remains the same: all human beings share some essential, precious quality that must be treated with respect.

Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to any person. That is the whole Torah; the rest is its interpretation. Go and study.” (Shabbat 31a)

When we treat other human beings as if they are lesser than ourselves, we sin.

I can hear the “Yes, but…’s” crowding into the minds of my readers. Yes, there are people that threaten our well being, maybe even our safety. And yes, we have a teaching that says that if a rodef (pursuer) is trying to kill me, I can and perhaps should defend myself with enough force to kill them. (Sanhedrin 73a)

None of that suggests that I should see that threatening person as any less than human. I am allowed to defend myself. I am not allowed to describe another person as subhuman, no matter how badly they behave. I am certainly not allowed to treat innocent little children with cruelty, even the children of people who behave badly.

Name-calling is serious business. It is even more serious when a government adopts de-humanizing language. History shows us that we can draw a direct line between that language and atrocity. From the beginning, Europeans justified the enslavement of Africans by attributing a subhuman nature to them. The genocide of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and disabled people in the Holocaust of the 1940’s began with official descriptions of those groups of human beings as subhuman. Nazis called Jews “rats.” In the Rwanda genocide, Hutus called Tutsis “cockroaches.” In American history, the genocide of Native Americans was justified by calling them “savages” and “animals.”

The shifts in language made the behavior that followed easier. Therefore it is critical that we pay attention to language that implies that any group of people is subhuman.

To return to the situation at hand, we have already reached the point of a language shift. Judging from the polls, a significant portion of our populace has no problem with the President’s use of the language “animals” for groups of Hispanic immigrants. We have the inhumane history of slavery and Jim Crow. We have the inhumane, illogical rationalization of Japanese American internment with General Order 9066.

It is time for a change in our national attitude about who gets to be a human being. Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We all know, of course, that he was inconsistent. Jefferson enslaved human beings. But still he left this ideal for us. I believe the promise of these lines is still in our future.

What can we do in the face of the separation of little children from their parents at the U.S. Border?

  1. First and foremost, we can become more conscious of our own use of language. Language that denies the humanity of another person is dangerous.  Better to avoid any language that de-humanizes others, especially if I am going to have credibility in arguing against that use of language by anyone else.
  2. We can object when we hear de-humanizing language from the people with whom we usually agree. In this polarized climate, people on the other end of the spectrum are unlikely to hear anything I say, but I can make a difference with those who see me as an ally. I can stop accepting de-humanizing language from anyone.
  3. We can vote and we can encourage others to vote. We are in primary season now. Are you registered? Is everyone you know registered? On voting day, does everyone in your part of town have a way to vote? Organizations like the League of Women Voters need our support in getting out everyone’s vote.
  4. We can support the ACLU in its efforts to stop the separation of parents and children at the border.
  5. We can write letters to the editor, op eds, and facebook posts. Remember to defuse counter arguments within your text: the fact that this has been done by previous administrations does not excuse or justify the inhumane treatment of little children.

Do you have ideas for action? I’d love to hear them in the Comments.

5/27/18: Slow Lorist made a suggestion so good that I am moving it up into the text (but watch Comments for more good suggestions!):

The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is an organization dedicated to protecting immigrant children. Support them with donations and publicity; they don’t get a lot of attention and they do great work.
And call your reps, send them postcards, write them letters—tell them that this issue matters to you!

 

Reasons for Hope, April 2018

Image: A violet blooms in the cracks of a parched landscape. (manfredrichter/pixabay)

I’m always looking for signs of hope.

  1. Today I went to get my blood drawn, a weekly routine. My phlebotomist today was a trainee instead of the usual person. My veins are not the easiest to find, and the stick took longer and was more uncomfortable than usual. On the plus side, she’s now logged a bit more practice on an arm like mine and she’ll improve. I could tell she was trying not to hurt me. She could tell that I was doing my best to be pleasant. We had sympathy for one another in the moment.1.
  2. I am encouraged that the heads of state of North and South Korea met and were civil to one another. I don’t know how significant that was but I choose to see it as progress.
  3. I talk with a broad range of people on Twitter. I know Twitter can be a sewer, but it has allowed me to exchange ideas with people I’d never have met otherwise. I am encouraged that we can talk about difficult things and still see the humanity in each other.

All three events have a common denominator. Each involves a one-on-one personal connection which bridges a challenge.

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber taught that when we choose to see the other person in front of us, to really be present to them, and they do the same with us, it is a special kind of event. He called it the I/Thou encounter, and he wrote that the Holy One dwells in the connection between those two people.  We can’t always have such encounters, but when we do, we bring holiness into the world.

Normally, my connection with phlebotomists is more of an I/It transaction. They are there to do a job; I’m a patient. But today, the difficulties posed by her inexperience and my hard-to-find veins presented us with a couple of choices: we could be thoroughly frustrated by each other OR we could choose to see each other in our humanity. The latter course left us both happier, I have no doubt.

