COVID-19 Extremes – Too Much of a Good Thing?

Anyone who has observed me these past five months through the present knows that I adhere to COVID-19 precautions with utmost seriousness. I wear a mask everywhere, shun crowds, and have quite often walked in the street in order to avoid passing people close by on the sidewalk. And for the first few months of the pandemic, I wore disposable gloves when going most everywhere. You get the picture.

I know individuals who died from coronavirus, as well as many people who became extremely sick, including hospitalization, ventilation, and long-term acute damage. To deny the seriousness of this lethal health crisis is to deny reality.

Many states and countries are sadly still in midst of COVID-19 waves. To read of people making light of it is quite upsetting.

That said, as with everything, there needs to be a balance. Not a balance between safety and economic prosperity, but between safety and sanity, and between health and actuality. When extreme and unwarranted precautions are contrived and implemented, the consequences need to be very carefully considered.

In many areas, including my own, the COVID-19 death, hospitalization and positive test rates are lower than low, for several months straight; BH! Masks and social distancing are required, various indoor activities are still off-limits or severely restricted, but the most stringent and rigid of epidemiologists concur that a large scope of activities is safe and has been so for quite some time. In many situations, not only is defying these medical guidelines and opting to be stricter than the strictest of experts detrimental in terms of unnecessarily depriving oneself of important necessities (not to mention when such an approach is imposed on others – especially children), but it can even lead to very serious and unexpected negative consequences.

For example, in most Northeast states (with coronavirus positive test results and other essential metrics at near zero levels for months), attending houses of worship – with masks, social distancing and other mandated precautions – is deemed safe. In my experience, it is far safer than going to a grocery store or pharmacy, etc., where one often brushes against others in narrow aisles. Yet I recently read about a middle-aged man whose shul holds minyanim exclusively outdoors, in the 95-degree scorching midsummer sun, write about his tefillin sustaining serious heat damage thereby (!). I imagine that the risks of dehydration and heatstroke under such conditions are also very significant, and I ask, with all due respect, if being “extreme about pikuach nefesh” by refusing to daven indoors, despite the strictest of medical experts permitting it (with masks, etc.) in such areas, is perhaps being misapplied.

Recently, I sought to stop in for a minyan in New York City away from my immediate neighborhood, but I was told that I could not attend, nor could I enter to learn in this shul’s beis medrash. The shul requires masks and social distancing, to which I am accustomed – but since I was not a member of this shul, I was barred from entry, despite my intention to comply with the rules and to do whatever else might be required, such as a temperature check, attesting to having no COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to others with symptoms, etc. The shul had plenty of space, but it added a weighty restriction that is absent from any set of governmental regulations for houses of prayer. (Not to mention stores, offices and most other establishments, which everyone is free to frequent so long as they wear masks and maintain social distancing, according to even the strictest of guidelines. Why a shul is so different such that it should be subject to an additional, acute layer of limitation is anyone’s guess. And no, this is not a shul in a nursing home or full of elderly people. During my previous attendance at this shul, I was actually among the oldest present!)

How many thousands upon thousands of our fellow Jews are still not davening and/or learning Torah as they could be, due to voluntarily-adopted, drastic precautions that do not reflect the facts on the ground? I am not in any way advocating a free-for-all, in which people cram into shuls and batei medrash to daven and learn together in close proximity; rather, I ask why unabridged, socially-distanced in-person tefillah, learning and shiurim, with masks and all the precautions from A to Z, cannot be done by those in good health. It would comply with the strictures of the most unyielding epidemiologists, in phase 4 areas that have no connection to hotspots and have been safe for months.

After my region entered phase 2 of its reopening, I scheduled a few routine appointments at Columbia University Medical Center that I had put off. The multi-stage entry to Columbia was rigorous, with temperature screenings and an array of tight COVID-19 safeguards at every checkpoint, from vastly distanced seating in the (very empty) waiting room, to a strenuous deep disinfecting of the examination room, to the special, multiple added layers of protective garb worn by each physician, and so forth. BH that I was able to have these appointments, which went well, and during which each doctor told me that his department had been seeing regular patients for some time already. No one was in a panic; the staff was ultra-careful, but conducted their important business, to the great benefit of all.

Shortly thereafter, my attendance at those medical appointments came out in conversation with acquaintances, who seemed surprised. One person asked me how I traveled to the appointments, and when I replied that I took the subway, the response was one of shock. The fact that the subways were empty, meticulously disinfected, and permitted by strict health department guidelines did not matter. “I’d be terrified to take a subway!!” was the reactionary response, without any knowledge of the facts on the ground. This attitude of panic and phobia about travel and doctor visits has resulted in millions of Americans delaying medical tests and treatments that are vital to their health, as well as a frighteningly steep decline in childhood immunizations.

