Tarti Mashma/Double-Entendres

The Judean hills were alive with the sound of music this past Shabbos. The Von Trapps provided no assistance. Yerushalayim residents, chafing like everyone else from quarantine, had been told just before that restrictions were beginning to be ever so-slightly-relaxed. Shuls remained closed, of course. But it became possible for people to daven on the streets, in parking lots, and in courtyards. So more and more outdoor minyanim began to spring up in the days before Shabbos. (The morning after I joined one at my familiar shul, I knew things were heading back to more familiar territory: the meshulachim were back.)

By leyl Shabbos, there were lots of people davening in different locations, all of them outdoors. The result was literally music to the ears, as Shabbos – always palpable here – became audible as well.

Beautiful, right? Well – yes and no.

Taking in all that Shabbos ruach was exhilarating, to be sure. But some people were taking in more than they expected. Compliance with the Health Ministry mandatory guidelines was less than stellar. (This is in a mixed neighborhood, where there are more of both Dati Leumi folks and seculars than charedim.) I was startled by how many people I passed in the street were not wearing masks at all. Among those who did were people who tried to have the best of both worlds, and covered their mouths, but not their noses. (Let us hope that they don’t get the worst of both worlds…)

My brief forays out into the neighborhood assembled ample evidence of the wisdom of moreinu Rav Asher Weiss. Just days earlier, he took to YouTube to urge the charedi community not to reopen yeshivos, even according to the plan worked out with the Health Ministry. It’s just not practical. You can’t expect teenagers, who don’t feel the same threat, to be able to abide by the draconian measures of their proposed confinement in their yeshivos. We did not have the right according to halacha, he argued, to take a chance with people’s lives. From what I’ve seen, we can’t expect compliance from adults either. Too many, having dutifully obeyed for close to two months, have pretty much reached the limit of their patience, or their conviction that they were contributing to the Greater Good.

The fevered pitch of anti-charedi sentiment here seems to have died down. Some of the press pieces condemning the entire charedi population were met with more balanced analysis, both here and in the US. Similarly, an Israeli team did a good, balanced job presenting the impact of covid on the charedi community of NY. (It is probably no coincidence that this starred one of the participants in the Tikvah summer program for bnei Torah that I was privileged to lead for a few years.)Those rightfully pointed to a number of factors that removed much of the blame from the community. Purim, after all, spread the disease before anyone in Israel or the US had implemented any changes in life-style at all. High-density living may have made any effort at containment irrelevant.

Writers – including a few outside the Orthodox community – were even able to point to the double standard that was used against charedim.. The high infection rate of some other minority communities was attributed to racism (i.e. white privilege assuring the unequal sharing of job and education resources with urban minority poor), and the affected populations were treated with sympathy. That sympathy stopped in some cases at the border of Jewish neighborhoods. There, the affected of which were treated as pariahs and perpetrators, rather than victims.

Writing in Haaretz, Avi Shafran targeted the secular readership with what might be called a comprehensive position paper. In Mishpacha, Jonathan Rosenblum turned inward, to questions coming from closer to home. He responded to a US charedi who spoke of the self-doubt in the community as it contemplated its severe tragic losses, and its elevated rate of infection. “Let’s not beat ourselves up,” urged Rabbi Rosenblum, and convincingly demonstrated how so much of the damage could not possibly have been anticipated or prevented. Both of these pieces were, I thought, particularly effective.

That’s good, right? Well – yes and no.

It is good to cut through the illegitimate criticism, and show that “the self-doubts and recriminations are excessive.”. But it is not so good to allow the moment to pass without taking note of the multiple, systemic weaknesses and failures that killed people, are still killing people, and, bederech hateva, will continue to kill people.

It’s not quite true that once the word got out, everyone did what they were supposed to. That is certainly true of the overwhelming majority, but those who didn’t constituted a miyut ha-matzui, a very significant minority. Rabbi Rosenblum’s prediction that, while we were not so quick to respond properly, “we will surely do so in the future” has already shown itself to overly optimistic. Charedim ignoring the protocols were on full display on Lag B’Omer in Meron, Meah Shearim, Stamford Hill, and Brooklyn.

Rabbi Meyer Twersky’s recent incisive piece pointed to the irony of the levaya that ultimately was the cause for De Blasio’s lashing out at the Jewish community. “An inestimable indignity was perpetrated, however unintentionally, when – for the nominal honor of the deceased – people were exposed to danger and, additionally, a chilul Hashem ensued.” None of this occurred because of poor communication and learning late about the dangers of covid-19. In fact, the shul that organized the levaya hosted a large event the very next week – and once again subjected all other Jews to mounting anti-Semitism.

Why was the response in Bnei Brak both a flip-flop, and late in coming? Are we going to question the manipulation of leadership by askanim and grandchildren, as a prominent Bnei Brak rosh yeshiva did? To be sure, if we don’t, a sizeable number of people will ask the questions – and come up with answers far more dangerous than if we probe respectfully, rather than ignore the issue.

Where were we when Kupat Ha’ir guaranteed – yes, guaranteed – that anyone who donated 3000NIS would be spared from infection (and rewarded with a silver amulet, to boot)? Did we recognize this as directly imperiling the lives of thousands of people, who could then go about their usual routine, without taking any precautions? In a subsequent interview, a ranking member of the court argued that anyone who would not take advantage of such a guarantee could only be something between a maskil and an apikorus. Did we protest the bizayon ha-Torah in such a position, that makes Torah Jews look like simpletons, rather than discerning and wise?

Why does that sizeable minority of scofflaws continue to exist? Is there something we can learn by observing where the trouble comes from, and where it continues? Does pointing to the misbehavior of spoiled hipsters on Tel Aviv beaches make us feel better? Should we find succor in comparing ourselves with the worst of what the surrounding society has to offer, rather than hold ourselves to the highest standards? When Achan sinned by taking a simple item from the spoils of war, Hashem faulted all the Jewish people. Rav Dessler explains that if the rest of the people had been entirely resolute in listening to Hashem’s command, it would have been impossible for even an individual to act differently. The power of the community is strong. What does the existence of our sizeable minority of people indifferent to the life and death of others, as well as chilul Hashem, say about the latitude that the rest of us have created for them? Was it appropriate for Mishpacha to do a laudatory piece on Kiryas Joel, and the guidelines that were ultimately set down by leadership, without mentioning that it took a call from the White House to make that happen? Do we not believe that this itself was a major chilul Hashem? Should we not try to assess the impact of the minority on the well-being of the majority? Can we try to learn in the coming months how many Jews were left unattended by health-care workers who viscerally reacted to the visuals they watched day after day of very Jewish-looking Jews flouting the law? Will it matter to us?

One of the exculpatory factors that the press belatedly discovered after the first round of charedi-bashing was the isolation of the charedi community. It should be expected, people then argued, that what government officials demanded would be met with suspicion, especially by people who did not listen to radio, television, internet news, or use social media. Let’s grant that. Do we end the discussion there? Or, in trying to understand what went wrong, do we probe further? What are the effects of isolation on a community? Does it create or sustain a bastion mentality, in which everything from the outside is treif and an existential threat? Does it create an artificial self-importance of its own, in which everything and everyone else deserves derision, and encourage trying to get around the law whenever possible? Does it create a contempt for authority in general, other than Torah authority as conveyed by a particular local leader? Does the lack of secular education play a role in failing to recognize new realities (some bad, some good) in the people in the surrounding culture? If it does, and the effects are harmful and affect the rest of us as well, should we continue to prop up their attempts to keep minimum secular education out of their schools? In Israel, charedim earned a well-deserved Hiroo Onoda statuette for historical accuracy. This, for their successful campaign to depict the government as hell-bent on the destruction of religion as its chief raison d’etre. Did that knee-jerk rejection of any good coming from the government and the IDF contribute to the suffering and death of people?

Should we not be asking all these questions now, when we are motivated?

Some people are. Some in the charedi world are questioning whether their isolation is something they can live with, and are quietly seeking ways to inch a bit closer to the Israeli mainstream by looking into employment and academic opportunities.

That’s good, right? Well -yes and no.

It’s good if it works for them, i.e. if they get the proper support and guidance, so that their ruchniys is not harmed in the transition. It’s bad if they will encounter so much pushback from family and community, that they will decide that charedi life – with all its attendant spiritual blessings – is not for them.

MK Aryeh Deri recently observed that 70% of the covid-19 in Israel is in the charedi community. He said that he has access to stats that others don’t, and that is why his number is even more bleak than others that are bandied about. That sobering number, he said, calls for a cheshbon hanefesh/a taking stock. It is not clear whether he meant a spiritual accounting as to why charedim were so hard hit, or a more mundane analysis, of attempting to learn where the system failed. The ambiguity probably mean that a good number of readers will take it both ways.

That’s good. Well – yes!

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116 Responses

  1. Thank you.
    As you imply, a problem that arises from obdurate cultural isolationism can not be solved. Whether that isolationism stems from fear or from self esteem, any attempt to alleviate it will inflame it.