I have no inside knowledge about the meeting between dictator Kim Jong-Un of North Korea and President Moon Jae-In of South Korea. However, I was impressed that they met one-on-one, they shook hands, they spoke at some length privately, and they published a list of shared goals. In addition to saying they were going to work on de-nuclearization of the peninsula, they published a declaration:

In the declaration, both sides also declared a stop to all hostile activities against each other. They also agreed to link cross-border railways and roads, and pledged to turn the demilitarized zone into a “genuine peace zone”. – CBS Miami, 4/27/18

I know there is skepticism on the part of South Korea, with fears that they are being deceived by the North Koreans. I imagine there are similar fears on the other side. But the two leaders met. They looked in each other’s eyes. They were present to one another. This was the first such meeting in 65 years. Surely that is a reason for hope.

In the final example, I’m sure Martin Buber could not have imagined Twitter in his wildest dreams, nor would he have wanted to. There is no handshake there, no meeting of eyes. However, Twitter provides a venue in which I can have a discussion with a Pakistani-American grad student who is studying Hebrew because he cares about Jewish-Muslim relations. Do we agree on everything? Not by a long shot. But we can listen to one another, we can acknowledge one another, we can find points of mutual interest even when we don’t agree.  I know what steals his sleep at night. He knows that I lose sleep, too.

The same goes for a few others, mostly activists I’ve met on Twitter.  I’ve learned more about race in America by listening quietly to those voices on Twitter, and following their reading suggestions, than I ever learned in my formal education. I had to learn to squelch my defensiveness and my urge to say, “But not all white people…” I had to learn to listen without arguing, to truly listen. Trust builds that way. Conversations have room to develop. Holiness enters the world.

Sometimes, in our anxiety, we demand too much too quickly. We want the pain to be over. We try to skip over the hard work of listening, of being truly present to one another, because the needle hurts, because nuclear warfare is terrifying even to contemplate, because it is painful to engage with ancient injustices.

The problem with magic wands is that they wield one-sided power. If I could wave a magic wand and make the phlebotomist suddenly really good at her job, I would rob her of the process of learning. Worse, I would rob both of us of the opportunity to find God between us at a painful moment! Holiness would not enter the world, because instead we would have a tidy little I/It transaction.

If I could wave a magic wand and heal Korea, it would be fixed as I think it should be fixed, and not take into account what the Koreans themselves want. Any peace that fails to take their needs and dreams into consideration is doomed to fail.  Only by doing the hard work of listening and talking – in that order! – is there any hope for true healing of that terrible wound.

If I could wave a magic wand and heal race in America, it would not bring peace. That’s because what we require for true healing of this dreadful illness is mutual respect. Because of that pesky “mutual” element, that peace will only come in the holy space between people who choose to see each other in an I/Thou way, recognizing each other’s humanity, respecting even each other’s fallibility.

If I could wave a magic wand and “fix” the Middle East, it would look like what I want it to look for about 10 minutes – and then it would all blow up again. The repeated failures in the Middle East are the children of a series of “fixes” that go back to the Roman Empire, if not before. Neither the Romans, nor the Ottomans, nor the British under the Mandate, nor the United Nations have really listened to all parties in their attempts to “fix” the region. Even had they listened, their listening would not have been a substitute for the actual Palestinian and Jewish stakeholders being able to encounter one another in an I/Thou mode. At this late date, I have no solutions to offer about the Middle East, but that is as it should be. I am not one of the primary stakeholders: I don’t live there.

This is my hope for the world: that with all the means of communication available to us, we will be able to have more conversations across our divides. Is it a faint hope? You bet. There are forces that profit from discord, and they will stir the pot and make life difficult. What I can do, what we all can do, is seize the opportunity to be present and human to one another when those moments offer themselves to us. All we can do is bring holiness into the world at every opportunity.

When I see that happening, I have hope.

 

Animal Rights and Judaism

Image: A black and white cow. (wernerdetjen/pixabay)

What are the rights of animals in Jewish tradition?

All animals are under the care of human beings; we are responsible for their well-being.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28

Animals are entitled to rest on Shabbat.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

– Exodus 20:8-10

Jews should avoid causing unnecessary pain to an animal, including emotional distress. We are permitted to eat some animals for food, but they  must be treated kindly. Properly schechting an animal involves keeping it calm and then killing it as quickly as possible with a minimum of pain.

For the same reason, physically altering animals is forbidden: docking tails, shaping ears, etc. are unnecessary pain.

One highly difficult question has to do with neutering animals. Castration of any animal or person is explicitly forbidden in Torah (Leviticus 22:24.) Neutering females is somewhat less fraught, but many poskim (rabbis ruling on the question) think it is included under the rule against cruelty. Balancing the commandments and the requirements of public health can be a very complex puzzle.

When an ox or sheep or goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be acceptable as a food offering to the Lord. – Lev. 22:27

You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother.  And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him.  And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it.  You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. – Deut. 22:1-4

Even if we dislike the owner of an animal, we may not take out our frustrations on his animals. A lost animal must be fed and sheltered, and an animal in distress must be rescued.

