Covid-19

The Coronavirus Confusion Complex - Halachic opinion

By Rabbi Shabsi Tayar

12 Teves Adar 5782


Should Shuls allow non-vaccinated people to attend Minyonim?

In response to a query received yesterday in hebrew which read:

My response in english (as requested by the questioner) can be seen here.

Earlier posts

21 Adar 5780

With the destructive and uncontrollable fear and panic permeating communities worldwide because of the CCC (Coronavirus Confusion Complex), comes the many (often unsolicited) notices (many of which are inaccurate and downright erroneous), recommendations and Piskei Halacha (halachic rulings) penned by groups of rabbis and laymen regarding the shutting down of schools, Chadorim and of otherwise expected religious and academic standards. This has caused confusion, anxiety and an upsetting of critical activities.

The Rebbe taught us to ask the experts in the particular field in question and act accordingly. The government has refused to close down schools and has warned that it would cause more harm than protection. The children aren’t the ones in danger. Keeping them home could intensify the exposure of the virus to the ones more vulnerable. It would also disrupt the organic function of society. Torah study is what protects us and in particular that of young children. No one wants to be responsible for the calamities that could unfold, may Hashem spare us.

It is in this light that I feel compelled to share my halachic view on the matter:

- Schools and Chadorim should remain open. If they have closed, they should reopen immediately. If this isn’t possible, teachers should teach their students privately. If a child is sick, s/he should stay home.

- Adults and particularly the elderly should keep their distance of others, and especially of young children. Remember, anyone and everyone can be a carrier. Don’t take the risk.

- Small Minyonim should take place, preferably in מקום המיוחד לתפילה, with as much distance between Mispalelim as possible. If you have reason to believe that you have been infected, don’t attend.

- Mikvas for men should remain open, however one should heed the words of the Baal Shem Tov and only dip one’s head under the water once.

- We must all add in the diligent study of Torah and performance of Mitzvos, especially Tzedoko and Ahavas Yisroel. Chazal teach that it’s through Torah Tfillo and Tzedoko that the evil decrees are annulled. We must remember that nothing happens in this world that hasn’t been decreed on High. And the fact that we take natural precautions is solely because Torah teaches us to. Fires, floods and viruses are all reminders to return to God. One who claims that such an occurrence is coincidental or by chance is insensitive and causes further troubles (Rambam Laws of Taanis chapter 1 paragraph 3).

As we prepare ourselves for Pesach, let us ponder the wise words penned by Rabbi Aaron Moss in response to a question he was recently asked.

Question: This coronavirus thing has really thrown me. I feel like I've lost all sense of certainty. No one knows what will happen next. How do we stay sane when we don't know what's lurking around the corner?

Answer: It is not that we have lost our sense of certainty. We have lost our illusion of certainty. We never had it to begin with. This could be majorly unsettling, or amazingly liberating.

This tiny virus of 125 nanometres* has sent the entire world into chaos. All of our plans are up in the air, markets are going crazy, entire countries shutting down, and we have no clue what the future holds.

But that is always the case. We never know what the future holds. We only think we do, and keep getting surprised when things don't pan out the way we expected. Now the mask is off. We have to admit our vulnerability.

What will happen next? We don't know. Our experts don't know. Our leaders don't know. Only G-d knows. And that is the point. Only G-d knows.

Close your eyes and feel the uncertainty, make peace with it, let yourself be taken by it. Embrace your cluelessness. Because in all the confusion there is one thing you know for sure. You are in G-d's hands.

Keep calm. Panic and fear are also contagious. Take every precaution as advised by health authorities. Wash your hands well. And every time you do, remember whose hands you are in.

*A nanometre is one billionth of a metre.

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UPDATE

23 Nissan 5780

As the lockdown has intensified and religious gatherings and schools were legally forced to close, I was asked to update this page accordingly.