Rabbis are not epidemiologists, nor are most people. The Torah adjures us to heed medical advice and to be very cautious; but to devise our own health standards and thresholds, when unsupported or contradicted by the strictest of medical professionals, is something to question. This same attitude of creating our own approach to medical issues, going way above and beyond anything mandated or even suggested by health specialists in the specific field of concern, can lead to serious unintended consequences, such as the anti-vaccine movement.

The axiom of Shomer pes’aim Hashem (conducting oneself according to publicly-accepted general risk/benefit safety standards) may not apply when a pandemic is raging, and excessive measures might be mandated. But when by all counts, as articulated by epidemiological experts across the spectrum, there is no current need for draconian measures and there has not been a raging pandemic in our midst or anywhere within hundreds of miles for quite some time, can we be so confident about currently insisting on and employing such measures?

Furthermore, if the “being extreme about pikuach nefesh” principle were to be applied consistently, people should never be allowed to go to wooded areas/camps (risk of Lyme Disease), large cities (today – violent crime), Eretz Yisrael (terrorism), or perhaps to drive cars. (So too, those who claim to be extreme about pikuach nefesh in the present situation should likewise prohibit frequenting stores, pharmacies, and all other public venues – yet I have not heard this approach being promulgated or practiced.) Halacha provides us with a medium for normal life, and the current circumstances in most Northeast areas should be no exception, with proper distancing and so forth vigorously enforced.

The voluntary shuttering/acute restricting of shuls and batei medrash by administrators who refuse to allow these institutions to operate under medically-sanctioned guidelines, as well as the practice of keeping children from participating in socially-distanced educational and recreational communal activities endorsed by the most stringent of health authorities, due to being extreme about pikuach nefesh, in situations that science and data deem to be perfectly invulnerable, not only deprive people of necessary and safe experiences, but also cultivate a mindset of general extremeness and phobia. People need to be reassured and calm; when the policies of those to whom they turn for guidance effuse an exaggerated sense of fear and anxiety, way beyond the reality, we should perhaps ask if it is healthy and prudent.

Moreover, I personally know individuals who no longer attend minyan consistently. These people, who do not claim to daven better b’yechidus (in solitude) and who previously would never miss a minyan, observed how minyanim were suspended well after all medical experts deemed it safe to restart (with masks and social distancing, of course), while stores, offices and all sorts of establishments in the area resumed deliberate and secure operation, with no local increase in infections. The impression was that coming to shul is not essential or mandatory, for it was permitted and deemed safe by medical experts yet still not done; this was (mis)interpreted as an indication that tefillah b’tzibbur is of lesser import and is far from necessary. Such was surely not the intent of those who advocated for this exceedingly cautious approach, but it was an unfortunate and arguably anticipated and avoidable result.

I also know a few people whose commitment to Torah observance is (actually, was) very borderline; shul attendance and involvement have been the only things keeping these individuals connected to Torah. Due to months of being locked out from having this connection in a tangible way, these people are now totally unobservant. While stores, offices and even some recreational venues safely opened, many shuls remained closed, and these congregants on the edge were the casualties.

With all due respect, the Orthodox “cancel culture” of voluntarily shutting down religious functions and institutions when according to the most stringent of infectious disease specialists, they can operate quite safely in many major areas (with all proper precautions!), is something to think twice about.

May everyone be well and safe, b’ezras Hashem.

(PS: In case they might be of interest, here are some articles I wrote about the coronavirus pandemic during and after its strike on the New York metro area: Reacting to the Coronavirus Mageifah, Lessons of the Lockdown, and COVID-19: A Surprising Look Back In Retrospect.)

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41 Responses

  1. Name withheld for obvious reasons says:

    Your points are all well-taken. Allow me to reply only to your question — “rather, I ask why socially-distanced in-person learning and shiurim, with masks and all the precautions from A to Z, cannot be done pretty much everywhere by those in good health” — with my own facts on the ground. My shul has been operational for several weeks now, and we are vigilant about masks and social distancing — during davening. That is, during davening people remain at their seats and keep their masks on throughout. Then, as soon as davening ends, 80% of the shul immediately whip off their masks and many then flip their chairs around to learn b’chavrusa. Goodbye masks, goodbye social distancing. And I’m including the Rav of the shul.

    So my answer to your question is that age-old problem: left to their own devices, people frequently can’t be trusted.

  2. joel i rich says:

    “someone observed me enter and proceeded to reprimand me, telling me that the building is closed and may not be used for the foreseeable future. ”
    Was the building officially closed?
    Perhaps the issue is that if everyone did what you did, no one could do it ( a type of fallacy of composition)

  3. dr. bill says:

    While I certainly acknowledge your right to an opinion, I don’t think publishing it it wise. That is not the our halakhic system works. These issues require gedolai haposkim; Rav H. Schechter and Rav O. Weiss, as opposed to others, have established a track record as well. Some other major poskim have to worry about the deaths their (early) approaches caused.

