People of faith can follow Scripture by protecting ourselves, others from COVID | Opinion – Tallahassee Democrat

Posted By on August 29, 2021

Rabbi Michael Shields| Your Turn

There is a spiritual dimension to the pain, lossand anxiety so many are feeling. My fellow clergy and I have walked with our congregation members through the COVID wilderness.

Soon, the Jewish community will usher in the High Holy Days. It is a time of deep reflection during which it is saidGod is listening even more intently to our prayers. At this season, we direct our hearts in prayer to our neighbors throughout this city. In that spirit of love, I offer the following words.

Study of sacred text is central to Judaism. The People of the Book, as we are sometimes called, turn to texts for guidance, especially in times of trouble. How might we wrestle with this pandemic and how do we affirm the sanctity of life in a way that honors holiness?

In the book of Deuteronomy, it says one must make sure to put a guardrail around ones rooftop balcony. The great medieval doctor and rabbi, Maimonides, wrote: One must remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life. He also cites from Deuteronomy:Take utmost precaution and guard your lives carefully," (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Spiritually, we are urged to take reactive and proactive measures. God certainly has a role to play in our lives, but it is forbidden to rely on a miracle for healing. Loving ones neighbor and oneself demands action.

COVID and faith:

Medical professionals bring holiness into the world through healing. The obligation to heal is spiritual. And you shall restore it to him (Deuteronomy 22:2), including even his life.

I believe faith guides us to a place in which a physician is commanded to heal and a person is also obligated to seek treatment and take it. Within Judaism, it is even spiritually appropriate in certain instances to mandate acceptance of treatment.

I humbly ask all to consider this spiritual approach to the COVID-19 vaccines and masks. These are proven medical remedies that protect both individual and community, small sacrifices for the greater the holy greater good. The benefit of a vaccine to millions of people mandates its use as a lifesaving medicine.

Writing in 1875 about the smallpox inoculation, an esteemed rabbi, Avraham Nanzig, reflected concerning the 1 in 1,000who died from that inoculation: We do not eliminate such a great benefit for the sake of such a tiny minority.All the more so today. Negative reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines are infinitely fewer and the current COVID-19 vaccines are more effective and rigorously tested than vaccines in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our society has never been able to guarantee everyone 100% protection from infectious diseases. We must fulfill the spiritual obligation to avoid reasonable and foreseeable danger to life. For this reason, I feel that I honor God, holinessand the sacred scripture by observing public health guidelines.

Over these past 18 months we have wandered in an Exodus-like wilderness. Loneliness, discord, griefand loss must be countered with compassion and love. We can abundantly embrace our fellow human beings created in the image of God without actually physically embracing them. Holy love transcends, and holiness exhorts us to take utmost care and guard our lives and our neighbors.

In the spirit of this season in my faith, I bid you farewell with a traditional greeting: May the year ahead be good and sweet.

Michael Shields is the rabbi of Temple Israel. He was called to serve the Jewish community of Tallahassee in July 2019. Rabbi Shields and his spouse have an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter who are elementary school students in the Leon County schools.


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People of faith can follow Scripture by protecting ourselves, others from COVID | Opinion - Tallahassee Democrat

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