My current view is:

Since the government has chosen the suppression approach aimed at flattening the curve and reducing infections to a low level rather than trying to get them to zero (Supermarkets, pharmacies and Bunnings remain open and additional precautions are scant (employees and customers aren’t required to wear gloves or face-masks)), religious enterprises should request legal permission to remain open. Indeed, it is Tfillo b’Tzibur and Limud HaTorah Shel Tinoikois Shel Beis Rabon that provide the safety and protection that gloves and facemasks do not.

Minyonim should include only 10 Mispalelim and social distancing precautions should be enforced. Offenders should be reported to the police, as per the Responsum of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

I am therefore dissatisfied with the overreaching approach to demand the closure of the most basic utilities required.

Further clarification of this Psak Din is available upon request.

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UPDATE

18 Iyyar 5780

Lag B’Omer

As the government has finally lifted certain social distancing restrictions and Minyonim are now legally allowed, there is no “excuse” [cf. Likeutei Sichos volume 16 pages145-146] not to host Minyonim (even) indoors. If one is concerned that attending a Minyan might negatively affect his health, he should consult his doctor. The Rebbe expressed astonishment when individuals would ask Rabbonim medical questions. He clarified that such a question should not be answered by a rabbi. It’s not his place.

As an aside, we are commanded to place our trust in Hashem and risk our safety unless the risk is high. Since the risk of dying, or causing someone else’s death, from Covid-19 for attending a Minyan particularly in Australia is extremely low, one is actually obliged to rely on Hashem’s protection. Our True and Merciful Torah teaches us that he who overly relies on natural protection is punished. Conversely, one who doesn’t is rewarded and protected. This theme is heavily covered in the Rebbe’s talks. Indeed, the very Gemoro which teaches to close one’s windows during a plague, tells us to go to Shul if children are learning Torah there or if there is a Minyan present. These are our true Protectors. One of the greatest Poskim, the famous Rabbi Akiva Aiger ruled that small Minyonim should take place inside the Shul. He arranged that their size be enforced by guards and that perpetrators be reported to the authorities.

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UPDATE

9 Sivan 5780

As the government continues to ease social restrictions and Minyonim of 20 individuals are now permitted in public places, we must remember that the pandemic isn't over. As such, we should only go to Shul if a Minyan is present or if little children are learning Torah there, as per the Gemara above.

The Gemoro teaches that the Angel of Death leaves his Keilim in the Shuls. His Keilim are the words spoken during the Tfillos, especially during the repetition of Shmonei Esrei and Krias HaTorah. The Chabad Rebbe'im taught that harsh decrees are a result of the lack of proper Tfillo and decorum and that these decrees can be easily avoided if we apply ourselves appropriately. A pandemic is a sign that we must amend our ways. The Rambam (quoted above) taught that he who sees this as a natural disaster angers God and causes the situation to further deteriorate, may God spare us. Hand sanitizers and social distancing, while helpful, do not offer full protection. The study of Torah and the careful application of its Mitzvos are the key factors in restoring a safe society. Let us all resolve to return to God with a pure heart! And let's spread the word that even Gentiles can have a portion in the World To Come (i.e. the days of Moshiach and beyond) if only they embrace the The 7 Noahide Laws: Universal Morality, taught by Moshe Rabeinu, and which are incumbent upon all governments to require of their citizens and to enforce.

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UPDATE

20 Tamuz 5780

Melbourne is now experiencing a second wave. We are told that the danger is greater than before. The Premier has sent us back to stage 3 lock-down. How much Mesiras Nefesh should we have to attend Minyonim and to send our children to school?

Now more than ever, we must add in Torah and Mitzvos (and gentiles should add in deeds of goodness and kindness, and embrace the The 7 Noahide Laws: Universal Morality), as above. Of course, social distancing should be practiced, but we shouldn't lose focus, that our main protection is Torah, T'filo and Tzedoko. If the Premier has instructed students of "important" year levels (10-12) to attend school, then a fortiori Shuls should remain open. Indeed, the DHHS has confirmed that Minyonim are legal if the organizer self assesses and deems it an essential service.

