Thursday, January 14, 2021

Text of January 8, 2021 Sermon on Capitol Attack

 The following is the written text of my sermon immediately following the Capitol Attack.  The video of that sermon can be found here.

Shabbat Shalom.  This morning's sermon will be delivered without interruption or questions as I wish to emphasize the singular moral authority of my voice as your rabbi speaking to the congregation in the pulpit.  I don not consider the content to be subject to debate for two reasons.  First, nothing that I say today is new.  I have spoken of these topics in major moments before even in major moments like the HHD's for the past two years.  Second, these are facts and it is precisely the questions against matters of fact that have been at the heart of the current crisis.

This morning I will speak about the events of January 6, 2021, a day of national shame, from the basic concept din d'malkhuta din hu - the concept that I have often taught and you know well that civil law has the force of Torah law.  Within this, I will have two points of focus: Law and Order and the role of antisemitic extremism.  It is not my role to give a complete picture or a political roadmap.  It is my role to speak to the morality and ethics of law.  It is my role to speak of the threat that anti-smites pose to this nation.  By choosing these topics I am limiting my voice, not twisting some political gambit.

On the High Holidays I spoke forcefully of Law and Order.  Why supporting the rule of law, and those who serve to enforce it, is a core Jewish value commanded in the Torah.  On Wednesday, the entire assembly was urged to stop the Constitutional process in the Congress.  They were urged to stop the rule of law.

We have the right of free speech, within the rule of law.  We have the right of political advocacy, within the rule of law.  We have the right to fair trail and to petition government - to make our case to the Executive and Judicial branches for the redress of perceived wrongs.  All this was done following the November election loss by Donald Trump.  And I vocally - and in writing - supported those rights.  The facts were not proven to be on his side, and the courts ruled on the law.  He lost his appeals.

When you lose an election, you have lost.  When you lose in court, you have lost.  You do not have the rule of law on your side to continue to act against the rule of the court, the rule of law.  And yes, political freedom is important, and you can protest your viewpoint freely, verbally and peacefully.

But the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  Once the states certified their electoral slates, those electors voted.  Once they voted, the states certified their votes.  That is the end of the electoral process - by law, with the single constitutional mandate for Congress to meet and count those certifications.  They must, under force of law, do so on January 6th.  Any deliberate interference with that act is against the law.

Definition: Insurrection.  The intentional (unarmed) attempt to thwart a legitimate governmental authority from performing its duty.  

It doesn't matter if you feel or believe that the courts are wrong.  No one is above the law.  These are facts.  They are not subject to debate.

An essential point of my HHD services was the establishment of Judges and police enforcers.  Our chief enforcer is the President.  What do you do if that person breaks the law?

In Judaism we have two models to help us to form our moral and ethical viewpoint of a leader in abrogation of the law:  King Saul and King David.  King Saul broke the law, intent, paranoid and disturbed - acting against the interests of the nation and was removed from the throne.  King David broke the law, and tried to cover up his sin.  Publicly exposed, he did teshuvah, admitted his wrongs and repented.  He paid a serious consequence for his actions, and remained on the throne going on to achieve more great things before he was done. This is the view of authority in the Torah. This is also a fact, and not subject to debate.

Now, it is clear.  President Trump himself said out loud before the insurrection that he wanted the crowd to pressure congress to stop its legal ministerial duty of counting the Electoral College on January 6, 2021.  He and his lawyer, and others, repeatedly tried to influence legislators to break that law to to not count - to "send it back to the states" he said - so that he would be President again.  Insurrection does not require violence and the violence does not define the essential insurrection.  He said on January 6, that his goal was to be President again, which was contrary to the law.  His plan was to stop the electoral college count, which was against the rule of law.  On January 5th he could say anything.  On January 7th he could say anything.  But on January 6th, as chief enforcer of the Constitution, he has to bow before the rule of law and the Constitutional Authority of the day.  He did not.  All by itself, that is a betrayal of his sworn oath to uphold and protect the Constitution.

Now, as for what actually happened.  We all agree.  No democratically minded citizen can tolerate the riot and the insurrection.  We are now talking about a specific sub-set of the protestors - and that sub-set are the rioters and the insurrectionists. We know that they do not define the Trump nation of 75,000,000 people who supported the President in the last election.

