Cooling to Agudah

Cooling to Agudah

Do you want the bad news or the good news about global warming?

The bad news is that NASA reports that the last six months were the warmest stretch the planet has seen since at least 1880, and quite possibly since 4000 BCE. This period began in April, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels broke levels not seen in 800,000 years.

All this as carbon dioxide emissions have been rising from the temporary dip caused by the recession.

Small wonder that last month hundreds of thousands marched in Manhattan to demand that governments take action.

That’s the bad news. The good news is this: We all have nothing to worry about after all.

For is it not written in the Book of Chronicles – the last and in many ways least book of the Tanach – that “the world is fixed so that it cannot falter”?

This verse, Rabbi Avi Shafran informed us this week, “reassures us that Hashem has built self-correcting mechanisms into nature.”

So not to worry.

Even more so, don’t march. Don’t do anything.

That climate march, it seems, portions of which passed under his Manhattan office windows, scared him with his zeal.

God’s promise, Rabbi Shafran informs us, “should be reserved for Torah-study and mitzvos.”

Rabbi Shafran, we hasten to mention, is not some fringe crank; he is the official spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, the body that brings together most of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, including New Jersey’s own Lakewood yeshiva.

Now, we don’t think that the fate of the planet – the question of whether New York will be enduring weeks on end of 95 plus degree days in the summers twenty five years from now – depends on the views of a few hundred thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews. They don’t hold the balance of power on that level.

But on a smaller matter, closer to home, it turns out that Agudah has been amassing power, and in fact acting with a zeal that, well, some might argue should be reserved for Torah study. In this matter, Agudah’s misguided self-righteousness has succeeded in inflicting pain directly on its victims.

The Forward reports this week on a new division of Agudah: “Chayim Aruchim,” meaning “long life.” Its goal is ostensibly noble: to help Orthodox Jews navigate end of life matters.

But the Forward reports that in practice, Chayim Aruchim has taken a dark and worrisome turn.

The exact criteria of death, like most halachic matters, is subject to debate among rabbis, as are the questions, relevant to end-of-life planning, of when life support can be removed, when pain can be alleviated if that relief risks shortening the patient’s life, and when a patient can be declared dead and his organs transplanted into someone else.

In our community, many Orthodox rabbis have signed on to the Halachic Organ Donor Society, a group that argues firmly and on halachic grounds on the importance of organ donation.

But Chayim Aruchim is not only advocating for the members of the Agudah camp. As the Forward documents, it is forcing other people to end their lives in accordance with Agudah’s beliefs. They have gone to court to overturn health care proxies. There are even ultra-Orthodox rabbis who have argued against aggressive, painful treatment – but Agudath Israel is not among them.

We believe that Agudath Israel should not have the right to tell other people how and when to die.

– L.Y.