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UPDATE

12 Menachem Av 5780

A timely letter was sent to The Premier of Victoria Mr Daniel Andrews. It can be viewed here. A response from Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen was received 3 days later and can be viewed here.

A few days later Mr James Newbury MP, who was copied into the original correspondence, acknowledged the letter written to the Premier. A response to his email can be viewed here.

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UPDATE

28 Elul 5780

Tomorrow night is Rosh Hashono (the Jewish New Year) and Shuls (Houses of Worship) are still closed. We will not be able to celebrate with communal prayers as we have been doing for thousands of years.

Our Premier, Mr Daniel Andrews, was contacted by numerous religious bodies and was presented with responsible and safe strategies, so that the government could officially allow Minyonim (prayer groups) to gather in Shul at least for the Holydays with strict conditions. He must surely be aware that the current limitations have weakened the good will of people to work together as a team with the Victorian government to socially distance and get tested for Covid-19 (and report and quarantine) where appropriate. So far the Andrews government has not responded with real compassion to our cause, perhaps due to the political environment in the current lockdown stage.

It's a real shame and a great loss to the entire Victorian population. When Jews pray together as a group and with that group’s special prayers, the whole world benefits. Especially on our New Year, our prayers are explicitly directed to stimulating God’s blessings for the benefit of all humanity. Let's hope Mr Andrews surprises us; there's still time.

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UPDATE

12 Elul 5781

In response to an email that I received recently,

Dear Rabbi,

We have all watched the news of 69 arrogant individuals that attended a party because of a twisted view that parties are support groups and we have heard on the radio some apologetic voices of certain leaders of the ultra-orthodox communities condemn the outrageous and dishonorable engagement party. In this vein, some rabbis have also explained that illegal prayer groups are not only unethical and against the current government policy, but essentially against Jewish Law that mandates that health and safety be placed before anything else (Chamura sakanta m’Isura). “Attending a Minyan is merely rabbinic whereas the obligation to guard one’s health is biblical.” I’m curious whether you at all sympathize with the offenders? I have heard that there still exist individuals in the jewish community that even praise the actions of the uber-religious and find them acceptable or even, perhaps, praiseworthy. Where do you think this attitude is coming from? Finally, do you know of any rabbis that in fact encourage their constituents to go attend a Minyan and go against the law of the land?

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Dear ,

Thank you for your email, and particularly for your candor.

I believe you’re asking three questions. Firstly, whether I support the notion that Jews should respect the law of the land. Secondly, whether this requirement is supported by a Jew’s general halachic requirement to stay home and not attend a Minyan at a time of (health) crisis. And finally, whether the individuals that attended the engagement party are rude, arrogant, and disrespectful.

I have already explained at length (see above) that attending a Minyan, especially during a crisis, is safe as well as critical. Plagues are sent as a punishment for wrongdoing and prayer and Tshuva are its antidote. Every human being is expected to respect God’s Commandments (The 7 Noahide Laws: Universal Morality). Additionally, according to Shulchan Aruch, attending a Minyan, although Rabbinic in nature, is more important than a Biblical obligation as it sanctifies publicly the Name of God Almighty. And unless the immediate risk is high, the Mitzva protects the person attending. Their (marginal) contribution to the spread of Covid is outweighed by their essential nature.

There is no current program to quash Covid-19. None of the governments have ordered a universal lockdown. They acknowledge the importance of exercise, shopping for food and other essentials, and education (to name a few). And they have dismissed the need for Minyonim. This is why these and other similar activities have not been added to the list of reasons to leave one’s home. Here lies their second mistake.

