Sanctuary city concept about upholding law, not avoiding it: scholars
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This article was published 31/08/2021 (644 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Faith leaders are taking issue with a call from some in Winkler to create a “sanctuary city” where residents can avoid COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates.
During a protest Monday in the southern Manitoba city, local organizer Karl Krebs referenced what Christians call the Old Testament of the Bible, and Jews call the Tanakh (or sometimes Torah).
“We need to triage our community and provide that protection like in the old days, where someone could seek sanctuary and know that they are not in danger any further,” he said.
Krebs said if such a city was created, Winkler police would not be able to enforce provincial mask and vaccine mandates.
It is a stance that doesn’t fit with how some rabbis interpret the scriptures.
Rabbi Anibal Mass of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg explained a sanctuary city or city of refuge was a place in ancient times where a person could flee after accidentally killing someone.
“It’s basically a manslaughter situation,” he said.
Back then, the victim’s family was allowed to seek revenge by killing the perpetrator. To avoid that fate, the person could flee to a sanctuary city for a trial. If the court agreed the killing was accidental, no vengeance could be taken.
The Winkler protesters, “seem to be extrapolating from it something that upholds their position,” Mass said, adding: “They are taking the biblical concept of sanctuary city and applying it in a different way than originally intended.”
Mass doesn’t doubt their sincere belief in God, but wonders why they are using only select Scripture and not the whole Tanahk — such as the prohibition followed by Jews against eating pork.
“They pick one verse, but not another,” he said.
Rabbi Kliel Rose of Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg said those calling for a sanctuary city to avoid getting vaccinated or wearing a mask are doing “a very creative reading” of Scripture.
It is “not in line with the Jewish orientation” to use the text in that way, he said, adding the sanctuary city was not about avoiding the law, “It was about upholding the law,” ensuring it was applied equitably to all.
Rose noted the paramount goal of Jewish faith is saving life.
“It underlies everything we do,” he said. “It’s about upholding and honouring the law (of God) for all members of society. It’s a way to use it to protect life.”
The idea of using Scripture as a way to avoid getting vaccinated “doesn’t resonate with me,” he said. “I don’t agree with it being used in that way.”
Lissa Wray Beal is a professor of Old Testament at Providence University College and Seminary in Otterburne. For her, referring to Scripture in the effort to create a space where vaccine and mask mandates can’t be applied is “an utter misreading” of those texts.
The sanctuary city has “nothing to do with creating a place where people can avoid health protocols,” she said. It is about upholding the law and “letting the legal process” play out.
“It’s about trusting the law for the benefit of the entire society, not just for personal rights.”
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John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.