Culture

Facebook Bans Rabbi for ‘Misinformation’ in Coronavirus-Themed Torah Message

Youtube screenshot of Rabbi Uriel Vigler.

Last month, Uriel Vigler, the rabbi at Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in Manhattan, posted a video on Facebook entitled, “The cure for COVID-19 is to be found in this week’s Torah portion.” In the video, he argues that the ultimate cure for all diseases, including the coronavirus pandemic, is the unconditional love that will usher in G-d’s messiah. Facebook suspended Vigler’s account for 24 hours, claiming he had violated the company’s Community Standards.

Facebook and other social media platforms have cracked down on what they claim to be coronavirus misinformation, arguing that misinformation about the pandemic is dangerous. Yet Rabbi Vigler was not arguing against taking social distancing precautions or suggesting a miracle-cure drug — he was making a theological and spiritual point.

“The ultimate cure for COVID-19 and all ailments and all diseases is for the Temple to be rebuilt and the coming of Messiah,” Vigler told PJ Media, explaining the point of his video. “When this happens all diseases will be cured and there will be world peace. How do we make this happen? By loving one another — unconditional love.”

“This is not misinformation at all — it’s one of the basic beliefs of our holy Torah — and so Facebook was absolutely wrong to ban me even for a minute,” Vigler insisted.

After Vigler posted the video to the synagogue’s Facebook page, Facebook removed it, giving this message: “Your post goes against our Community Standards.”

“Only people who manage Chabad Israel Center can see this post. We have these standards because misinformation that could cause physical harm can make some people feel unsafe on Facebook,” the platform informed the rabbi.

Posted by Chabad Israel Center on Thursday, July 30, 2020

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Vigler told PJ Media he was banned from Facebook for 24 hours. The social media platform did not allow him to comment or post anything. After 24 hours, Facebook lifted the restrictions, warning him “not to do anything like this again” for a full week.

The rabbi wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing his frustration. He thanked Zuckerberg for “creating a platform that allows me to keep in touch with people all over the world, including congregants and friends who have left New York City,” but expressed frustration and outrage at the temporary ban.

“You see, I use Facebook for my job. I use it to spread Torah and mitzvot and try to do my part in bettering the world, which is why I was absolutely astounded to discover I’d been banned this week!” Vigler added. During the pandemic, he has been connecting by Zoom and Facebook in order to give Torah classes online. “But this week, you cancelled my class, shut me out of Facebook, and sent me a message claiming I had violated your community standards!”

“I have never posted anything hateful or political in the 12 or so years I’ve been using your platform! As a rabbi, I serve a community comprising people on the right and people on the left, so I stick to my job—promoting and spreading Torah and mitzvot; I don’t dabble in politics. So what could have possibly led you to shut down my account?” he asked.

Vigler then explained the video in question. “In the video, I explained that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of hatred for one another. I explained that the Talmud equates that hatred to the three cardinal sins: idolatry, adultery, murder, and that to rectify this and rebuild the third and final Temple, we need to love each other more. True, expansive, unconditional love will lead to the Redemption, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the end to all ailments and illnesses, including COVID-19.”

The rabbi insisted that this message is the exact opposite of “misinformation.”

“Well, I can assure you that there is no message the inhabitants of this universe need to hear more than what I shared! Unconditional love — it’s what we all need, the US more than anyone! Not only can this not possibly lead to physical harm, it can lead to great healing and unification. In fact, Mark, you and I probably disagree on about 99% of things, but that does not diminish my love for you. I love you, heart and soul, like a brother,” Vigler insisted.

“Misinformation, you say? I can assure you there is no book more authentic than the Torah,” he wrote.

Facebook owes Rabbi Vigler an apology. While some claims about the coronavirus pandemic may involve misinformation and may actually lead Facebook users to endanger themselves and others, the rabbi was not encouraging a dangerous false treatment or even giving false hope about one particular vaccine or treatment. He was making a theological statement — not a medical one.

As a Christian, I believe the Messiah has already come, but I believe that when Jesus comes again, He will usher in a new heaven and a new earth, wiping away every tear and bringing an end to death and disease and despair. Many other religions share this millenarian hope — and encouraging people to love one another in order to bring us closer to it is the furthest thing from medical misinformation.

It is absurd and unjust to penalize a religious leader like Rabbi Vigler for teaching about his millenarian hope in the name of preventing harmful misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

Perhaps the secular outlook of Facebook’s staff led administrators to falsely conclude that Vigler was spreading misinformation. If so, this incident illustrates how important it is for companies to have intellectual diversity and a basic understanding of the role that religion plays in the lives of so many Americans and people the world over.

Facebook did not respond to PJ Media’s request for comment by press time.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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