    Local rabbis, aware of the metzius in their communities can consult if published psak does not provide a definitive answer. Kach hi darko shel Torah.

    on a personal note, my unique medical condition requires an individual psak which i received. many in similar situations are advised to disregard such posts in favor of individual consultation.

    in my opinion, supported by gedolai haposkim, the halakha requires/allows greater caution than infectious disease specialists deem necessary.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      For many of us with medical issues speaking to a doctor and a Posek who was aware of and appreciated the Pikuach Nefesh issues was vital

      • Mycroft says:

        Not dealing with RL issuer I doraisa such as eating drinking on YK thus clear that mere recommendations by physicians , certainly frum physicians that wouldn’t recommend going to schul is been enough

  4. Mycroft says:

    FWIW many places in the world apparently were succesful in keeping Covid infections down u till they weren’t. Compare our apparently low numbers now with many European countries which are lower. Israel sadly is an example of a country that thought it had crushed Covid opened up and now has begun to limit schul attendance again. I read that Israel maintained their recent outbreak was primarily doe to schuls, schools and events. There is no secret that CDC had a draft proposal months ago about how one could safely reopen houses of worship and it was shot down by the White House for obvious reasons.
    You can treat me as one who very regularly attended minyanim for over 55 years until March. Has an othmology appointment and frum physician who is about a decade or so younger than me asked about schul, I said I hope for Parshas Zachor next year , first doraisa arguably at risk. He was hoping for Rosh Hashana next year not this. On a physical level certainly schul attendance is a risk. Rabbi Gordimer’s fair challenge is in reality how much physical risk must one take in order to perform a Rabbinic mitzvah. I believe that is the issue, so far I am aware of many of Medicare age who were regulars at minyanim for decades who so far are not returning to schul. BH there are plenty of shiurim available by many organizations on line.

    • Steven I Brizel says:

      Can you provide a link to the CDC proposal that was purportedly rejected by the WH? A Federal judge in NY has concluded that as long as the powers that be permitted demonstrations , protests and riots without any evidence of social distancing in NYC that limits on numbers of attendees at funerals and religious services who were socially distanced violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. AFAIK, that decision was not appealed but I would be willing to be corrected.

  5. Dovid Kasten says:

    Rabbi Gordimer’s approach is the way Israel is doing things and it seems to be working. While there are over a million people davening in minyanim, only 2% of infections are occurring in Shuls and there’s a good chance that the 2% are not keeping guidelines properly. Furthermore, now that research has shown that only the elderly or those with preconditions are in danger and people are more aware of the symptoms and get checked accordingly, the danger has lessened considerably.
    In the US, where people are extremely careful about their health and more likely to keep social distancing rules, there is definitely a case to say that such a method can be implemented.

    • Mycroft says:

      Not dealing with RL issuer I doraisa such as eating drinking on YK thus clear that mere recommendations by physicians , certainly frum physicians that wouldn’t recommend going to schul is been enough

    • Mycroft says:

      I know who probably a majority of commentators on this issue are, many I know approx age and they are over 65, one of other on this blog who I don’t know states they have conditions, thus even if most of people in comparative danger are either elderly or preexisting conditions that is a substantial amount of people.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    From Purim until a week or two after Shavuos I davened at home I spoke to my internist who advised me to wait a few more weeks and then start davening outside I also spoke to a major Posek who advised me to state outside as well I have been davening in a small minyan with distancing and everyone masked As the shuls gradually open up with socially distant minyanim I plant to return We all have to think a lot about whether the Magefa will permanently paralyze our ability to function as a community or to take careful steps towards reopening shuls yeshivos and engaging in the Chesed shebegufo that is one of the hallmarks of all our kehilos even without a vaccine .This is especially true when the secular left relying on junk science such as Ferguson’s study paints the most dystopian vision of the pandemic when in fact the numbers are nowhere what Ferguson predicted I drove for a month or so to Manhattan to work and it was a deserted city It is now a city that is in decline as rioters vandals and a mayor who values the right to protest as more valuable than free exercise of religion have reversed all the policies of Giuliani to that of a rising crime rate police retiring in record numbers and the blight known as Fun City One factor that no one has discussed yet- how many people had medical conditions that were compromised because first responders couldn’t use major highways to get to the hospital of their choice because of the rioters who blockaded major highways

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    The express bus that I ride on to and from work has very few passengers most mornings and evenings When I take F the train home ErevShabbos everyone is masked and there is more than enough room to sit Perhaps we should consider concentrating on protecting those most at risk as opposed to a economically socially and educationally crippling universal shutdown Of course sagacious public policy would slap mean keeping Covid patients in hospitals as opposed to nursing homes and considering serious options proposed for opening camps but alas that requires thinking as opposed to a knee jerk reaction