    • nt says:

      In this CC post and a previous one, you mentioned the need for reappraisal of “statements” of Gedolim. Unfortunately, for many years now, the unreliability of these statements has been an open secret/running joke in the yeshiva community. I am not sure it would even be controversial in your typical beis medrash to compare them to click-bait. Whoever steps forward first to “bell the cat” will probably pay a high price in the media, but many people would be relieved to stop pretending every offhand comment made by someone who would much rather be learning needs to be treated k’Moshe mipi haGevurah.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Even when statements are authenticated and intended to spur action, not all receivers of the message follow though. Also, how do we know which statements are based on incomplete information or misrepresentations supplied to the posek? This last problem could be alleviated if all public decisions were thoroughly explained to the public.

      • nt says:

        BOB MILLER: how do we know which statements are based on incomplete information or misrepresentations supplied to the posek? This last problem could be alleviated if all public decisions were thoroughly explained to the public.

        Unfortunately, there is no good answer currently, which leads to some people giving up on listening to gedolim entirely. I once heard a major askan listing which Gedolim’s “chatzerim” were unreliable. His words were something like, “I don’t trust anything that comes out of Rav Ploni or Rav Ploni’s chatzer; Rav Ploni has a little more control of the people around him.”

        Basically, people who are respected by the public need to educate them not to believe everything they hear. The issue of gatekeepers needs to be addressed head-on. Hopefully this blog post is a start. People also need to learn that having a personal rav is worth infinitely more than soundbites from across the world, no matter who they are from.

      • dr. bill says:

        Far be from me, but let me try to explain the sometimes outlandish statements of those thoroughly immersed in Torah study. Posekim have classically investigated the circumstances carefully, RSZA ztl being a recent famous example. The Brisker revolution’s impact on many lomdim is to value the abstract over the practical and as a consequence, they do not investigate but rather trust the sho’el. This distinction between RY and Posek is only about 130 or so years old. Unfortunately, in our generation, the dominance of the RY has impacted those seeking pesak who go to lomdim versus poskim muvhakim.

      • nt says:

        dr. bill: Sorry, but RCK is not a Brisker at all. He refers to the Chazon Ish as Maran, and his sefarim do not have Brisker lomdus. Instead, he uses his tremendous bekius and relatively straightforward analysis. RSZA, on the other hand, does have sefarim based on his shiurim that are stylistically similar to your typical Rosh Yeshivas. The problem is really more societal.

      • dr. bill says:

        nt, I realize that RCK is a follower of the method of the CI. nonetheless, both he and his FIL pasken based on what they are told.

        Brisk is an example and its influence is profound even on non-followers.

        RMF and RSZA both wrote seforim like RY. A simple search, however, will tell you what is more quoted their pesakim or hiddushai torah. they were THE poskim of the last half of the century.

        today, for example, RAW is a RY; but he is respected as a/the leading posek

  2. Reb Yid says:

    Those rightfully pointed to a number of factors that removed much of the blame from the community. Purim, after all, spread the disease before anyone in Israel or the US had implemented any changes in life-style at all.

    With all due respect, this is patently false.

    Large swaths of the NY metro Jewish population in NY, NJ and CT were already significantly affected. Many Jewish day schools had already closed. So had an increasing number of shuls. The heart of the New Rochelle Orthodox Jewish community was already being quarantined, as were many thousands of others (including my wife) who had potential exposure to infected individuals.

    Virtual megilla readings were the norm. Purim seudahs were cancelled, as were mishloach manot deliveries. This had the support of local community leaders, both lay and rabbinic.

    The charedi and chasidic segments of the Jewish community were noticeable for their gatherings and celebrations on Purim. Their schools continued to operate as normal. Large life cycle gatherings continued unabated. Agudah was way behind the curve in responding compared to other Jewish and Orthodox groups.

    • lacosta says:

      akin to this , ayen the article in Forward about the Orthodox community of LA , in which the mostly MO Pico neighborhood shut down 10-14 days before the haredi La Brea community . sad [or needless ] to say , the korbanos l”a were mostly in the latter community . Already the flagship MO Beth Jacob has stated they were the first to close but will not be near the first to open [ at a time where there are the occaisional non-allowed home minyanim going on ].

      the last 50 years has shown that there is a significant lag time between when the MO communities admit and/or confront issues [sex abuse ,drugs ,LGBT, etc ] , and maybe how they deal with them—sweeping under the carpet seems in many sectors to be a valid mode of confrontation.

      let us pray for wisdom in the face of the second thru the xth waves of covid , that methods other than amulets and tzedakas are appealed to , that women are not blamed [ de rigeur ] for the magefa etc

      and wasn’t it uplifting to see a two page spread in the haredi mag last week begging people to buy life insurance [ at the same time that Matzav and YWN have nebach double and triple figures of requests for victims’ penniless families r”l…]

      • Commentator says:

        Some other points:
        1. Part of this may be due to the apathetic/dismissive attitude in parts of the frum community towards safety issues of all sorts. This is true of some families, shuls, yeshivahs and other community facilities. It is demonstrated in the USA, the UK and Israel by the annual tragic accidents on tiyulim; by the fires involving candles, hot plates etc; and by various health issues. Not to mention auto safety. Coronavirus is another example, as Rabbi Adlerstein points out.
        2. “Lacoste” mentions life insurance. I have, b”h, three grown, married children and many grandchildren. One of the most important moments of my life was when I held my first baby in my arms. But among the overwhelming feelings I had was of the new responsibility this event meant – especially as I do not come from a family with means. I am horrified by the appeals I am getting every day to help families who have lost parents, r”l. Six children…ten children…in one case fifteen children – all now (assuming the appeals are truthful) without income. Which rabbonim advised these couples that it was OK to have so many children when they could not provide for them? How many healthy families have made provision for family catastrophe? Where is a sense of basic responsibility? I suspect that one effect of this epidemic will be that we will see a quiet trend towards smaller families….
        3. A continuation of the previous point: Many of these appeals for tzedaka specify that “x children are not yet married”. What this means is obvious, and refers to the insane costs associated with shidduchim. A revolution is needed here as well.

      • Joel Rich says:

        Has anyone heard what has happened to those tontine self life insurance programs that were being marketed within the chareidi community a few years back?

      • nt says:

        For the record, while the La Brea community did not shut down as quickly as the Pico community, we did shut down voluntarily well before the city required it.

    • Reb Yid says:

      The other crucial point to add is that no fatalities, Baruch Hashem, at least not to my knowledge, have taken place in the New Rochelle Jewish community. While many in that community initially bristled at the restrictions imposed upon it, they clearly saved lives.

      • Mycroft says:

        Of interest is that in a recent briefing Gov of NY warning of social gatherings referred to the New Rochelle beginning of epidemic that one super spreader attending a couple of social gatherings tied to religious event spread disease to 40-50 people who in turn spread rapidly throughout Metro NY. The original patient and spouse have gone on TV for interviews clearly neither Hareidi or OO, certainly what would be called Centrist. Sadly, if there were Hareidi I suspect much of the anti chareidi crowd would have been out blaming them for the outbreak.
        Other major cause of pandemic came out by the way in a description of how NYC mayor relies on Hospitals head rather than Health Dept for contact, tracing and mentioned thatbNYC closed down much later because head of Hospitals wanted schools open so that there would be child care for hospital workers. I had remembered DeBlasio answering question why not close schools down already, we need people to watch children of hospital workers. I would have heard if head of hospitals were a chareidi, his name normally associated as being a Kohen.

      • Former YU says:

        There was at least 1 fatality in New Rochelle. There also was in Englewood.

    • Bob Miller says:

      All these groups are coalitions, containing some subgroups or individual congregations or rabbis who march to their own beat, even in this situation. Imagine how bad things could have gotten if civil authorities hadn’t come down hard. Unfortunately, many civil authorities like the feel of absolute power and are now loathe to lose any as the epidemic begins to abate.

      • Mycroft says:

        Every authority in US is loosening before public health experts would prefer.Loosening restrictions with fat too many cases to test, trace and isolate. Fewer cases in Metro NY but far above figures considered for epidemic.

      • Charles B. Hall says:

        In most of the US, the epidemic is not abating. We have indeed bent the curve here in NYC but we still are having a lot of new hospital admissions. You can check the NYC Health Department web site for graphs. This isn’t about power it is about saving lives. Compare to Israel’s Health Ministry site where you can see that they really have pretty much beaten the pandemic.

    • Milton says:

      Which shuls in the NY, NJ and CT area were shut down for Purim oustide of New Rochelle, which was shut down by the government? Names please.

      • Reb Yid says:


        For starters, just about every synagogue of every denomination in all of Westchester County had virtual readings. Too many to name. Plenty of shuls as well throughout the remaining metro area in both NYC itself and the surrounding counties.

        By this time, CUNY was also in the process of transitioning to on-line only classes, affecting hundreds of thousands of students (not even taking into account staff and faculty).

      • Charlie Hall says:

        I am aware of none outside of New Rochelle, although many did have remote megillah readings. And the only day schools I know that closed were two in Westchester County and two in Riverdale.

      • Mycroft says:

        Charlie Hall
        My point is exactly, looking at metrics of regions, the 2 per hundred thousand rolling average of Covid hospital admissions is above a level which most of country has even come close to. Look at other states such as North Carolina much lower death rates than Metro NY, they shut down early and even with comparatively low rates are very wary of opening up. Note despite a court case throwing their limits on religious services, many local clergy announced that they will follow guidelines that were promulgated.
        No jurisdiction has attempted to come close to defeating pandemic, seems US is concerned about hospital bed availability more than limiting virus so that fewer will get the virus in the first place.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Charlie Hall–

        There were other schools and other shuls that closed in NY, NJ and CT. But the more pertinent point is that many, many Jewish institutions did indeed make lifestyle changes in some way because of Purim. Purim carnivals were cancelled. Virtual megilla readings were much, much more in evidence. The one shul in our area that did have a “live” megilla reading only had it outside of its building, not inside. We received many “virtual” misloach manot and sent ours out that way as well–many, many fewer personal deliveries than usual.