My second topic is about a primary driving force among the rioters, that smaller group.  White supremicists and anti-smites, among them.  The hate of Nazis and white-supremacist bigots was all over the riot.  Flags, hats, t-shirts and more.  Their on line movements brought hundreds upon hundreds all tolled, and they have always seen the Trump banner as their greatest hope in America.  They are hateful, bigoted, violent and dangerous.  And we have long shown that they are empowered by Trump rhetoric - whether or not he intends it.  We are all responsible for the impact of our words and our tolerance of what is done in our name.  The ADL, the SPLC and more have tracked, identified these people and groups.  They are known.  They are predictable.  

The anti-semitism under Q-Anon and other conspiracy theories are inevitable ever since the first publication of the horrific lie, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Behind every dark fantasy of a deep state lies an antisemitic trope ready to say the Jews are in power.  The Jews are the enemy. 

Not all of the insurrectionists were anti-semites.  Some were Jews! But so stupid, so deluded, that they could even attack the Capitol arm-in-arm with antisemites who hate them.

Every person who passed a barricade and climbed the steps is a rioter.  Every person who entered the building is an insurrectionist.  Every person who planned, published and encouraged those acts is an inciter.  And we have laws for each of them.

Once again we see police attacked - one murdered - dozens hospitalized - in the name of political violence.  As I did last summer I repeat now.  Support legitimate political voices of freedom. Pursue Justice.  Condemn hate, extremism, violence and anti-semitism.  And hold all those who actively sought to thwart the constitution to account.  The law of the land is Torah law.  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Robert L Tobin

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Busting Vaccine Myths and What We Know

PLEASE register for your vaccine (Example: Google "vaccine registration near me"), and get it as soon as you are eligible.

 The following is from Dr. Tammy Tobin, Chair of the Biology Department of Susquehanna University.  It starts with clear language descriptions of the major vaccines being produced, and why they should or shouldn't be used.  It then ends with a series of important myth busters to counter the internet trolls who are sabotaging our nation's need to become vaccinated.

January 12, 2021.

What we know about the vaccines currently in use worldwide:

mRNA vaccines: The short answer is that the Moderna vaccine that you are getting is safe and effective (>90% after two doses with no serious COVID disease. Their clinical trials involved older (>65) individuals, younger individuals (18-55) with comorbidities, and paid attention to racial and gender diversity).  The Pfizer vaccine (the other mRNA vaccine) is similar in this regard.  I would prefer one of these vaccines, if I had a choice.


Live (recombinant adenovirus) vaccines. The current live (Oxford/AstraZenica) vaccine showed about 70% effectiveness, but the initial clinical trials had very few older or non-white participants.   It has been approved for use in Great Britain, but probably has a larger uphill slog in the US due to some anomalies in the clinical trials.  In short, they gave a reduced dose, by mistake, to some participants in their phase 3 clinical trials, and those individuals did better than the others.  I would take this vaccine if it was the only one I could get when my turn arrives.  I am sure it is safe, but don’t know if it will be as effective.


Inactive virus vaccines.  There are no complete phase 3 clinical trials yet, although several are underway.  There is no reason to believe that this approach will not be effective, but China’s approach of vaccinating without that data in hand reflects a different approach to healthcare than we have in the US.  I would not be comfortable taking an inactive virus vaccine until complete phase 3 clinical trial data have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective in large, diverse groups. 


What we don’t know:  

How long will the immunity last?  Which vaccine type is better for long-term immunity?

Can vaccinated people still transmit the virus?  Which vaccine type(s) might prevent this if it happens?

Is the vaccine safe and effective in children? No vaccines are, as yet, approved for individuals under the age of 16, although some clinical trials are underway for the 12-18 group.


How about those false rumors?

Ok, here are some very common rumors and their answers:


  1. Will the COVID mRNA vaccines cause you to make a whole virus in your own cells, and could that then give you COVID?  Can the mRNA vaccine give you COVID by itself?

NO.  The mRNA that is injected only contains the gene for the viral spike protein.  The entire virus consists of the protein products of many, many other genes that are not included in the vaccine.  By way of example, if you were to inject a healthy copy of the gene that is defective in cystic fibrosis into a person’s lungs, you would not expect that person to suddenly produce an entire new human in their lungs as a result. 

