I owe a debt of gratitude to Israeli lawyer Tamir Turgal, who has been fighting heroically against medical tyranny. The information he provided in a video call last week helped me greatly just yesterday.
I will not breathe through a mask. When I board a bus, I put a mask over my mouth to avoid an immediate confrontation, then try to find a discreet place to sit near the back and pull it down. I do this because many people out there have become hysterical lunatics, and I choose to pick my battles. Those of you who do not make any accommodations for hysterical lunatics have my admiration, and I will stand behind you in line when we wait to greet Moshiach.
Yesterday I boarded an intercity bus with the mask over my mouth. As I paid, the driver ordered me to cover my nose. I told him I cannot breathe that way. The driver then told me to get off the bus. I refused and said I don't have to. He reiterated his order to pull up my mask, and I replied that I am exempt for medical reasons. He continued to argue with me. I ignored him and went to the back row, which was vacant.
I sat comfortably with my legs crossed, perfectly composed. They hate when you keep your composure.
The driver left his seat and followed me, screaming. He demanded I show him a doctor's note that I am exempt for medical reasons. I told him I don't need one. He said that's not true, and if I don't have a note I have to get off the bus. I held my ground and informed him that what he was doing was illegal. He motioned to two people in front of me and claimed I was endangering them. I told him that I wasn't endangering anyone. (For the record, they didn't appear the least bit concerned that their lives were in danger.)
The driver continued to scream at me and make his demands. He called me "rude" several times, which was ironic. He threatened to call the police to issue me a fine, and I told him that was okay with me. I reiterated that what he was doing was illegal, and I know the law. Finally he ran out of steam, stalked back to the front of the bus, and continued driving.
Interestingly, not one person on the bus mixed in at any point during or after the confrontation. If you've ever taken a bus in Israel, you know that people relish the opportunity to loudly proclaim their two cents about any disagreement that occurs on the bus. This time there wasn't a peep. I'm grateful that the other passengers didn't behave abusively toward me as well, but it's startling the way they sat there like quiet mice.
A few minutes later a burly soldier boarded the bus and hurdled to the back row. He seated himself across from me. His mask was pulled all the way down to his chin. The driver hadn't said a word to him. I wondered if he respected the uniform, or if the soldier unknowingly owed me one for putting the driver in his place before he boarded. Regardless, my mask immediately went down to my chin as well. Favor repaid.
The rest of the ride passed without incident. The soldier had hiccups the entire way. The driver did not follow through on his threat to call the police.Half an hour later we arrived in Jerusalem.
As we neared my stop I had a terrible struggle with my yetzer hara. I grew up in New York...and I'm a rabbi...and I wanted to set a proper example.
As I was about to get off the bus, I made eye contact with the driver through his mirror. My Tzelem Elokim was bare in all its glory. I lifted my left hand and flipped him the bird, then stepped off the bus. I can't even remember the last time I did that.
I still don't know if I did the right thing. My conscience nags me.
Maybe I should have saluted him with the right hand, too.