    • mendacity says:

      Your timeline is off. I live in Brooklyn. My wife and I were carefully following the news- both in the press and by word-of-mouth. The Shabbos before Purim Teaneck and New Rochelle were dealing with a Corona outbreak. There were no known cases in our neighborhoods. We had stopped shaking hands after shul and were told not to congregate. But the possibility of this circulating our streets was still far-fetched. By the Friday after Purim some local schools had closed, others were deliberating. I wanted to cancel my shabbos guest,but it was too late. Everything happened in the two days after Purim.

      • Reb Yid says:

        By the Friday after Purim the RCBC had already issued a proclamation shutting down all shuls and minyanim in Bergen County, as had the Orthodox rabbis of Southern Westchester. This was well underway even before Purim had begun.

  3. benshaul says:

    To quote my old friend “never defend the indefensible”. There is no question that we have a “miut hamatzui” that is running wild, and has caused a tremendous chillul hashem. Looking at the video clips of people breaking into kever Rashbi was discomposing and disquieting, especially for what it portends. Who are these people? Where are the parents of those bochurim? What kind of chinuch produces such behavior? As a charedi, I have difficulty seeing them as part of my coterie. So we do have some soul searching to do.
    Purim I believe, was the game-changer for the charedi community in the USA. Prior to Purim, many physicians in the US were simply unaware of what the virus was. One of the large Yeshivot asked a well known immunologist if they should cancel the Purim Mesiba, and were told NO!
    Hindsight is 20/20, and its easy to find fault in some of the decisions made. For the most part, many doctors were not aware of what the virus would be. I am aware of numerous cases where well meaning physicians gave bad advice-simply out of ignorance of the contagiousness of the virus, and its time-lag to symptoms. So some humility is in order for all of us. Many didn’t take it seriously at first, and some of that is understandable.
    One other point. Mayor De Blasio of NY waited quite a bit of time before closing the public schools in NY, and only did so under tremendous pressure. [there are even reports of teachers who were told to come in AFTER being diagnosed with the virus- and not to inform their co-workers or students]
    If the Mayor of NY isn’t closing the schools, one can at least have some understanding of the mosdos that didn’t close earlier. We have a long history of risking our lives to learn and teach Torah. And while in hindsight it was a mistake, we can at least understand that many mosdos saw De Blasio’s actions as reason or justification to keep the chadarim open. ” If the Mayor doesn’t think it’s that serious why should we stop reaching Torah”.

    • SchnitzelBigot says:

      Okay, let’s blame ot all on Purim. I know of only one manhig who announced that he regrets making a tish on Purim. All others just made fun of the virus on the week of Purim and then freaked out the next Sunday with zero self introspection. On Shabbos Zachor, after the CDC recommended not shaking hands, the Rav in my shul pressured everyone to shake his hand, even when half the people were clearly uncomfortable with it. There is something fundamentally wrong with that.

    • dr. bill says:

      Ben Shaul: you write: “If the Mayor doesn’t think it’s that serious why should we stop reaching Torah”. shtus beno shel shtus. The mayor is weighing health risks against economic consequences. If the risk is low and the economic gain is high, the government will open up many more places. HOWEVER, the halakha makes a different heshbon. Just like pikuach nefesh is doheh shabbat even if the probabilities are very slim, the halakha requires valuing a potential loss of life above possible economic gain. Please refrain from trying to defend what happened. Do not due surgery or practice pesak using only your own abilities. You would be wise to leave these matters to clear thinking halakhists and surgeons.

      • benshaul says:

        I wasn’t paskening, and I never presumed to say I am a posek. I was pointing out that if the Mayor of NY and the DOE of NY didn’t think the risk was that high, there is room to provide a consideration for the decision to remain open. Pikuach Nefesh isn’t a monolith. We celebrate Chanukah where kids put their lives at risk to learn Torah. Granted, that was a decree directed specifically against the study of Torah. But clearly a risk of life is NOT the sole consideration of p’sak, or many of our regular activities would be forbidden or seriously curtailed. Defining the level of risk vs. what is seen as prevalent behavior also plays a role in the judgment of what activities are permitted, notwithstanding the attendant risk associated with it. As such, if the entire NYC public school are still open, it may offer a posek a different view of the defined risk.
        According to your reasoning it should have been forbidden for a Hatzolah member over the age of 50 to answer a call for a covid patient. I don’t mean to be facetious with that statement, rather that the halachic parameters of when pikuach nefesh forbids an activity is more complex than your simple equation of the value of life vs. economic value. That’s a formula to assert the jewish value of chayai sha’a, not the determinant of what we forbid because of risk.
        Thankfully, as I stated at the outset, I am not a posek and don’t have to grapple with these weighty question. However, I have learned enough to know that there are other factors to take into account.
        All that being said, I like most frum jews went into quarantine right after Purim, and IMHO think that those who ignored the rules acted foolishly, or out of ignorance.
        But I think that some of the decisions to keep the schools open -at least before the true nature of the virus and it’s level of contagion were known, were not all made out of total ignorance and hekeirus. I do not defend those who flaunted the rules once the full measure of the virus was known, and share the same angst [and even some contempt] as Rabbi Adlerstein about the state of our brethren.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Some Mayors have more credibility than others. De Blasio had earned a reputation for deceit and incompetence. The idea that poskim would act on his personal say-so or that of the equally incompetent DOE is disturbing.

  4. Joel Rich says:

    The “after action” report for each community should take a hard look at causes BUT will determine which causes are deeply rooted in their “mission statement” and are thus a cost of doing business, and which are not and can be mitigated.

    • dr. bill says:

      Communities must take a hard look for anything to happen. Sadly, there are communities where the belief is that they are already in possession of all the truths that are needed. We see such behavior in a variety of secular settings, where even deeply held beliefs can be questioned.

  5. dr. yidd says:

    Several points:

    1) Do not compare the NY area and Israel. NYC has a similar population to Israel with 70 times the number of deaths. There is much afoot.

    2) The NY area MO community suffered greatly. Just in my own immediate circles, my FIL, 2 MO doctors, one who I grew up with, a major RIETS donor, a young man from shul, etc. all succumbed. Others recovered.

    3) Haredim do not listen as often to secular news and because of some of their news sources’ abominable behavior, they were insufficiently warned of the danger.

    4) Sadly, however, there will be minimal retrospection in many parts of the Haredi world; what went wrong cuts to the heart of hareidi worldviews. Spin-doctors will help to guarantee a minimum level of learning.

    5) A benefit that accrues to the MO community is that normal traditional Jews will no longer feel inauthentic given the extremism most hareidi innovators claim as our authentic halakhic heritage; it is not. One grandson’s heard shiurim from RHS on a continuous basis. He was able to learn be’havrutah almost normally. Another heard shiurim from Eretz Yisroel. For all eight grandchildren, their educations may have suffered, but not dramatically.

    I have risk factors galore; the worse being the medications I take that suppress my immune system but BH controls my neurological disease. I have ventured out with extreme care (fully only once in the last 6 weeks, with layers of protection.) OTOH, I have never had so productive a period of reading/learning in decades.

    Lesson learned, yes, and no. I have jokingly said that I may be able to return to shul only after the coming of Moshiach, but only if he tests negative.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Underlying at least some of the defiance of common sense and reasonable regulations is something not confined to one sector, namely, a superiority complex. We can certainly be superior when we put our minds to it, but the radically stupid actions of some show an immediate need for improvement.

    We give a lot of lip service to our senior Gedolim. When push comes to shove, do we obey them? Do we try our best not to infect them?

    Also, isolation may be overrated as a cause. Lashon Hora and Motzi Shem Ra spread with lightning speed, often electronically, but also through the grapevine. That existing capability can be put to much better use.

  7. Harry Maryles says:

    Telling it like it is. Rabbi Adlerstein, you are to be congratulated for this courageous hard hitting article. It is an important contribution in our effort to combat this virus. I posted about it today and excerpted heavily from it. Please Stay safe!

  8. Raymond says:

    I have an entirely different take on all this. By doing so, I mean no disrespect toward those with who may differ with me on this issue.

    To start with, I am not sure that it is only chareidim who do not trust the outside world. Rather, I think it is a Jewish thing. Blind obedience to authority has historically done us Jews almost unspeakable harm, from the Catholic Church to nazi Germany to the Soviet Gulag to islamoNazi terrorism. “Question Authority” is not merely the anthem of the hippie generation, but of all of us who have learned to mistrust those who are in charge.

    Such ideas are no longer theoretical for me. I look around me here in Los Angeles, and am absolutely appalled and frankly terrified at how quickly America has been transformed into a quasi-totalitarian State, where people are no longer allowed to run their own privately run businesses, where people of all religions are no longer allowed to pray together, where we cannot assemble even long enough to mourn for the dead, or to gather to protest for our inherent rights as Americans, where people can suddenly be fined and thrown into jail for operating a hair salon.