Legal consciousness is part of daily life and at times it is difficult to strike a proper balance between our obligations to G-d and to our fellow citizens. Sometimes contravening the current law of the land is understandable and recommended. Sometimes it is required. This doesn’t mean that the offender shouldn’t expect to suffer from the consequences of his/her actions. It just means that he or she is prepared to cover the cost of the fine (or sit in jail) to help curve the opinion of parliament.

Finally, the comments recorded on video were not said in a formal setting. The pleasant atmosphere at the party, after months of lockdowns, invited such words to be said in levity (not defiance, disobedience and contempt).

And remember, when anyone leaves his home for (what he may deem) “essentials”, he will undoubtedly contribute, marginally, to the risk of spreading of Covid. He doesn't have to break the law to do this.

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UPDATE

3 Tishrei 5782

Today we experienced a great Kidush Hashem. Unfortunately we will see many more altercations with our gentile neighbors and the police. If only there was a greater understanding and tolerance, Victoria would be a safer place. Double standards and narrowmindedness will be held responsible for the intensified anti-Semitism in the media and elsewhere.

On Mornings with Neil Mitchell (08/09/2021), we hear Neil arguing that the police's behavior wasn't anti-Semitic and that the congregants are violent selfish thugs because Jews have the option to pray at home. His words, although expressed earnestly, were based on misinformation. Davening in Shul, with a Minyan, is a halachic obligation.

In this week's Torah portion we read that Hashem says that He will hide. The Baal Shem Tov explains the double expression (in chapter 31 Posuk 18) to imply that before the redemption Hashem will conceal the concealment, meaning that it will be so dark that people will consider the darkness - light.

Redbacks and tarantulas (although their bites can be fatal) aren't aggressive creatures. But if you threaten their 'home' you're asking for a fight. And when the "Black lives matter" protests took place last year in the city, the government was empathetic to their cause and supported the rally. And if aboriginals reacted in a similar fashion when their sacred turf was being threatened, the portrayal in the news would have been quite different.

Coles can remain open (even for those unable to wear a mask) even though online shopping is a convenient alternative and builders can work together indoors because their unions made sure to achieve its legalization.

Local law sympathetically states that when removing possums(!) from one's home, they must be left close by so that they do not feel displaced. Shulchan Aruch states emphatically that the Shul and Beis Hamedrash are the true home of a Torah scholar for this is where his heart and mind lie.

A more balanced, empathetic and responsible way to slow the spread of Covid-19 in our communities in particular, would be to work with the communities to establish safe practice guidelines, instead of forcing people to hide in small areas to fulfill their halachic obligations.

A published letter of Rabbi Yaakov Glasman Petition to the Victorian government

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UPDATE

4 Cheshvan 5782

Someone just wrote to me the following:

"Good morning Rabbi you are one of the more intelligent people I know. Please watch this article and I hope you will get some knowledge that will help you understand what’s going on."

My response:

In this 2-hour (controversial somehow interesting anti-vax) video, the author alleges that all current governments are corrupt as they are controlled by a small group of greedy billionaires who wish to control the size of the world population. The underlying message of this video is that we should stop craving salvation of a tyrant government and instead stand up for ourselves and resist the tyranny and dictatorship of the sinful few.

Even if we were to buy into his narrative, the author fails to address the fact that no governance is worse, as our sages (Pirkei Avos 3:2) teach that one should pray for the welfare of the government for without it there would be chaos. A more appropriate message would be to help publicize the importance of Torah and Mitzvos; Hashem is the Creator and Ruler of the entire world and the Torah is His Rulebook.

The Jews were given the Torah and they were empowered to teach humanity ethical behavior. Same-gender relationships ("marriages") and safe pregnancy abortions aren't acceptable choices just because people (currently) deem them to be legal and ethically sound. It is a sin to watch idly the growing acceptance and truculent respect for the deterioration of society as it denounces the Eternal Morals and Values of our Creator as laid down by the Torah.

The only way forward is to embrace God's Moral Code which includes the strict adherence to and proper respect for The 7 Noahide Laws: Universal Morality