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    What I don’t understand is backyard minyanim with no distancing or masks which have a lot of young attendees If you are not at risk physically and your shul is open you should daven in shul with a mask and with distancing Nust davening outside with neither a mask nor distancing is an example of Yotze scar bhefsedo

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    It is impossible to note that the sakana presented by Covid is the lack of knowledge as to the origins thanks to the CCP which played a huge role in minimizing its threat and allowing it to developer and the lack of a vaccine The models relied on by most epidemiologists especially Ferguson have been shown to be wildly inaccurate as to numbers of diagnosed cases fatalities and the capabilities of medical systems to treat. we also have to consider the fact that in many
    Covid cases there are co morbidity factors that may not haven accurately accounted for and that in the all hands on deck worst days many diagnoses were being made by those with the least amount of medical experience

    Going to minyan Is be a rabbinic Mitzvah but on YT at least according to Ramban on Parshas Emor is Min HaTorah

  10. Reb Yid says:

    Wear a mask whenever leaving the house. Social distance. Avoid large gatherings and particularly ones that are indoors.

    These three items should be mandated for everyone.

    At least in the Northeast, the next couple of months are probably the time to do semi-normal activities before the fall onset of the flu which may once again cause a covid spike. Most other areas of the country are in far worse shape, however. Personally, I am in an at risk group so I still avoid shul even though it is only meeting outdoors. I miss being at shul (haven’t been there since early March) and look forward to the day when I can rejoin the ranks. And even if one is in excellent health, one still has to be way of being in more social environments such as shuls if it means potentially being a vehicle for transmitting it to others at home who are more vulnerable.

    Whatever one does, one should first consult one’s physician or specialist.

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    What may very well happen is that even without a vaccine the virus will take a terrible toll and burn itself out as in other similar pandemics That would IMO militate in reopening our economy and institutions slowly and having special vigilance for those sectors of the population most at risk

    • Reb Yid says:

      To date, that simply has not happened. While an oddball quack here or there suggested that the virus would soon disappear, there has not been any burnout anywhere in the world (save perhaps New Zealand which took extraordinary steps to accomplish this).

      The places that have reopened too quickly, in fact, are currently experiencing the worst of it–both in South and the West (in the US) and in countries like Israel. They eschewed or ignored the advice of health and medical professionals and are now paying the price.

      In this country, thanks to such states, we are now back to 1,000+ deaths a day (“officially”, which itself is a gross undercount) and the trend is not in a positive direction.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Sweden , a once devoutly socialist country that has become more capitalist recently, did not have a complete lockdown, protected the elderly and others at risk and survived . Health and medical professionals can only speculate based on models like Ferguson whose numbers as to diagnoses, fatalities and ICUs being overwhelmed were alarmist and without any reasonable scientific basis. The facts are that the left , the mainstream media and the Democrats loved video coverage of the pandemic at worst and all viewed a recession , economic total shut down, and riots subsidized by the far left as the only way to win in November having failed to use Russiagate, slander against judicial nominees climate change and impeachment as tactics The Democrats are responsible for cities that are economically prostrate and states where civil liberties, including and especially free exercise of religion , free speech and the right to self defense are in danger and anarchy is present on the streets on a daily basis in too many cities,

      • Reb Yid says:

        Sweden has suffered 2 to 3 times as many covid fatalities as Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark combined and has had 2 to 3 times as many cases.

      • Steven I Brizel says:

        The virus peaks and volleys like the stock market in different locales. I think that we have to take chances as a society and open up our economy, ability to travel freely within the US and schools, We need to protect the elderly but kids should be in school . The only protection kids need in school is intellectual protection against teachers who are feeding them Marcuse , Zinn and 1619 instead of real American history.

      • Steven I Brizel says:

        How many such deaths are reported as Covid when in fact there is a strong possibility of co-morbidity diagnosis ? I wouldn’t cite anything from the China dominated and controlled WHO as reliable on the issue of Covid.

      • Reb Yid says:

        And who is supposed to teach these children when in school? That is putting many teachers, staffers and administrators at risk as well as their families. Also, how are children supposed to get to school? How will the busses operate in a socially distanced manner?

        Not all schools have the space to conduct classes in a socially distanced manner.

        There is no one cookie cutter answer here and there are drawbacks no matter what approach or hybrid approach is used. But a blanket “send them back to school” is right up there with “open everything up” that we were hearing in the South and by our President, with catastrophic consequences.

