The Coronavirus Confusion Complex - Halachic opinion
12 Teves Adar 5782
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.
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.
18 Iyyar 5780
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.
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.
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.
12 Menachem Av 5780
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.
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.