Saturday, March 28, 2020

The CoronaMinyan Problem.

This is not a post about why it is wrong to have illegal minyanim in basements.

Other people have already written about that with great vehemence. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz has minced no words, and has quoted Hatzola medics referring to people in such minyanim as murderers. I am pretty sure that nobody reading this blog participates in such illegal minyanim.

This is instead a post about why it wrong to have perfectly legal minyanim (in Israel), outdoors, with a two-meter separation between each person. Several of which I could see today from my home.

My esteemed friends Rabbi Scott Kahn and Rabbi Pesach Wolicki put it best, and I will paraphrase their explanation. When Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos, Chazal prohibited blowing the shofar. When Sukkos falls on Shabbos, Chazal prohibited taking Arba Minim. The reason is that someone may come to carry these in an area without an eruv. But what about someone who won't do that? In fact, the vast majority of people won't do that!

The answer is that it doesn't make a difference. Chazal weren't worried that YOU will carry a shofar on Shabbos. They were worried that SOMEONE ELSE will.

Yes, you might be attending a minyan in which people are told to keep a two-meter separation. But you see how these things go. Inevitably, several people get closer, especially during kriyas haTorah (as I personally witnessed from my window). And it also gives endorsement to other street minyanim, which are even less careful. My mother was watching a street minyan from her window when rain suddenly started to fall, and they all ran inside the shul together!

Street minyanim, even safe ones, encourage unsafe ones. And for a community which is particularly suffering from a general lack of seriousness in social distancing - including various rabbis who have openly flouted the notion as being "foreign decrees" - it is particularly important to attest to the importance of public health. (Jerusalem and Bnei Brak have the highest infection rates in Israel.)

Not to mention that it also causes Chillul Shabbos. I was looking out from my balcony today and saw a police car drive to a street minyan. The officer was making his rounds of the minyanim, urging everyone to keep their distance (he could not legally instruct them to disband). This is what the street minyanim are forcing the police to do on Shabbos.

I would like to quote the Rav of my shul, Rav Menachem Copperman, from an email that he sent out twelve days ago (which seems like a year in CoronaTime), before the more recent restrictions:
With a broken heart and tears in my eyes, I would like to share with you one of the most difficult decisions, if not the most difficult, I have had to make in my time as Rav of the community, namely temporarily suspending all the regular minyanim in shul until Hashem has mercy on us and removes all sickness and evil decrees.

Over the last 24 hours, our rational and emotional thoughts have been in conflict with each other.

On the one hand, more and more people are contracting the Coronavirus and the dangers are growing; on the other hand, the Health Ministry has permitted gatherings of 10 people (even 20 in large rooms with enough space). Furthermore, as we know, tefilla betzibur never goes unanswered: 
"ומי כה' אלוקינו בכל קראנו אליו" (Devarim 4,7)
"אין הקב"ה מואס בתפילתם של רבים" (Berachot 8.)

And yet, I ask myself: how is it - especially in a time when we our tefillot are so vital and we need the gates of Heaven to be opened - that right now we could break our direct connection with Hashem, disperse the community and suspend the minyanim? How is that possible?

And then I was reminded of my uncle, a senior doctor and mohel, who was always very careful to wait a full week after the baby had recovered from sickness before performing the brit mila (following the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch), even in cases when the doctors said that there was no medical reason to delay the brit so long.

When people said to him that he was delaying and giving up too easily on the requirement to have a brit on the eighth day, and thus missing out on the mitzvah of “on the eighth day”, he would reply to them by quoting  what Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner (author of the Shevet Halevi) had said to him: “I am not being lenient in the mitzva of brit mila, I am being stringent in pikuach nefesh.”

In my humble opinion, this is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves today: anyone who reads between the lines of the directives from the Ministry of Health and understands a bit about the situation can understand that from a health standpoint there is a danger even in gatherings of less than 10 people and the correct way to halt the spread of the virus is to prevent gatherings of any size. The reason why the government is not doing this is probably out of wider considerations connected to concerns about causing panic among the general population and the serious damage to the economy that would result from a complete shutdown.