  12. Robert Lebovits says:

    As much as Cross Currents has a predominantly NY/NJ readership – with NY West (also known as LA) tossed in – I would point out that there are other locales with frum communities and their experience with COVID-19 may be very different.
    Where I reside in Allegheny County, PA the population is something over 1.2 million. As of this morning there were 7,161 confirmed cases and 222 fatalities since tracking began. That translates into an incidence rate of 0.6% and a mortality rate of 0.02%. I wonder if those numbers would qualify as a magaifa per halacha. In any case, the situation we confront here calls for a set of guidelines specific to the degree of severity and risk. I believe that principle should be applied everywhere and whatever psak is put forward should clearly identify the venue and circumstances for which it is intended.
    There is another question to consider regarding the application of definitions of sakana and magaifa. In the event there are medications available to reduce the severity of the illness and the potential for transmission but they are not being used for non-medical reasons, would that alter the nature of the crisis from one that is decreed by Heaven to one that is at least in part man-made?
    There is a treatment regimen that has been extensively researched. Findings have been mixed but it is also highly controversial and that has influenced its minimal utilization. A recent study that showed significant positive effect was attacked on methodological grounds, though the therapeutic results were not denied. The FDA refuses to approve of its use a second time because of concern that the public might lose trust in that agency if it were to back track again. The one study that reported a negative effect was ultimately withdrawn and discredited. By what halachic measure do we assess the acceptability of using a treatment that may have some curative value? Randomized studies in medical research did not begin before 1946, so obviously that is not a criterion. There are many practitioners who have seen benefits in their patients when used in a specific fashion at a specific time. If its potential for harm is precisely limited, would halacha permit its use for individuals who have little risk of harm?
    The sooner we have effective therapeutics, the sooner our lives can resume in all aspects. The accommodations we have had to make should not be viewed as the “new normal”. Quite the reverse: It is the “new abnormal” and we must try very hard to get our full lives back.

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    All sports and professions have participants and spectators called fans clients and patients The Torah Chazal and Halacha demands that all of us participate to the best of our abilities and not be a spectator .Being satisfied with shuls and Yeshivos closed and Zoom as a substitute for actual live participation is IMO a huge mistake We have to think about proactively and carefully reopening those institutions that enable and demand a live participation by Am Yisrael Keeping the economy prostrate schools courts and religious institutions closed is a socialist dream but as in all socialist dreams sooner or later we will realize there is no such as a free lunch that Zoom is a poor way to educate remote work lacks pilpul chaverim and invades boundaries at home and that government can not print money indefinitely .When free minds and free markets are targeted by government and the notions of PC and civil liberties are suspended indefinitely we have to realize that such developments coupled with riots with an anti Semitic overtone require strong thinking about the secular left and its goals in government culture and academia in the US and its impact on our abilities to transmit our values to the next generation

  14. Robert Lebovits says:

    There is another profound impact of the COVID-19 virus upon the Jewish world to which the Orthodox community should pay very close attention. I believe an unintended consequence of the changes in everyone’s lifestyle is the beginning of the end for heterodox Judaism.
    In the 1950s as suburban living became more attractive to non-Orthodox Jews the leadership of the Conservative movement made a dramatic decision: Their membership would be permitted to drive on Shabbos to their synagogues, but only to their synagogues. The ruling was made with the expectation – and hope – that by making it possible to live in the suburbs and stay connected to their urban congregations, the movement could hold on to its members and remain viable. in fact, the opposite occurred. The more distant people lived from other Jews, their sense of community diminished as did their connection. According to some Conservative clergy, it actually contributed to a loss of members especially among the young who were more interested in sharing activities with their non-Jewish friends then having any religious affiliation. So went the loss of Jewish communal life.
    Today we see that process extended and accelerated. Now there is no need for brick and mortar structures nor attendance at services. Technology has created the facility for online, long-distance participation. I have had a number individuals share with me that they are very happy with their temple’s Zoom services and see no point in going back to sitting in the sanctuary for real. One person said to me, “I have my siddur, my tallit, and I am fine staying home.” And that was from a Baby Boomer. The younger generation have even less inclination to go to a building. Perhaps this is the reason not a single Reform or Conservative congregation has opened its building in my city, while all the Orthodox shuls have been having minyanim for many weeks
    I have no doubt that these services will be offered even after the COVID isolation has ended because they are in demand. Carrying the concept another step, many would-be congregants will seek out other online venues besides the local one as they look for a sort of experience that suits them. Paid memberships will shrink sharply and many congregations will not be able to afford keeping their infrastructure and personnel. As the human connection continues to erode, not much will be left.
    If my analysis is accurate, this is not a positive development for the frum world. As everyone in kiruv knows, the wholly unaffiliated are much less likely to have an interest in pursuing learning about their Jewish identity than people who have some sort of Jewish link. If the heterodox world disintegrates, even more Jews will be lost. That is not in our best interest. We should follow these developments closely and see how we can save Jews from disappearing into the bandwidth.