    People say that such draconian measures are necessary to protect our health, but I beg to differ. Or rather, who says that such a view represents absolute truth? Why, because Anthony Fauci says so? Who made him our un-elected dictator of this country? That may be an extreme way of putting it, but that is how he has functioned in practice, even if he himself, oddly enough, did not consciously choose for it to be that way. In America or any other real democracy, differences of opinions are not only tolerated, but encouraged. So is it in our Talmud, btw. But for our officials to have a singular, super repressive policy in response to the Chinese virus, with no dissent tolerated, with all of us expected to blindly obey, is nothing short of a dictatorship. I feel like I am suddenly living in some nightmarish scene from the Twilight Zone, and it scares the heck out of me. Even more frightening is how I seem to be the only one around me who feels this way.

    Now, I might be challenged to come up with some alternative plan to fighting the Chinese virus. I do have such a plan, but first let me point out that there are viruses around us all the time, and other dangers to our lives as well, yet we have not shut down society in response. True, that the Chinese virus is deadly in some cases, but so is driving, yet I don’t see anybody making any moves to outlaw driving. Far more people die of heart attacks than the Chinese virus, but I don’t see anybody outlawing junk food or forcing anybody to exercise. If we shut down society every time some new dangerous disease is thrust upon us by some notorious foreign nation, then we will very quickly die as a civilization.

    As for what my alternative plan is, this may not be the right place to go into the details, so all I will say about it here, is that the basic idea is that we fight the Chinese virus like we fight any other contagious disease for which we do not yet have a vaccine, namely to do whatever it takes to build our immune systems through proper diet, exercise, and rest.

    And so, based on all that i have expressed here, I not only do not fault Chareidi or other Jews who broken protocol by gathering to honor the various traditional Jewish events, but even applaud their resolute disobedience to over-reaching authority. As the motto of the State of Virginia puts it, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to G-d.”

    • writer says:

      You seem to have bought into a belief of ‘freedom at all costs. That is not a Jewish belief. Dr fauci’s opinion does not become less relevant because non doctors did not elect him. Democracy does not create facts.
      The Trump pandemic is one place where we should learn this lesson. The American absolute belief in liberty has its own set of dangers. Stop buying I to new belief systems, like our predecessors did to communism and sabbateanism.

      • Bob Miller says:

        You bought into never-trumpism, a disorder in its own right. Wouldn’t it be best to name this one after its country of origin or its maximum leader who let it fester and spread under cover of disinformation?

      • Steve Brizel says:

        An expert has to have a scientific peer tested axis for his opinion An opinion that is not peer approved deserves to be. Allied junk science and not relied on for determining public policy

    • steven says:

      thank you!

  9. Chaim Twerski says:

    Excellent article, and I applaud you for your candor and courage. I fear, though, that the ones who need to hear your words and contemplate the need for introspection and change and have no ears to hear or eyes to see, for they are indoctrinated to ignore proximate causes. They see the outside world as evil and their science as false. It is nearly impossible to view reality from a radically different perceptive. Maybe, only maybe, some from the fringe may see things a bit differently due to this crisis, but it would be hard to expect more than that.

    • Great to hear from my old (and much wiser) friend. My essay was not aimed directly at those communities. I may be dumb, but I ain’t stupid. There are things that we can try to do, and I suspect we will see more writing about this down the line. At the moment, I have two modest goals in mind.

      1) You are correct. Only those on the fringe may see things more clearly. We can help maximize the success of that fringe in a number of ways. We can help them my validating their feelings from a Torah perspective. We can help them find other like-minded people on the fringes. Once a fringe group reaches a critical mass, it is no longer a fringe group, but an alternative. In a bad way, that is what happened with dropouts. There were always people disaffected with their frum life. One many of them found ways of banding together, they became an alternative that gained strength. We need to do the same in a positive direction for those who are discovering the failures in their sub-communities. Here in Israel, the group of “blue shirts,” i.e. working charedim was once entirely shunned. But they have reached critical mass, and they have discovered each other, and banded together. There are multiple indications that conventional charedi leadership is starting to recognize their existence – if only because they don’t want to lose their votes. Most importantly, there are more people in the charedi world than most of us realize who want an opportunity to build different lives for themselves and their children, without compromising their connection to HKBH, halacha, and limud Torah. They are trying to get into remedial programs so that they can get degrees, or find training programs to provide them with suitable parnasah. Readers who agree with what I wrote should want to support these efforts, and explore programs for charedim like those offered at the Jerusalem College of Technology, and R. Carmi Gross’ hesder yeshiva for charedim.

      2) As I hinted in the posting, we need to reevaluate at times whether to stand behind sub-communities that we disagree with in shitah, but prop up nonetheless because of our (proper) Torah instinct to help other Yidden, even those with whom we disagree. But yesh gevul! When some of those groups endanger the lives of the rest of us, act as chilul Hashem mills, and act to undermine the safety and security of the largest collection of Jews in the world (Hint: it isn’t NY anymore), we need to reconsider.

      • Nachum says:

        “our (proper) Torah instinct to help other Yidden,”

        Surely this is a euphemism for “our instinct to help other Yidden who look like us.”

      • No, it is not. Agudah covering for Satmar is not helping Yidden who look like them

      • Nachum says:

        Forgive me, but I expected that answer. But do you really believe it? You know full well what I meant by “look like,” and of course I can provide plenty of examples in both directions.

      • Yes, I do believe it

      • Bob Miller says:

        Speaking of the American Agudah, which of course is a coalition: Is a coalition necessarily at the mercy of its least reasonable subgroups, who can drag it into disputes of their choosing? The OU is another coalition, and it, too, has factions with their own directions.

      • dr. bill says:

        The OU is dragged right and left; the Agudah seems to have only half of that issue but in spades!! 🙂

  10. David Ohsie says:

    A few things need to be separated:

    1) Response of the leadership: This was mixed. Rav Yitzchak Yosef did an excellent job and stated that the orders of the Health Ministry were to be obeyed as Halachah. Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s response to defy orders and keep the Yeshivas open was incomprehensible and cost many lives. I think that it’s easy to understand that if the leadership in a tight-knit community blunders badly, then the followers will be negatively affected. [For those who will attempt to distort Rav Chaim’s words in a misguided attempt to protect his honor, please see this video: https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5698287,00.html ].

    2) The actions of individuals: Every society will include those who careful to abide by the rules, those who flaunt them and many in between. This applies to all groups, so you will find secular and centrist who also are not careful in probably similar proportions. The special issue here for the Orthodox is that our history makes some of us very suspicious of civil authority so that some subgroups don’t consider civil authority to be a guiding force to begin with. These groups are uniquely vulnerable when there is a lack of religious leadership. they aren’t flaunting the rules; they just don’t regard them as rules. Turning that around requires better leadership (see #1).

    3) For those communities where the leadership and norms are aligned with the civil authorities (and most Orthodox leadership has come around), we have the opportunity to do much better than the average in society. The constant mutual reinforcement aids us in doing the right thing once we are pointed in the right direction.

    4) The Orthodox are not the only groups with a failure in leadership. The entire US is suffering from this at the national level.

    • Bob Miller says:

      While the lawful orders of civil authorities need our compliance, it’s easy to see that authorities take many different approaches to COVID-19. The reputed experts who work for or against these authorities are also far from unanimous. Within reason, many approaches should be tried by the states in case something actually works. If it does clearly work (unless it happens to be Trump’s idea) it will catch on all over.

    • Yisrael Asper says:

      There weren’t that many who passed away in Israel altogether. How can you say Rav Chaim Kanievsky caused deaths anyhow? 34 in Bnei Brak and 55 in Yerushalayim which alone take up about half the deaths was his fault? Supposedly there was to be 70000 people infected in Bnei Brak with massive death Chas ViShalom. Israel has done amazingly and many countries with comparable sizes of population did not do anywhere near as well.

  11. mycroft says:

    For a positive article about Hasidim/Orthodox Jews and volunteering to help others by donating plasma

    Note newspaper with positive article.

    • benshaul says:

      Read the article’s comments and weep. Full of vitriol and hatred towards Jews. Sadly, all the article did was provide another forum for the anti Semites to spew their hate.

  12. Schmerel says:

    There may be a very different reason why health warnings are so ignored in certain subgroups which pertain to a very different but perennial issue.

    About thirty years ago, in the pre internet days, I asked a respected writer for one of the Israeli Chariedi newspapers why some in the Israeli Chareidi community seems to ignore even legitimate criticism and acts so impervious to the feelings and perceptions some of their behavior and attitudes creates.

    He answered, among other reasons, that a community constantly under attack and ridicule develops a siege mentality resulting in a total distrust of the outside world and a complete tuning out of what they say. Even when what they are saying is legitimate and true.

    Back then, I was convinced that he was only saying it because he felt he had to. Today seeing the endless attacks on the Chariedi world on the internet I agree with his assessment.

    Take the community in Williamsburg who held the funeral and look it at it from their point of view:

    There are endless newspaper articles, online articles, social media sites, movies and books being churned out to ridicule them.

    There is one attempted law after the next to fight them and paint them as stupid primitives who need the government and the more enlightened crowd to tell them how to live (e.g. Metitzah B’Peh, not allowing required separate seating on the privately owned Boro Park – Williamsburg bus, government dictating their educational curriculum and school day setup etc.) Much of which is ostensibly claimed to be for their benefit and out of concern for them.