  1. Can the mRNA change the DNA in your cells?


No.  Our cells don’t have any enzymes that are capable to turning mRNA into DNA (our genetic material).  In fact, ‘loose’ mRNA is very quickly degraded by our cells, so the viral mRNA does not stick                around for very long after the injection, either.  Fortunately, it survives long enough to produce the spike protein to which our immune systems respond – thus conferring immunity.

  1. Are recombinant DNA vaccines (like the AstraZeneca one) inherently bad because they use genetic modification?
  • The words “Recombinant DNA” send some folks into paroxysms of fear (particularly in England), but it is just a tool.  Good versus evil is determined by how a tool is used.  Tools are not evil just because evil people can use them for bad things.  Recombinant DNA means scientists cut and paste together DNA in new ways that are not found in nature.  When the technology was first developed in the 1970s, scientists were very worried it might be used in the wrong way (and it can be!), and so put a moratorium on the technology until they could wrap their heads around it and make rules.  That resulted in the Asilomar conference ( ).  Very strict guidelines now regulate what scientists can and cannot do with recombinant DNA.  Good things that have been done include the human insulin gene that was cloned into bacteria so we would not have to keep killing horses to extract enough insulin from their pancreases to treat diabetics.  I personally like horses a lot.  I vote for recombinant human insulin.


  • So, is the use of recombinant DNA in the AstraZeneca vaccine good or evil?  I would argue good.  ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is a chimpanzee adenovirus (ChAd -causes the common cold in chimpanzees) designed by Oxford that has been genetically altered so that it is ‘replication defective in normal cells’.  That means it has had its important replication genes cut out of it (another good use of recombinant DNA), and cannot cause disease, even in chimps.  It has also had the gene for the SARS-C0V-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) spike protein inserted into it.  This is the protein that our immune systems respond to.  The ultimate take home is that when we are injected with this virus, it does not cause disease, but does cause us to make a protective immune response against the spike protein.  The overall effectiveness of that approach is still under some debate, but it looks promising.


    1. Why chimpanzee adenovirus?  Well, there is also a human adenovirus-based vaccine in the works (I forget who is making that one).  The problem is, that we have all had the common cold at some point or another, so our existing immune responses to the common cold may impact our response to that vaccine.  None of us has ever gotten a chimpanzee cold.


  1. Were fetal stem cells used to develop these vaccines?  


            Yes.  Two cell lines were used to develop most of these vaccines (to show they could grow in human cells and produce the appropriate proteins).  The two cell lines are HEK-293 (an   immortalized human embryonic kidney epithelial cell line that was derived from a terminated fetus in 1972) and PER.C6 (an immortalized retinal cell line derived from a         terminated fetus in 1985). 


  1. Are fetal cells currently used to produce the vaccines?


            The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines do NOT use fetal cells to grow or produce the vaccine.  As a result, most pro-life groups have found these two vaccines to be “ethically         uncontroversial” in this regard.


Most of the recombinant adenovirus vaccines do require growth in fetal cell lines.  This may be problematic to some.  However, the highly pro-life Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life  says the cell lines used in such vaccines "are very distant from the original abortions," and "We believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion."


  1. Are fetal stem cells part of the vaccines?  Are you being injected with fetal DNA?


            No.   Pfizer and Moderna do not use fetal stem cells, and the other vaccines use purified virus.



  1. Do the health officials expect high numbers of adverse effects that are caused by the vaccines? If not, why is there a call for proposals to develop artificial intelligence programs to track them?   

No.  This. rumor began because there is a contract in England to analyze the expected high numbers of “ADRs” due to the new vaccines.  However, ADRs are reported, potential adverse effects, not necessarily real ones.  So, for example, if somebody gets the flu shot and says they got a sore arm (real) or got herpes (false) because of the vaccine, those would both be reported as ADRs.  Since there will be literally tens of millions of new vaccines given all at once, epidemiologists need a way to sift out any real and rare side-effects from the bazillions of false ADRs, to make sure that real side-effects are not missed.  Computers (AI) could analyze that data really quickly.


  1. Do the vaccines contain artificial tracking devices?


            No.  I think this rumor also derives from #6.


Ok, hope this helps!  Let me know if you have heard any other rumors that I can help you respond to.