    • Reb Yid says:

      It is also likely that the average age of the Reform and Conservative congregants, and particularly those who are more likely to attend worship services, is significantly older than that of the Orthodox congregants.

      As such, these individuals are much more likely to be at risk, on average, than the typical Orthodox synagogue member.

      • Steven I Brizel says:

        Read Dr Wertheimer’s book-R and C long ago have segued into Jewish addresses for progressive politics and “social justice” that support BLM and welcome Al Sharpton to their conventions

    • Steve Brizel says:

      R Berel Wein pointed out that The Torah committed And observant community by making Shemiras Shabbos a non negotiable element in the late 1950s And 1960s was able to survive the closure of shuls because we emphasized that Torah observance and Jewish continuity depends on the transmission if Torah and its values via the family in a home not on a weekly experience in a synagogue The heterodox movements in contrast emphasized their lavish buildings We can only hope that we can reach those who are searching for Jewish continuity and provide portals for their entry

  15. Shades of Gray says:

    Rabbi Gordimer’s points are well taken.

    Dr. David Pelcovitz spoke about certain instances of not complying with health laws when attending minyanim at the recent Torah in Motion Virtual Jewish Medical Ethics 12th International Conference on May 24th ( “Mental Health Issues Confronting the Jewish Community”, Minute 52, free download after registration).

    He mentioned Rav Wobe’s brilliant essay on the misguided instinct for “Frumkeit” to explain the actions of those who didn’t comply with health laws when davening and, using uncharacteristic strong language, also mentioned a:

    “…fatal contempt for science and failure to recognize science, which has cost so many lives in our community now. This conference, and everything that it stands for, has never been more important now; it’s a life saving kind of force to counter that kind of ignorance and arrogance.”

    The Agudah and some Chasidishe groups who are members of the most right-wing segments of the community have been incredible in working with Dr. Pelcovitz on fighting the above problem. They have been complaining and crying to Dr. Pelcovits that “we can’t control some of our Balei Batim”. Many of them have been quietly asking Dr. Pelcovitz for advice how to deal with the above situation. Dr. Pelcovitz concluded that the situation is complicated.

    R. Mayer Twersky wrote,(“V’Chai Bohem”, 4/22/20): “Regarding the past mistakes, we are obligated to publicly declare our guilt in having been willingly blind and deaf to the manifest reality and being shockingly flippant about the immense danger posed by that very reality. As for the future, we must emphasize — clearly and decisively — that the Torah demands our absolute alacrity in the face of danger to life.”

    The above statements were based on past assessments, but perhaps rabbonim should still address this during the upcoming Elul and Yomim Noraim, as opposed to having outsiders such as journalists or politicians do so, who might unfairly criticize everyone with a broad brush.

  16. Raymond says:

    I hesitate to write this just because I just know that it will be met with negative, even angry, reactions, but then again, I am just not the kind of person who just goes unthinkingly along with the crowd. I just think that this whole Chinese virus thing is one huge scam designed to defeat our undeservedly vilified President in November. Had Barack Obama still been our President, no economic shutdown would have occurred, nor the mandated wearing of masks, nor social distancing, none of it. And any deaths that would have occurred, would have never, ever be blamed on President Obama. He would have been lauded as a hero no matter what he said or did, just because that would be the politically correct thing to do.

    It is not that I do not think that the Chinese virus exists. Of course it does. To deny that reality would be a form of insanity. I also think, though, that the response to it has been all wrong. The vast majority of those who die from disease, have had certain pre-existing health conditions. But for example, if somebody is below 45 years old and in good health, the chances of them dying from the Chinese virus is so miniscule, that basically they do not even have to worry about it. To completely shut down society for a minority of the population rather than just finding a way to isolate that segment of the population, makes sense only to those who wish to bring down our President.

    Am I my brother’s keeper? Apparently yes from a Jewish perspective, but I sense that even the Rambam himself would instruct us to worry about our own health before we pass judgment on whether or not other people are sufficiently worrying about our own health. Even the most ardent proponents of those suffocating masks, do not claim that it helps the mask wearer, but rather only those near the mask wearer. While it is laudable to care so much about other people’s health, the line is crossed when such alleged altruism is forced on us by the government. Giving charity out of the goodness of one’s heart or because of deeply held religious beliefs, is to be applauded, but when it enters the realm of government mandate, it translates into exorbitantly high taxes going to fund many things that some of us strenuously object to, just as the government funding of abortion.