    The funeral under discussion was arranged with the police coordination that was retracted in middle but they, and they alone, got such national attention for not keeping SD guidelines. And no corona virus in Williamsburg did not spike after the funeral, or any other alleged breaking of the SD rules.

    It isn’t so difficult to understand why they don’t take the warnings from outsiders about SD seriously.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Was their permission to hold the event retracted because of an arbitrary or capricious order of the Mayor, or for a valid reason?

  13. Robert Lebovits says:

    Once again, I propose considering cultural factors at work that have nothing to do with frum affiliation.
    The behavior of the frum communities in NY/NJ is not comparable to that of “out-of-town” communities (for all intents and purposes the communities in LA and – to a lesser degree – Chicago are essentially akin to NY/NJ, owing to the influx of emigres from those states).
    In smaller more distant communities my observation has been that the impact of COVID 19 has been no different for the Jewish population than for the non-Jewish population. Irrespective of level of frumkeit, the overarching ethic has been to abide by gov’t mandates and restrictions of all types. Likewise, the incidence of infection and complications has been no greater than the general population.
    When controlled for population density – which is a primary factor for communicable diseases and which the social distancing guidelines where designed to effectively lower – I wonder if the stats for the NY/NJ frum community are really much different than those of the the rest of the states’ residents. That is to say, there is a certain character to “in-towners” of all backgrounds and religions that distinguish them from the rest of the country and perhaps THAT has been more influential than frumkeit in the responses to COVID we are seeing.

    • nt says:

      No group in LA that I know of disobeyed any direct guidance of authorities. And no, we are not at all like NY/NJ in terms of insularity. We were trying to figure it out the same as everyone else. Besides for Tom Cotton, pretty much everybody was behind the curve on Covid-19. The infection rate was not noticeably worse for frum people than the general population. The Rabbinical Council of California consistently has told everyone to go beyond the LA gov’s rules for social distancing.

  14. lacosta says:

    when considering that the undeniable Sar Hatorah [in some sense the chief rabbi of all haredidom ], clearly falls into the non-rational camp , I wonder if RYAderstein is swimming against the tide….

    • SchnitzelBigot says:

      Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this article. I really needed this article which validated my feelings after realizing that no one was willing to commit to any self-introspection (besides for MK Aryeh Deri). This lack of self-introspection IMO is one of the biggest Chilul Hashems that has resulted from the pandemic. The Agudah should put out a statement why things went wrong in the Haredi community and how things will be different going forward. If that means that Rabbonim who aren’t capable of paskening such questions should be marginalized, then so be it. (Stoliner Rebbe said that anyone who paskens to violate health ministry rules should not be trusted with any psak. Why aren’t all mainstream rabbonim coming out with such statements?)

      • Bob Miller says:

        We’re not too good at public self-criticism, even if the cat is out of the bag and everybody already knows we’re not perfect.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Look at it this way. No one disagrees that we are in the matzav oft least a safek sakana which is predicated on the lack of scientific knowledge and the absence of a vaccine . The question remains whether bureaucratic rules which are promulgated and predicated on what can be legitimately viewed as non peer review validated studies which can be viewed as junk science should be treated as the basis for the same with a reasonable degree of epidemiological scientific certainty and the basis for public policy or Psak Halacha . I merely question whether our communities should be elevating what may very well be junk science to a level of scientific certainty that junk science should not be afforded. Ehrlich’s and Meade’s respective writinsg about the population explosion and ecology were never scientifically vetted but became the rallying cry of academics dedicated to anti growth via the use of dystopian fantasties. We should also be careful as to elevating studies that appear to raise questions as to the data supporting their conclusions into clearly demonstrated scientific facts but support all research working on a vaccine.


    • nt says:

      The problem does not mainly lie with him, but with the grifters who use his name for their political or personal advantage. He does not use the telephone, and yet people act like every remark to somebody in his study is a state of the union address. People ask him moronic questions that anyone with a mishnayos could answer (like what is the minimum shiur for kesivah on shabbos) and instead of telling them to jump in a lake, in his saintliness, he tells them where the mishnah is.

      If you ask someone if you should close all the schools without explaining the pros and cons, of course they will be against it. He probably considered it one more of the silly questions people ask him, and he certainly did not tell anyone to record his answer and distribute it worldwide.

      I think the problem is with people’s ridiculously overinflated sense of da’as Torah, as if the greater and weightier the subject, the less the rules of psak and hora’ah apply. Nobody would think of paskening on a pot based on a comment somebody overheard from a rav without asking themselves, and yet with community wide issues like shutting schools and shuls, we are supposed to settle things based on a leaked video.

      I wish Rabbanim would intercede with him to forbid people from publicizing statements in his name without his express approval, and start pushing back forcefully against the people who just want to generate soundbites. I quote from an earlier piece by Rabbi Adlerstein:

      “Aside: Several of my children pointed to an unusual development. Rav Feldman writes in the latest round that R. Chaim Kanievsky’s, shlit”a, endorsement of voting was based on inaccurate communication to him of the facts. Until such time that the facts are reported properly, R. Chaim’s ruling should be considered irrelevant. This, in fact, is what many, many people have been saying for years. Gatekeepers. Grand-sons. Manipulators. Up until now, however, when people pointed to a flawed communications process, they have been accused of undermining Daas Torah. It remains to be seen whether they will now accuse the Ner Yisroel Rosh Yeshiva of doing the same.”

      The grifters can make this accusation because they have not faced major pushback. When people start saying in public what they say in private, they will be INCREASING kavod haTorah by limiting Torah to the actual Rabbanim and poskim who are qualified to speak, not the Tzidkiyah ben Kanaana’s with theirkarnei barzel

      • Bob Miller says:

        What is the cure for such “grifters”? How about:
        1. Know who they are
        2. Send no money to them or through them
        3. Ignore what they report
        If we can’t find or create the needed kosher channels for money and information, we are truly in a pickle. This threatens us more than physical afflictions.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    I haven’t been in shul since Purim. RHS and R M Willig so paskened that we are in a Safek Sakana WADR one teshuvah that I leant through examining the possibility of a porch minyan examined the proper sources but noticeably did not discuss Pikuach Nefesh Aivah or Chillul HaShem one can ask whether the Ikar Chaser min HaSefer

    The real issues remain the scientific underpinnings and strong evidence of a lack of peer review of one study from the Imperial College in the UK that one sees cited all too often the need for a reset with totalitarian Communist regime in Beijing and the realization that taking risks even with a risk of death are a sign of leadership throughout our own and world history Staying in a permanent shutdown with all civil liberties including free exercise of religion suspended by governors IMO borders on martial law dictated to us by those who would rather see the Malvhus Shel Chesed socially Educationally and economically prostrate

    We need to move on vaccine development in the same way Israel does with a can do model with the bloated bureaucracies of CDC FDA and NIH lowering regulatory obstacles and allowing for as much research as possible by as many companies and university labs

    • Mycroft says:

      Full disclosure I took the MOOC that Imperial College offered on Corvid19. With my America background I did not realize how respects they have in the field. One can see from other non specific MOOCs offered in past few years on Epidemics by other universities, many of the instructors were at ne time or the other at Imperial College, referring to lack of peer review of what they have done in field- one can’t wait- ongoing pandemic, is like stating don’t listen to piskei Halacha of a gadol it hasn’t been subjected to peer review.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Gedolim have a much better track record!

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Ferguson’s study was never vetted by peer review Maybecyou should try Great Courses which have outstanding lecturers who are not afraid of being politically incorrect as opposed to the free and politically correct and scientifically dubious online junk peddled by universities in the US and UK

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    We should rename NY NJ Ct Illinois and California Cuomostan Murphystan Lamontstan Pritkzerstan and Newsomestan until martial law is lifted

    • Bob Miller says:

      Aren’t the voters, including many of us, really responsible for putting and keeping these types in office? It didn’t happen by magic. I think of all the happy photo ops of our machers with such politicians.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Far too many far left liberal politicians shnor for our vote claiming to be the Shomer Yisrael

    • Reb Yid says:

      There was never any national leadership on this issue–unthinkable in a time of crisis. This is what has distinguished the US from virtually every other country, and with predictably disastrous results. States competing against other states (and even the federal government) for needed resources? For shame. And waste. And precious lost lives as a result.

      Trump is losing the senior vote–is it any wonder? He has given them no reason to trust him for their safety and well being.

      • Raymond says:

        Your words have no credibility since no matter what President Trump says or does, you are obsessed with vilifying him. This is consistent with what the Radical Left does to any strongly pro-Israel Republican who has any political power at all.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        If anyone deserves to lose the senior vote it is. Homie whose decision to transfer Covid patients to nursing homes endangered the lives of senior citizens The records of the responses of the governors of Ohio and Florida an and should be easily compared with the responses of NY NJ CT Illinois Pennsylvania Michigan and California whose states are all operating under martial law with prostrate economies businesses collapsing and the Bill of Rights especially free exercise of religionbeing thrown under the bus by their governors who view the pandemic as a means of transforming their states by favoring and discriminating in favor of some at the expense of others I speak for myself and I look askance at any plans for resumption of Tefilah BTzibur that is state approved or is limited to a warm weather parking lot and the near total cessation of everything that we associate with being a kehilah solely such make shift measured don’t even begin to answer how we will function in the Yamim Noraim and the winter when weather will be definitely inimical to an outdoors minyan we should not be satisfied with the rationale that works in vastly different societies such as South Korea works or should work in the US

      • Bob Miller says:

        Indiana is showing signs of life again although some counties, such as Marion County which includes Indy, are lagging. Indy has had more COVID-19 cases as well as the misfortune of a liberal Mayor and Council.

