IN THE MEDIA

Violations by a few shameful

Sep 9, 2021 | Colin Rubenstein

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Herald Sun – 9 September 2021

THE vast majority of the Australian Jewish community is angry and appalled at the behaviour of those attending the synagogue in Ripponlea on Tuesday. Holding group religious services in defiance of Covid-19 rules, confronting police and even reportedly assaulting a photographer – all this alleged behaviour is completely deplorable.

All but a handful of Jewish Australians have been following Covid public health directions. There is nothing in Judaism that supports acting as the tiny minority did – to the contrary, protecting the physical health of the community is a high priority. Those in the tiny minority who acted this way have no support outside their enclave.

Jewish religious law has an overriding principle known as pikuach nefesh (“watching over a soul”) which says saving human lives supersedes virtually all other obligations and commandments.

It’s not always easy. Tuesday was Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year. Unlike the secular new year, Rosh Hashana is not an occasion just for celebration and parties, but a solemn religious holiday, one of the holiest in the Jewish calendar.

For the past two years, most of Melbourne’s religious Jewish congregations have compromised on the group prayer so intrinsic to this holy time by replacing synagogue services with Zoom services (held prior to the holiday itself for Orthodox Jews, who don’t use electronic devices on holy days) or praying privately. Instead of gathering to listen to the shofar, the traditional ram’s horn blown on New Year, some rabbis were granted health department permission to blow it for a very short time along their congregation’s exercise route.

For more than 2000 years, Jewish teachings have incorporated the rule that “the law of the land is the law” for you. This means that obedience to the law of the country in which any community of Jews lives is a religiously mandated obligation for them and disobedience a transgression against Jewish and civil law.

It is hard to fathom why the individuals in Ripponlea would violate core Jewish law concepts – breaking both Australian law and risking people’s lives, not only their own, in the midst of a pandemic.

For the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community, the behaviour at Ripponlea is condemned as indefensible and appalling on both these grounds.

Similarly, there is unequivocal support for legitimate public health regulations being applied equally to all communities and areas and for police efforts to close down illegal behaviour anywhere it is occurring.

DR COLIN RUBENSTEIN IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN/ISRAEL & JEWISH AFFAIRS COUNCIL

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