    Furthermore, I question whether all this mask wearing and social distancing are warranted at all. I have breathing problems under normal circumstances, and so I cannot wear a mask, as they immediately suffocate me. I am sure that there are many millions of people out there who also cannot physically wear a mask because of their own health conditions. To have one policy for all, without making allowances for those of us who cannot physically abide by such policies, is outright discrimination, and just plain wrong. Plus even those who are able to wear masks, deprive their brains of much-needed oxygen, instead subjecting themselves to an increased level of poisonous carbon dioxide, along with the germs trapped by those masks. I have heard of drivers getting into fatal car accidents because they were foolish enough to wear a mask, even when driving alone. And as for the social distancing, my understanding is that one has to be around somebody with the Chinese virus for at least 15 minutes, to even have a good chance of catching the virus. I have even heard that really all we have to worry about is when somebody with the virus coughs or sneezes directly on us. Even in our morally corrupted society, most people already know to cover their faces when sneezing or coughing.

    My most important point here is that the correct reaction to the Chinese virus should have been not any wearing of masks or the lockdown of society, but rather the encouragement of people to take an increased sense of responsibility for their own health. I myself have several of the pre-existing health conditions, yet would never tell anybody to wear a mask around me or even socially distance themselves from me. Such responsibilities for my health rests on nobody but me. And just as a side note, my plans are to stay completely away from any shul as long as they mandate the wearing of masks or have a policy of social distancing. I look forward to November 4th when all of this panic over the Chinese virus comes to a sudden end.

  17. Schmerel says:

    I don’t know who is correct in the coronavirus shutdown debate.

    The decisions seem to be made by (very hypocritical) politicians rather than doctors. The government medical experts are not trust inspiring when all they seem capable of doing is saying “no”.

    There were repeated outrages over the frum (but of course no other) community breaking social distancing rules that ultimately resulted in no spike in coronavirus.

    But who can possibly take it on their responsibility to set policy and try to convince others with regard of how in act in a potential life and death situation like corona?

    • Reb Yid says:

      The initial flaunting of social distancing rules by portions of the Haredi and Hasidic communities absolutely contributed to spikes of cases (and fatalities) in those communities.

      But in more recent weeks and months, authorities have come down hard on bars and indoor restaurants and the younger people who have flaunted social distancing rules in these places (said gatherings, by the way, have been some of the primary drivers of spikes in the South and West).

      Most countries around the world, in fact, have taken the responsibility to set policy, lead by example, and to coordinate resources. On the whole, they have been far more successful than the US, whose national government has done none of this. It is by far the primary reason why our current President will most likely be a one term leader.

      • Robert Lebovits says:

        1.There is no evidence to support the notion that the frum communities have had cases of COVID-19 or fatalities at a rate higher than the rest of NYC. Since no data was collected regarding religious affiliation or practice of COVID-positive individuals, it is impossible to prove that assertion.
        2. Population density is the most consequential factor in the spread of an infectious disease. The higher the density, the greater the likelihood of transmission. Social distancing was established as a means of artificially reducing the population density. By keeping people far from one another, it creates the same conditions as if there were fewer people present. Unfortunately, when the true population density is extremely high, social distance measures lose their effectiveness. The population density of NYC is approx. 26,000/sq. mile. The population density of Boro Park is over 67,000/sq. mile, making it extremely difficult to follow social distancing guidelines even when a concerted effort is made to do so.
        3. In the United States, where the federal government must defer to the state government in circumstances of a public health crisis, the responsible individuals for crisis management are the governors – not the president. I hope you are correct that the executives in the states that suffered abysmally will be held accountable.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “The population density of Boro Park is over 67,000/sq. mile, making it extremely difficult to follow social distancing guidelines even when a concerted effort is made to do so.”

        That’s an important mitigating factor to consider; it’s therefore understandable why people want to open parks or summer camps.

        According to the video from July, below, which was overall a very positive Kiddush Hashem about Orthodox blood plasma donation, the reporter noted that she saw “few masks and no distancing”(2:20) in Boro Park because people felt the danger had past. Why should that be so(at least the masks and attempts at distancing), as compared to other groups?

        Dr. Pelcovitz, whom I quoted above, mentioned frum leaders, who themselves were unhappy with a certain segment not complying with health guidelines, which he attributed to a “contempt for science…ignorance, and arrogance” and Rav Wolbe’s misguided”Frumkeit” instinct. If he is correct to any extent, that’s something that needs to be addressed by the leadership over Elul and Yomim Noraim, in my opinion.

        R. Hauer of the OU told Dr. Fauci about social aspects of the frum world which are normally positive(from Hamodia), “We’re encouraging masks in addition to eight feet of distancing and, knowing how we like to get together, we’re encouraging eight feet because it may be closer to six feet. Dr. Fauci encouraged the extra caution, saying, “the emotional culture of the Jewish people” is one which fosters closeness, and some may find it hard to resist getting together when they join for prayers. ”

        R. Gidon Rothstein, who is from the MO community, wrote today on Torah Musing(“Orah Hayyim 560: To Commemorate the Destruction”): ” I have been told many times, by various rabbis, that many of the steps we have taken in reaction to our current time of trouble have been a matter of being unable to trust community members to comply with rules. So it seems fitting to think about communal structures and discipline.”