  17. Steven Brizel says:

    Prince Andrew just announced shuls can “reopen” on Shabbos but with no more than 15 people present .Yes we have to watch for Pikuach Nefesh considerations but allowing even temporarily a political dictat as to how when and how many can daven or who can daven is what Communists have viewed as political paradise What about age? Many of us are between 60 to 65 See doctors and are treated and are under control for a variety of conditions? Are we to paraphrase the title of a great movie deemed expendable from Tefilah BTzibur?

    • Mycroft says:

      See OU draft statement which IIRC mentioned that people over 65 should at a minimum be more cautious abut going to schul once schuls reopen.
      Government certainly has a right to limit size of gatherings for public health concerns. It can limit religion if they have similar restrictions on other gatherings. Religious gatherings around New Rochelle were a major source of beginning of Metro NY area pandemic

      • Steve Brizel says:

        It is hard to say what was the cause of the pandemic but blaming any group is scapegoating OTOH the much ballyhooed Ferguson study which lacks peer review and is praised by the mainstream media can fairly be criticized as to whether it is predicated on a reasonable degree of epidemiological certainty

        I do not believe that there is a pandemic exception to the Bill of Rights but since there is at least a Safek Sakana precisely because of a lack of epidemiological certainty I won’t be going to shul for the next month in accordance with the RCA/OU guidelines and question why rush back now if we can all work on reducing the Magefa more

  18. StevevBrizel says:

    If you don’t think that Beijing is engaged in a campaign to enhance its influence by all means at the expense of the US in the Pacific work bodies and by stealing American knowledge by paying university professors you are naive at least

  19. Weaver says:

    Great article!

  20. Steve Brizel says:

    Many years ago, Agudah because of the issue of Chillul HaShemas understood by the Moetzes filed an amici brief against passage of gay rights law in NYC. There are numerous instances court challenges to shut downs of and police actions instituted by liberal mayors against Christians who wish to go to church. Why are we standing on the sidelines on this issue, especially we see no evidence that those who have imposed martial law are in no rush to allow us to resume Tefilah BTzibur and everything else that marks Jewish communal life?

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    Agudah deserves a major Yasher Koach for asking Cuomo to bring school and yeshivas reopening as well as openning of shuls to forefront of issues let’s see what Prince Andrews says

    • mycroft says:

      Apparently USSC ruled that case treat religious houses of worship similartoother places where people congregate
      WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.
      The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority.
      “Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.
      “Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” the chief justice wrote. “And the order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.”

  22. benshaul says:

    I would add another point or two that seems relevant.
    At this point in time, 5/20/20, there are no shortage number of doctors who state that many of the continued restrictions of the quarantine are not based on medical data, but FEAR. Perhaps even politics.
    I’m not going to get into the left vs. right debate, but this argument is being hotly among various non-jewish physicians and politicians.
    That means that once again those Charedim who we like to look down on, actually have a reasonable basis to presume that the ongoing requirements are not real Pikuach Nefesh, but arbitrary capricious decisions made by politicians; or even by doctors who are being overly cautious, (as we would want and expect them to be). The fact is that the medical community did not-and still doesn’t know with any certainty about the virus. Just today the CDC reversed its opinion on the spread of the virus via surfaces.
    Can you really defend a Governor’s decision that a liqueur store is essential and allowed to be open but a church (where they only meet once a week) practicing social distancing is not? That going to Costco and standing in line with 100 people -and a clear lack of social distancing, or the park, is less risk than davening with a minyan with proper social distancing outdoors. C’mon, really!
    I am aware of a minyan that continued throughout the entire time -outdoors, practicing social distancing, and NOT ONE PERSON WAS INFECTED. I’m not opining on its appropriateness as the course of action, but we seem to have lost our bearing on what’s important.
    YES, till Pesach, I would emphatically agree , (for whatever my personal opinion is worth) that the correct action halachically was to close the shuls and schools. But now?!
    Lakewood Hatzalah reports that they effectively have not transported covid patients since chol hamoed pesach.
    Are you aware that there are a large number of complaints against “D.G.” the Israeli health minister? There are published reports that question if the total shutdown was required, and even too extreme. So before we go accusing those Charedim of being ignorant, perhaps they were correct in being suspicious of the rules. Again, I’m not agreeing with those who ignored all of the rules. My point simply is that we need to take a grain of salt to all the opinions of the experts and prognostications.
    Much of the continued pressure to keep the shul’s and schools closed, and much of what is happening now is both political and based on fear. As frum jews, our poskim decide-NOT doctors, and the consideration of the potential risk is not the sole factor in a P’sak.
    I would also add that the behavior of some- threaten to overturn our proper perspective on halacha. Since when has it become a mitzva to drive around and find illegal minyanim and be a moser? Certainly at this point in time?
    Or guidelines and emails from bale-batim to the Rov that reference the NY Times , and what might be said by the goyim about us. Yes, we need to be concerned not adding fuel to the anti-Semites. But that is not the sum total of how we adjucate in halacha.
    We’ve also witnessed the overturning of basic constitutional freedoms that we seem to have accepted without a whimper.
    So, let’s take a breath, start thinking how a rational & frum yid should approach the issue, and be a bit more balanced before assuming that everyone is simply fools and Neanderthals.
    Is it at all possible that the more “modern” type of jews who immediately obeyed the rules to close the shuls were perhaps disinclined to protest because it didn’t bother them as much. This in stark contrast to their wedding or beach/pool parties, where they ignored the rules. Numerous examples abound, google “Woodmere wedding shut down”. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of what is out there. So perhaps it behooves us all to be a bit cautious before casting the first stone.

    • Ya know I love ya, but………

      I could not disagree more.

      The issue at hand is not whether decisions that were made/are being made were the best or the worst. The issue is what people should do when they find the decisions of their elected officials wanting. Most of us prefer to live in a society governed by law, rather than the Hobbesian state of nature. In a society of laws, individuals lose the prerogative to ignore the ones they don’t like – even if they are correct. Many of us don’t want to concede that there are subcommunities within our universe that simply see themselves outside of the law.

      There are two types of these smaller groups. One keeps alive survival tools finely honed through two millennia of persecution of Jews. These include extreme rejection and suspicion of all outside influences, and excellence in gaming the system – which was the only way to live with corrupt laws and corrupt enforcers of those laws.

      A very different group promotes an arrogance and self-centerdness that essentially says, “Bishvili nivra ha-olam. I will lovingly take orders from the Creator – but not from anyone or anything else.”

      Both of these attitudes led to responses that in all likelihood killed people. And should it be ascertained later that not a single person was infected because they played loose with the rules, it won’t matter. They still have to be called out for creating a massive chilul Hashem. The optics were terrible, and optics count. (Ironically, some who disregarded the rules wherever possible come from backgrounds of extreme submission to the will of non-Jewish governmental agencies. Their about-face on this – the complete disregard for the reactions of non-Jews looking in – is remarkable. Or mute testimony to the power of being able to deliver a bloc vote to whatever politician has been doing the shopping.)

      You wrote: there are no shortage number of doctors who state that many of the continued restrictions of the quarantine are not based on medical data, but FEAR.

      I submit that fear is a good thing. Without it, much of the US would resemble northern Italy. DeBlasio only killed 6-10 thousand elderly patients. Remove the risk-aversive tendencies of most Americans, and the toll would be much higher. The overloading of hospitals, and their subsequent inability to deliver care to others who need it, would have killed many people not infected with the coronavirus. Because of fear, governments knew they could get people to go along with draconian measures – at least for some time.

      You wrote: that once again those Charedim who we like to look down on, actually have a reasonable basis to presume that the ongoing requirements are not real Pikuach Nefesh

      Indeed, they have a basis to question the requirements, but not to decide to ignore them. Certainly not to publicly flout them, when so many are looking in. When questioning them, they could choose to call their arguments reasonable, but they would be anti-Torah, which tells us (not mildly suggests) to arrive at decisions based on the majority view of the experts. The majority view is that the guidelines ultimately save lives. That view is halachically dispositive.

      You wrote: Can you really defend a Governor’s decision that a liqueur store is essential and allowed to be open but a church (where they only meet once a week) practicing social distancing is not?
      Yes, I could. Not that I have any reason to defend him. Not that I agree with the argument. But it would go something like this. The government is involved in a delicate balancing act between what seems medically prudent and the limits of the patience of an essentially undisciplined body politic. (By undisciplined I mean not practiced in falling into line for the common good, as happened in Israel and to some extent in more restrained Eastern European countries.) The government can push and prod, but expect only partial compliance, and for only so long. Theoretically, it could decide that keeping people locked up for months without alcohol to keep them from losing their sanity is just not doable, while church-goers just might be able to summon up a bit more patience.
      But all of the above is irrelevant. If there would be no doubt that keeping houses of worship closed was stupid, capricious, and born of malice, the point would be that our friends cannot decide to unilaterally rewrite the law.