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.  -Exodus 23:4-5

Animals are entitled to eat when they are working and surrounded by food.

You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain. – Deut. 25:4

Hunting for sport is forbidden; one may theoretically hunt for food, but shechting the animal (killing it in a kosher fashion) is extremely difficult under those circumstances, and really not practical.

R. Simeon b. Pazi expounded [on Psalm 1:1-2] : ‘Happy is the man that hath not walked’ — i.e., to theatres and circuses of idolaters ‘nor stood in the way of sinners’ — that is he who does not attend contests of wild beasts;  ‘nor sat in the seat of the scornful‘ — that is he who does not participate in [evil] plannings. And lest one say, ‘Since I do not go to theatres or circuses nor attend contests of wild animals, I will go and indulge in sleep.’ Scripture therefore continues, ‘And in His Law doth He meditate day and night.’ – Avodah Zarah 18b

We don’t find any hunters [in our tradition] besides Nimrod and Esau, and this is not the way of the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. . . There is an unseemly element in it, namely cruelty, and also a measure of danger. . . Therefore, one who listens to me will dwell securely and placidly in his house and not waste his time with such things. –  Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau, in Responsa Noda beYehuda II Yoreh Deah 10, 18th c.

Animals should be fed first, before the humans eat.

So says Rav Yehuda that Rav says: It is prohibited for a person to taste anything until he gives food to his animal, as it is stated in the verse: “And I will give grass in the field for your animals” (Deuteronomy 11:15), and only afterward is it written in that verse:“And you shall eat and be satisfied.” – Gittin 62a

 

The Torah of Flu

Image: A flu virus under an electron microscope (NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The flu is widespread, across 49 US states right now. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that’s the first time that’s happened in their 13 years of tracking the flu.  – IFLScience.com

We are in the midst of a remarkably nasty flu season right now. It has not reached pandemic levels, but we are still in the midst of flu season. This flu is killing not only infants and the elderly (as if that wasn’t bad enough) it seems to be particularly hard on baby-boomers, too.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

While our ancestors did not know about viruses, they knew and respected the threat of disease. Our tradition teaches that caring for the body is a mitzvah, a positive commandment.

Furthermore, we must be attentive to the safety of other people’s bodies, to preventing illness and injury whenever we can.

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it. –Deuteronomy 22:8

Our teachers applied this rule not only to the roofs of houses, but to anything that might damage another person’s body. In his code of law, the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides has an entire volume titled, Hilchot Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh, “The Laws of Murderers and the Protection of Life.” He is clear, and later scholars agree, that we are responsible for guarding ourselves and others against dangers in the world:

Both the roof and any other object of potential danger, by which it is likely that a person could be fatally injured, require that the owner take action… just as the Torah commands us to make a fence on the roof… and so, too, regarding any obstacle which could cause mortal danger, one, not just the owner, has a positive commandment to remove it… if one does not remove it but leaves those obstacles constituting potential danger, one transgresses a positive commandment and negates a negative commandment ‘Thou shall not spill blood’ – Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Rozeach uShmirat Nefesh, 11:4t

What does this have to do with the flu? Influenza is not a minor illness. The flu can and does kill. Therefore, it is exactly the kind of danger Torah charges us to monitor and to guard against for both ourselves and for others.

First, we should protect ourselves from the flu.

  • That means it is a mitzvah to get a flu shot if our doctor recommends it.
  • It means washing our hands whenever they have come in contact with others, or with surfaces that may not be clean (for instance, handrails, doorknobs, bathroom surfaces.)
  • It means doing things that will keep our immune systems in the best possible order (getting enough sleep, eating well, avoiding sugar.)

Some people say that the vaccine is less effective against some strains of the flu. That is true, but doctors tell us that those who get the vaccine suffer less even if they get a different strain of flu.

Secondly, we should protect others from the flu.

Some people are more vulnerable to flu, including the very young, the very old, and the sick. They and those who cannot get a flu shot are dependent on the rest of us getting vaccinated. First, because the people with whom they come in contact are less likely to be carrying the virus, but secondly because of “herd immunity,” a concept that means the more people are vaccinated, the less flu will be going around. We each have a responsibility to do what we can to protect the vulnerable.

More things we can do to protect others:

  • Wash hands often. Avoid spreading the flu virus through touch.
  • Stay home when we are sick.  Stay home until symptoms have been gone 24 hours.
  • Keep sick children at home.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with tissue, or with cloth, or in the curve of your elbow. Coughing into a fist or a hand is likely to spread germs.
  • We can refrain from penalizing or teasing others for taking sick leave.
  • We can advocate for better sick leave policies, in the interest of public health.

Some people won’t be able to do some of these things. Some may be forced to work or to walk around sick. That makes it much more important for the rest of us do what we can to avoid spreading the flu.

It is a mitzvah to keep our bodies safe. It is a mitzvah to protect the bodies of others.