Therefore, taking into consideration the fact that there are likely to be many carriers of the virus who are asymptomatic and that tefilla betzibur is not an outright obligation from a halachic point of view, I have decided to suspend all minyanim in the shul and I ask every one of you not to endanger yourselves by attending minyanim which could chas veshalom put you in danger. This is not in any way about belittling the importance of tefilla betzibur, rather it is about being stringent about pikuach nefesh.

If in regard to desecrating Shabbat for a sick person Chazal said “Desecrate for him one Shabbat in order that he may keep many Shabbatot”, how much more so that we should suspend some minyanim so that we will be able to “daven in many minyanim” in the future.
It doesn't make a difference if you are personally practicing social distancing in the minyan. There should not be street minyanim during this period. Period.

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54 comments:

  1. I will just say that part of the regulations are not wandering more than 100 meters from one's home.. I won't say who I saw do that today with his family.

    You aren't wrong about the "לא פלוג" reason for not holding these minyanim, and as an outdoor minyan attender I can attest to the fact that kriyas hatorah poses a problem..

    I just think far too much energy is being spent on blasting these minyanim on social media. Meanwhile people continue to hit the supermarkets daily (where it's nearly impossible to comply with social distancing).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I went to visit my mother who is 83 and was spending Shabbos alone for the first time in her life. (Needless to say I did not enter her home.)

      Delete
    2. And you're right about supermarkets being a problem, but shopping for food is a necessity.

      Delete
    3. (But it may indeed have been wrong for us to go beyond the 100meter limit, even under the circumstances. I am conflicted.)

      Delete
    4. Well done article. IyH people will actual read and understand this.

      Delete
    5. One "solution" that I've heard is having a single person in the street, functioning as a chazan, while everyone answers from their balconies.
      But, still, the point about Shofar or Megillah on Shabbat is well taken. It may lead to a situation where people aren't strict.

      Delete
    6. "... it may indeed have been wrong for us to go beyond the 100meter limit, even under the circumstances. I am conflicted." What were you conflicted about. What is the side to say it was ok?

      You later (April 17) write: "President Rivlin's spending the first day of his chag with his children, at a time when many elderly people were told to be alone, was utterly disgraceful. However, he did apologize and express deep regret for his mistake, which virtually never happens with a charedi Gadol.)"
      Rivlin apologized and expressed deep regret. You did not. Are you a charedi Gadol in disguise?

      Delete
  2. Why do you need an halachic argument?

    The reason not to have these minyanim is that it puts lives at risk. Full stop.

    How low has orthodox Judaism fallen that it doesn't accept that as the reason?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absent Torah, from where do you know human life is valuable? By the way, I'm proud that all regular minyanim have been prohibited in my community for some weeks.

      Delete
    2. "The reason not to have these minyanim is that it puts lives at risk. Full stop."
      That is halachic

      Delete
    3. If you need the Torah to tell you human life is valuable, then you really are a total....
      Thank G-d, you are not representative of the bulk of traditional Judaism.

      Delete
    4. > The reason not to have these minyanim is that it puts
      > lives at risk.
      FYI, that is a halakhic argument. If you think that makes it somehow more trivial, it shows that you do not understand what religion is.

      Delete
    5. No it isn't. The argument works fine regardless of your faith or if you have none. Its an appeal to the universally held value of the importance of human life.
      "Pikuach Nefesh doche..." is a religious argument.

      I don't think and never said religious arguments are trivial. I said that someone who needs a halachic argument to save lives is an idiot.
      Pay attention.

      Delete
    6. @UNKNOWN and FOzziebear Ramban, Kuzari and Gemorah all indicate we do not need Torah to inform murder is wrong. ACJA

      Delete
  3. One can also be Machmir on Chillul Hashem.

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  4. I have been davening with a well spaced outdoor minyan these past few days despite being very torn (brain says it's an unnecessary risk, heart says this minyan is the highlight of my day and helping my morale). The lo plug argument wasn't enough to convince me, but watching the Bejiing Chabad Rabbi's video and doing some research tonight now has me convinced that even at 2 + meters one is taking a big risk. The droplets can travel further than 2 meters and can also stay in the air for quite some time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is not merely droplet borne but also via aerosols.
      It is not necessary to cough to expell virus bearing aerosols, breathing is sufficient.

      Fresh air of course helps dilute the aerosol virus but... 2 meters is a guess, not a guarantee. There is good reason to think that transmission is possible at 4 meters in an enclosed space and that HVAC can spread it in a building.