      Your wrote: As frum jews, our poskim decide-NOT doctors
      But they decide based on medical evidence. Let’s hope that the poskim you are talking to are those who have access to the best medical advice, and understand enough science to be able to process the information. Me? I’ll go with people like Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig who have long demonstrated their hands-on grasp of medical realities.

      You wrote: when has it become a mitzva to drive around and find illegal minyanim and be a moser
      Wrong on two counts. First, if people’s lives are at stake, you certainly do involve the authorities, just like R Akiva Eiger wrote that the police ought to be invited to enforce the restrictions in his day. Second, be careful not to fall into the usual pitfall about mesirah. Remember, the gemara finds it so odious because of the assumption that once the secular authorities have their hands on a Jew, there is no limit to what they will do to him. Even if you reject the argument advanced by many that this does not describe the criminal justice system in the US, it would still not apply to enforcement of statutes where no criminal prosecution is anticipated. IOW, (halacha v’lo le-maaseh) getting police to enforce a guideline is not mesirah, any more than calling the Health Dept. to get your cheap landlord to provide the heat that he is obligated to do by law and by contract.

      Your wrote: before assuming that everyone is simply fools and Neandertals.
      You mean like the group of rabbonim in Yerushalayim who urged people not to adhere to the guidelines relating to shuls and schools, because we never heard of such a thing before! Not even in the time of Rabbi Akiva Eiger did they padlock shuls. And that disease was much worse. (D’ya that they need an update on the ways that different epidemics are propagated? That maybe they didn’t know so much about any method of transmission a few centuries ago? And if they would have, they would have differentiated between disease transmitted by contaminated water vs. airborne viruses?)

      • Bob Miller says:

        I want to put in a good word for Neanderthals. They lacked free will. Calling any modern people Neanderthals is a Darwinian bad joke. As for the two groups you called out, do you really think there is no overlap and no nuance?

      • No overlap and no nuance?
        No comment!

      • Mycroft says:

        Your comment touches on many different important issues. Ideas are worthy of many posts.
        I don’t know if you realize it but much of your thought echoed a comment by Rav Lichtenstein ZTL about the Gaza disengagement, once ther is a reasonable basis for belief that a position is rational one must follow government because otherwise the world would be just hefkerut

      • ברוך שכוונתי

      • benshaul says:

        Rabbi Adlerstein,
        I have the greatest respect for you and your thought process. I won’t belabor the points you made, and I agree with much of what you wrote.
        I would summarize what I said and WHY I said it -as follows.
        Within the Frum/Charedi communities we had a variety of reactions
        • We have a miut hamotzei within the charedi communities, that disregarded the rules even after the reality of the disease was known. To that -there is no defense and we are in full agreement, (not that you need my agreement). I believe they are outliers and don’t represent the overwhelming majority, and I doubt the consist of more than 5% of the charedi world. Sadly however they are highly visible and tar all of us with their actions
        • There were those whom it took time to come to terms with the reality and need for the quarantine. Some of that is cultural and some is specific to the disconnect that certain elements of the charedi world has with the outside. But IMHO -it wasn’t based on irrationality, foolishness or ignoring medical knowledge. Rather it was partially a lack of understanding and for a portion of those communities a measure of distrust in the motivations of the authorities. Within this subset; the leadership and communities fully adhered to the rules once they were explained. They were also called to task by prominent leaders within the charedi and Chasidic world.
        • A notable majority of the charedi world implemented the quarantine and restrictions immediately upon being advised of the issues by the medical professionals they consulted.
        Your article called for an honest self-assessment of what underlies the system that can produce that miut hamotzie. Once again, we are in full agreement.
        My comments were directed at the perception and other comments that imply that only the charedim are guilty of these offenses and it’s all because of their charedi mindset.
        I won’t defend their actions by saying -well others are doing it as well. That is no defense.
        My point is that these actions, i.e. ignoring the rules and restrictions were done by many in the non-Jewish world and the MO group as well. That implies that it’s not specifically a charedi mentality that produces it. I’m not a social scientist, but one could surmise that there is a minority of people in all groups and cultures whose selfishness or unwillingness to take risk factors seriously motivate their foolish behavior. [While a torah lifestyle should prevent such behavior, sadly, for these individuals within the Torah community they use halacha to defend their actions and to bolster their bias.]
        If this is true, then A, unfortunately I’m not sure there is much we can do about it. B -its not the charedi mentality that is at fault. It’s simply the bad behavior of human beings -some of whom happen to be charedi.
        I do think that there are elements within the charedi community that disregard how their actions are perceived by the outside world, and the chillul Hashem caused. If you have a solution to that one, Moshiach may be here already.
        You wrote “But all of the above is irrelevant. If there would be no doubt that keeping houses of worship closed was stupid, capricious, and born of malice, the point would be that our friends cannot decide to unilaterally rewrite the law.” Here I must disagree!
        If, and I say IF- there would be no doubt that the closing of houses of worship is “born of malice”, then the halacha would override the government rules. That might make the decree to be akin to a gezeirah of sh’mad and might even require ignoring considerations of Pikuach Nefesh.
        Halacha doesn’t take a backseat to dina d’malchusa, and we only apply dina d’malchusa where it doesn’t contradict the torah, and the laws are fair and not born of malice.
        Again, if the reason for closing houses of worship is due to sakanah, then the halacha of pikuach nefesh requires us to close the shuls etc. No argument there. However, if the decision to keep the shuls closed was not based on pikuach nefesh, I strongly suspect that would change the P’sak. And I’m willing to bet that the Doctors who advocate the continued closure of our schools and shuls would rule differently, as their current decision is based on considerations of pikuach nefesh according to their own statements.
        Regarding Fear. Yes fear is a good thing under many circumstances, but what I meant was an irrational fear -not based on medical knowledge. It was to that point that I was addressing.

  23. Steve Brizel says:

    We need to have an honest and frank discussion as to why the mainstream media and far too many blue state governors and mayors regard the concept of herd immunity as not part of any discussion Look at it this way If you have been quarantined in your self contained bubble when if ever dull you find it worth taking a risk and returning to normal life ? Who saws that Sweden’s strategy was wrong and that only the mass shutdowns were the correct strategy? I remain convinced that elements of both could have been employed without the massive economic dislocations suspensions of civil liberties and disruption of life as normal caused by the shutdowns

    • Bob Miller says:

      I’m inclined to give US, state, and city officials the benefit of the doubt for the initial isolation measures. There were great unknowns and great risk. As some of these became better known, the rationale for continuing down that path became weaker and weaker, at least for those under age 65 or 70. But many governors and mayors like the feel of absolute power as does their Democratic Party. If Sweden had as large and concentrated a city and metropolitan area as NYC, their method could have hit a major snag.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Hong Kong shut everything down. In one of the most densely populated places on earth (even more than NYC), and much closer to Wuhan than us.

        Total # of cases? A little over 1,000.

        Total # of fatalities? 4.

        Having clear national guidelines formulated and executed by its leadership, and adhered to by its population, could have made a tremendous difference in the US. We are far and away the worst country in the world in terms of fatalities and it did not need to be this way.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Do you know who runs Hong Kong? Are they truthful in general? Hint—the folks who gave us Wuhan Coronavirus.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Bob Miller:

        If that’s truly your excuse:

        Then try South Korea.

        Or Taiwan.

        Or Japan.

      • Bob Miller says:

        RY, your statement is still wild and unsupported.

      • Bob Miller says:

        RY, the main difficulty is the speciousness of many COVID-19 death reports based on supposition, higher reimbursement for COVID-19 fatalities, etc. The true data for many countries are still largely unknown. But you know the villain of any situation even before it happens.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Bob Miller:

        You are correct in that we still really don’t know how many people have died of covid. Whatever the official numbers are, it’s far more in reality.

        Let’s take Florida as one of many such examples. They do not count some snowbirds in their stats. No-one has gotten any data from them regarding nursing home cases or fatalities. A few weeks ago, the state also instructed its medical examiners to stop listing the cause(s) of death of those it has examined. And within the past week it fired the one person operation who designed and operated its covid dashboard because she refused to fudge data that would minimize what was actually, factually happening.

        In many of the states that have meatpacking plants, the states and plants have stopped reporting data about what is actually going on in them.

        The bottom line is that our country is in far worse shape regarding its handling of the virus than any other. There has never been any national policy or serious effort to tackle this issue. Our President refuses to even be seen wearing a mask and ridicules those who do. He sees this as a weakness instead of a basic health measure and one that takes proper consideration of those around us. He encourages taking an unproven (and dangerous) drug where he has financial interests. He offered the wonderful idea of taking bleach. Those who follow him blindly thus take these and other cues from him with predictable results.

      • Dovid says:

        Please check a recent article in the NY Times about how Peru prepared way in advance but they have still been hit hard. North African Arabic-speaking countries have been hit hard while Arabic-speaking Gulf States have not. The Gulf States are much more international than Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt.

        Point is, your simple formula of COVID stats being commensurate with “preparation” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and, for lack of better superlatives, is way too oversimplified.

        Also, chronic knee-jerk defenses of Beijing is discomfiting. Relying on the stats of a regime who have 1 million ethnic Uighurs incarcerated in “correctional facilities” besmirches pollyannists.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Also see:
        This is an object lesson for anyone who doubts that data can be politicized.

