It says in Ethics of Our Fathers (Chapter 3 Mishnah 2), “Pray for the welfare of the government because if people do not fear it, a person would swallow his fellow alive.”
The events of the last few days since the death of George Floyd on May 25 indicate that the statement is applicable even today. In addition to peaceful protest, there are those who have engaged in acts of violence toward police officers, destroyed property by breaking windows and setting fires, and looted stores.
There have been justifications given for this criminal conduct. The excuse is that America is a racist society. This racism permeates throughout society, in the legal system, police conduct, and in the economy. COVID-19 deaths, which have been much higher in African American communities, is a product of the racist society. Doing things the old way does not work. The African American community must take it to the police and to society. When society feels the pain of economic loss, then things will change. Also, it is proper to loot from corporate America and from fancy stores that are probably owned by whites since they have made profits off the backs of the African American people who they pay slave wages. The use of violence to change a corrupt system is the American way. America’s founding fathers used violence to change society.
I can spend the rest of the article proving that these justifications for their criminal conduct are factually inaccurate. But that is not the point. The fact that a person believes that the government’s conduct is wrong, or the legal system is not fair, does not give them the right to violate the law.
The way to deal with what a person believes is an unfair law or an improper application of the law is to go to court to try to have the law set aside on various legal grounds, or by the ballot box, electing those who will advocate for the positions that you believe in. We are a nation of laws.
I expect that the Jewish papers, as the President, will come on down hard on these rioters. This is the correct approach.
This hardline approach contrasts with two Trumpian papers’ responses when it involved members in the Jewish community who decided to publicly violate the law. One of the papers is published in the Five Towns and the other in Boro Park. A small group of businesses in Boro Park owned by frum women decided that Governor Cuomo’s law prohibiting small businesses that were non-essential from opening was wrong and unfair and they were not going to abide by it. They were soon joined by businesses in other locations such as Williamsburg, Monsey, and the Five Towns.
Both papers made them into heroes. The women said are doing it because they need to stay in business. They claim that they are taking all necessary precautions.
One of the papers stated that “For some, the reflex reaction might be that these people are endangering lives. More likely you only feel that way if you are intoxicated by the nonstop stream of fake news emanating from the liberal media that shares the objective of some political leaders almost all Democrats - to control the population of their cities.” I guess experts such as Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, and the CDC are part of the “fake news.”
I would have expected such reckless garbage to come from a place that has few cases and deaths, such as Montana. It is shocking that it is coming from someone who is from New York State and resides next to New York City, which has had the most COVID-19 deaths of any city in the country. As of today, Kings and Queens Counties have the two highest numbers of deaths of any county in the country, while Nassau County is fifth. I lost two clients, a friend, a neighbor, a member of a weekly shiur, and a member of a shul I daven at within a month of each other. More than 100,000 people have died from the virus nationwide. At the height, New York State was losing about 1,000 people a day. Brooklyn’s highest daily death toll was about 200 in mid-April. The number has gone down tremendously. The experts have indicated that the reduction was due to the measures put into effect by the governor - the same measures that were ignored by the businesses and cheered on by these two papers.
An individual who thinks he is smarter than the best infectious disease experts is like someone who is just learning to read the Hebrew alphabet telling the greatest Rabbinical scholar that he is more qualified to decide complex Halachic issues.
In any event, assuming for argument’s sake that the store owners would be correct, it does not justify them violating a law that they do not agree with. They are no different than those protestors who have engaged in illegal acts.
Furthermore, unlike with the non-Jewish protestors, there are two additional reasons to abide by New York State law. There is a law of dina demalchuta dina. Under Jewish Law, you must follow the law of the land, with some exceptions that are not applicable here. Also, there is an issue of chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name). Public mass violation of the law by religious Jews will bring a desecration of G-d’s name. Fortunately, to my knowledge, this story has not spread beyond the Jewish papers.
This is not the first time that a group of frum Jews have violated the requirements implemented to save lives from COVID-19. There was a funeral in Williamsburg that gained national attention because the Mayor went to the area to try and stop it.
The bottom line is that laws must be followed by all groups. If we complain about others who violate the law, we must criticize those in our community who act in a similar manner.