      • Steven I Brizel says:

        Still waiting to see governors and mayors “come down hard: on rioters around the country

      • Reb Yid says:

        Robert Lebovits:

        There was a lengthy post by YA within the past couple of months about the active culpability of segments of the Haredi and Hasidic world. I am not going to repeat it.

        We also have a federal government. Part of what this means is that we have a national government that takes responsibility for certain matters far beyond the control or resources of any single state. One army, for one example. For another: when there is a hurricane disaster in Florida we don’t tell it to fend for itself. We have a national government that helps to coordinate a response and provide needed resources. Governors can help to direct the resources where they are most needed, of course.

        As Harry Truman once said, “the buck stops here”. But not for our current Administration whose leader, about the covid issue, has said, “I take no responsibility at all”. Indeed, he has pitted states against each other and other nations (and even our own national government) when bidding for desperately needed supplies. He trashed and ignored existing protocols developed by other Presidents, before he became one, on how to prepare for such a pandemic.

        While states and local governments have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to singlehandedly combat this virus that has cost us 150,000+ lives, devastated hospitals and eviscerated our economy, to date they have received little to zero assistance from the federal government in compensating them for these resources while big business has received trillions.

        Our “leader” has belittled, ignored and denied the virus and its significance for far too long. Others, naturally, follow his cues, including far too many governors until recently. He made wearing a mask into a political issue which has had an extremely negative impact in trying to control the spread of the virus.

        We are the laughingstock and punching bag of the world on this issue. Our total lack of national leadership on this issue, compared to just about any other industrialized country in the world, is a significant factor.

      • dr. bill says:

        Robert Lebovits, If you doubt the impact on the religious (versus secular) community, just listen to Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer podcasts or consult Tzarich Iyun. Israel has statistics; of the original wave’s 300 deaths hareidim were astoundingly overrepresented. Pictures in hareidi funeral homes even in the US were not pretty. Many a hareidi leader has to seriously contemplate their reactions.

  18. Shades of Gray says:

    R. Mayer Twersky has in the past taken a more stringent position on the health concerns involved in minyanim (endorsed by R. Hershel Schachter) and wrote another halachic article which discussed summer camps. He recognizes the mental health concerns of not allowing summer camps but believes they can be creatively overcome with solutions not involving camps (see his articles on Torah Web). From the Agudah’s perspective, it would have been better to have opened overnight summer camps in NYS with protocols in place.

    What everyone can agree on is the value of effort, whether or not it results in success. R. Zwiebel wrote about the lost legal battle to keep overnight camps open in NYS which still sent a message about the special value of Jewish camps(“Staying On The Playing Field”, 7/7/20):

    “And so, we were deeply disappointed when news of yesterday’s ruling came in. We were reminded, though, of a letter of chizuk that the Rosh Hayeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l wrote some 50 years ago to legendary Agudah leader Rabbi Moshe Sherer z’l after the Supreme Court had rejected an important argument we had advanced regarding a matter of great importance to the community. The Rosh Hayeshiva told Rabbi Sherer that there was no reason to be down, for our job in this world is to do, not to accomplish; only Hashem accomplishes: tzu tuhn, nit tzu oiftuhn.”

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    We all hope that shuls and yeshivos should open carefully prudently and sooner rather than later. Yet, in California as per the annexed link
    , and Illinois at least teachers unions with markedly left wing agendas that clearly are against those who reject the monopoly of public secular education would strangle the right of yeshivos parochial schools private schools and homeschoolers to do so Once again teachers unions view the pandemic as a political weapon to advance an agenda that has nothing to do with their job responsibility and descriptions and another means of protecting their members which they do by opposing all and any grievances against teachers who act inappropriately as opposed to their main job of educating the next generation. I think that such unions should be de-certified as bargaining units, such teachers should be fired and replaced with teachers who want to teach. We seem to forget the precedent for doing so in that Reagan fired the air traffic controllers and de-certified their union when the union threatened to strike in the early years of Reagan’s presidency. It is important to realize that whatever wacky left wing ideas become public policy in California tend to migrate to NY and other similar states as well. NY also has teachers unions that have a distinctly LW POC as well.

  20. Bob Miller says:

    “…attending houses of worship – with masks, social distancing and other mandated precautions – is deemed safe.” This means houses of worship whose precautions are complied with, not just printed and ignored. The congregational leaders have to exemplify 100% compliance and all congregants present have to follow suit voluntarily.

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