      • lacosta says:

        there is no question that totalitarian states and states where the populace is used to state control and/or war/disaster conditions [israel ] have an advantage. government officials coming to remove people from homes to temporarily jail them might work in upper class left wing areas of USA , but that leaves out the vast majority of the country , where said functionaries would be met with a rifle butt [at best ]

      • Reb Yid says:


        The countries that made vigorous national efforts to test, isolate and trace came out far, far better than those who did not.

        No-one disputes this.

      • Bob Miller says:

        RY, why do you think NYC and NYS were the epicenter for COVID-19 in the US? No one remotely associated with Donald Trump determines public health policy there. Without the epicenter, cases there and beyond would have been much fewer. As it was, cases beyond that area were in line with the better overseas results.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Bob Miller:

        NY and NJ were the epicenter because that’s where the vast bulk of flights from Italy (and later, Italy via the UK, after the EU travel ban) entered the US. JFK and Newark, followed by Chicago. NYC’s density then entered the picture.

        The vast bulk of direct flights from China land on the West Coast. We may have shut the front door (albeit belatedly–450,000 travelers had already come directly from China to the US before the ban, and then another 40,000 even after it), but we left the backdoor wide open.

        And it is precisely the federal government which is in control of customs at these airports–not city or local officials. There was next to no screening of travelers entering our country. When the flight ban from Europe was announced, there were then immensely long lines (no social distance) of travelers at airports like JFK and OHare with no effort by the federal government to beef up its personnel to handle these travelers either efficiently or safely. The governor of Illinois, in particular, voiced a very loud and clear musar schmooze to our President to get his act together pronto as chaos was unfolding at O’Hare.

        But then, our President has already clearly stated that he assumes no responsibility. Well, that’s true for just about everything these days. What a leader.

        Most other airports around the world had much more serious screenings–travelers were then shocked at what they experienced (or rather, what they did not experience) when entering the US.

  24. Steve Brizel says:

    The rabbanim in our communities clearly gave Chiluki demos but WADR those rabbabim who evaluate the situation without factoring in medical knowledge considerations of Pikuach Nefesh Eivah and Chillul HaShem as such factors affect the entire community as opposed to their yeshiva shul etc IMO raise the issue of whether Ikar Chaser Min HaSefer in both their analysis and conclusions ( one wonders whether the elevation of Tefilah BTzibur over considerations of Pikuach Nefesh by so many rabbanim and so many Bnei Torah is a sign of the Olam haFuch that is s sign of Ikvesa DMeshicha) I saw what purported to be two minyanim yesterdday outside with no masks or distancing in our community which is within a zip code with some of the highest numbers of Covit in the Five Boros of NYC l remain convinced that any and all such groups are antinomian in nature and that we should wait given the evolving medical knowledge

    • Bob Miller says:

      In the absence of really compelling evidence to the contrary, people will stick with their preconceived ideas and strategies. Changing direction is an admission of failure as opposed to concession to reality.

      Also, some people have resolved not to be compelled by mere evidence! Galileo ran into this problem.

  25. Ben Moshe says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this clear and cogent path through a sincere and complicated discussion.

    When asked last week in a local frum store I needed to visit, why I was taking social distancing “so seriously” (and wearing a mask) I told the questioner, amidst a crowd of careful, and not so careful, shoppers:

    “How often in your life do you think you will be presented with this unique opportunity of being מחמיר במצוות פיקוח נפש ברבים? This is a rare opportunity to demonstrate publicly one’s adherence to the Greatest mitzvah in the Torah.”
    When combined with the terrifying psak of the Rambam that חילול השם אין בו תשובה , one might hope it becomes logical to put aside the many missed תפילה ברבים etc; even if we go with Rabbenu Yonah’s escape clause.

    And this ignores the woeful ignorance (and wilful lack of concern) about what such Chilul HaShem behavior has already contributed to the negative opinion of millions of Americans about “Orthodox Jews.” Listen to the pre-Pesach nationally broadcast question and answer interview with Governor Cuomo; where a reporter asked him “why Orthodox Jews aren’t” paying heed and care to the restrictions.

    The said governor, thankfully, did not launch into a diatribe about us specifically. He rather castigated all violators. But the egregious Chilul HaShem damage was done. And this was only one such very scary example.
    הלואי דער עם חכם ונבון האבן אביסעל שכל.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Big city people are especially prone to cynicism and flippancy about everything. This attitude passes for sharpness. This is not the Torah way, but it seeps into our lives.

  26. dr. bill says:

    There was a talk yesterday, May 24 on Tikvah by Rav Yehoshua Pfeffer a self-described hareidi. Given that he appeared on a Tikvah broadcast with Rabbanit Christine Hayes, my guess he is a Haredi light, in the Rav Adlerstein or Rav Osher Weiss or RSZA ztl camp. Both talks are well worth listening to intently.

    I will withhold comment, except to say, Rav Pfeffer’s talk after his discussion of three factors
    might be added as an addendum to Fineve Drashot, ve’hamaivin yavin.

    I fear that before it happens, Moshiach will have to arrive. Nonetheless, it was refreshing to hear

    • Steve Brizel says:

      R Y Pfeffer represents that part of the Charedi world that seeks to empower their communities educationally and economicLly without losing their identity as Charedim His articles anywhere Re always worthy reading

  27. MK says:

    “There were those whom it took time to come to terms with the reality and need for the quarantine. Some of that is cultural and some is specific to the disconnect that certain elements of the charedi world has with the outside. But IMHO -it wasn’t based on irrationality, foolishness or ignoring medical knowledge. ”
    It would seem that “cultural factors” or a “disconnect with the outside world” that can result in such a grave disregard for a medical consensus, including hundreds of frum doctors, warning of dire consequences, deserves to be called “irrational, foolishness and ignoring medical knowledge.”
    I can’t think of a better description!

    • benshaul says:

      You are ignoring the point I was making, and seemingly looking to find fault.
      A lack of knowledge isn’t “irrational”. The cultural factors and a disconnect from the general society CANNOT be conflated with a “grave disregard”. Its simply that – a “lack of knowledge”. And those groups DID conform once they understood the issue and danger. To be clear , I’m not referring to those who ignored the medical advice all along, rather those groups who’s disconnect from general society caused a time lag for them to become aware of the issues.

      • dr. bill says:

        ben shaul, a lack of knowledge is not irrational in the case in point but it is irrational overall. Particularly leading figures, be they poskim, RY, askanim, etc. must be either rational and well versed in the reality or required to step aside and defer to those who are. odd that this lesson has to be relearned so often. it is explicit in the Talmud

      • MK says:

        I am only responding to you because Rabbi Adlerstein evidently respects you, despite strongly disagreeing with you.
        I don’t typically respond to someone who doesn’t have a discussion without accusing me of “looking to find fault”.
        So you owe him big! 😉
        A lack of knowledge may or may not be irrational. Not knowing Shakespeare is not irrational (not to say that here is no value to knowing it).
        Not knowing that fire is dangerous is living irrationally. A parent not knowing that a sore throat can be strep and can be very dangerous, is living irrationally.
        I’m not sure what “lack of knowledge” you are referring to in this case.
        It doesn’t sound that you simply mean that they don’t have internet etc. so it took longer to “find out about it”.
        If you mean not knowing that if the medical establishment , including frum doctors (that should not be necessary) says that we face a very contagious dangerous and life threatening virus, that we need to take that very seriously and follow their directives, I would say that is living irrationally. To live rationally (and Halachically!) in this world means to not dismiss warnings of doctors and scientists.
        I think that you may be overly generous by saying that they needed time to become “aware of the issues”. It seems more likely to me that they needed to see significant number of people die and a huge number hospitalized , as predicted by the medical community, to take the warnings seriously enough.
        That seemed to be the case with some in leadership that were begged to close the Yeshivas and waited.
        At the very least, I totally agree with Rabbi Adlerstein that, given the tragic results of the “disconnect” , “rational” or not, we should be questioning whether that “disconnect” should be examined and perhaps eliminated / modified.

      • dr. bill says:

        MK, Rav Adlerstein knows that I am a traditional Jew and we both express views within the traditional Jewish tent.

        My point is that everyone suffers from an irrational incident or two. Some may even have life-threatening consequences. However, we are witnessing something far worse. Those with a disdain for anything but learning Torah as practiced by say Rav Shach ztl, end up incapable of being a leader and posek. They may be living an ideal existence but not one that prepares them to opine on the issues of the day. The Sanhedrin did not learn 70 languages from learning Torah. The Metonic relation which hazal adopted is nowhere in Torah, (thank God, it is faulty) nor is the average lunation (almost but not quite exact and more critical) nor the relationship between stars and darkness. Shmuel did not become a baki be’shivielai de’rakiah by studying Torah. Rabbis without such knowledge did not attempt to create calendars.

        there were many great hareidi poskim who worked diligently to acquire secular knowledge to pasken; today there are defenders for those who do not. that i find problematic.

  28. Steve Brizel says:

    Right now the violent riots that appear to be anarchist directed (and funded from bricks to tactics to bail money ) that the mainstream media quaintly describes as “protests” and which show no social distancing whatsoever in almost every American city may do more to spread the virus than anything else

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