      Delete
    2. Actually, it is not spread via aerosols except in hospitals. https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/blogs/312890/a-conversation-about-the-pandemic-with-an-epidemiologist-and-infection-control-specialist/

      Delete
    3. I watched a movie based on a true story called 93 days about the Ebola Virus. Let me tell you that if you watched it you would be so afraid to even be near people now with Covid 19 around. Ebola was only if blood or vomit got on you. But Covid19 is even more dangerous as it cab from a cough,Sneeze be on services. Rather be safe and protect other remember we are obligated to save lives and our own.

      Delete
    4. This is an opinion, it is not known for sure. The way it is spread is not fully understood.

      Delete
    5. It almost certainly CAN spread through the air:
      https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-29/coronavirus-choir-outbreak

      Delete
  5. Regarding the point about the police: the only reason they're patrolling on Shabbat is because of Minyanim? There are no other possible violations that they're concerned with? I think they'd be patrolling on Shabbat even without the minyanim.

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  6. Rav Cooperman emphasizes only the risk to the person davening in a minyan, without ALSO emphasizing the risk of spreading the virus to wives, children friends, and neighbors. Obviously, if these men believed they were risking their own lives, they would stay home. But they are acting like the groups of teenage boys I saw walking around Dolev Friday night; they feel healthy, have no symptoms, and feel invincible. R'Cooperman didn't express the public health risk: even asymptomatic minyan men can be carriers of the coronavirus, which lives in the air up to three hours, and lives on paper, wood, clothing, shoes, metal, and plastic for two to three DAYS. Data from the New England Journal of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University. Hatzala characterizes these selfish men attending minyans as "murderers" because they are only applying the concept of pekuach nefesh to themselves. Their wives and children also want to be healthy and to live. Their neighbors in the same apartment building also want to be healthy and to live. Are these men disinfecting the building door handles, the building stair railings amd light switches when they return from their minyans? No, of course not. I just wish R'Cooperman had expressed the importance of not davening with a minyan because the men who continue to so are endangering themselves AND their families, friends, and neighbors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm working full time through this thing. Regarding the doorknobs, yes I do spritz them with the 95% alcohol I carry with me. Social distancing in my home is not possible (we exceed the density of 10 ב''ה) but we take some measures.

      Delete
  7. This is why I argue for a virtual minyan. Yes, I know all the halachic arguments and rulings (that two people separated by a wall does not count as a minyan, etc). But as Chazal said “Desecrate for him one Shabbat in order that he may keep many Shabbatot.”

    If nothing else, close shul and suspend minyan because of coronavirus. If it is G-d's will, He will stop the virus so we can safely resume the minyan. Otherwise, I agree with the rabbi. Plus, police are breaking Shabbat to patrol street minyans. That is not right (not to mention that you are putting yourself, as well as others, all at risk).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mincha Live, Sundays thru Thursday, 13:20, at the Kotel:

      https://www.youtube.com/user/thekotel1

      I wish they would add the other tefilot, as well as an early Kabalat Shabbat on Erev Shabbat up to the end of Lecha Dodi so as not to be mekabel Shabbat.

      Delete
  8. And of course in these gatherings people here and there will talk to each other too, breathing on one another.

    In many communities in America the shuls are CLOSED. No longer in operation, and any type of minyanim forbidden in accordance with public health officials and guidelines. Nothing outside or in basements, period.

    I don't really get the whole "tears in my eyes and emotions" bit, it's a simple calculation, pikuah nefesh comes first, so we shut down for now. Does anyone think they are doing a "mitzvah" by endangering people's lives to pray as a minyan? As if Hashem WANTS these kind of prayers!?! And as if you'll get "credit" for them?

    Reminds me of Tanakh where Hashem explicitly says He doesn't want empty fasting and sacrifices when the person hasn't acted right or change themselves internally.
    This is even worse than those examples! It is literally doing a sin to pray with the minyan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ארצכם שממה...למה-לי רוב-זבחיכם...לא חפצתי.... לא תוסיפו, הביא מנחת-שוא--קטורת תועבה היא,חודשיכם ומועדיכם שנאה נפשי, היו עליי לטורח...אעלים עיניי מכם--גם כי-תרבו תפילה, אינני שומע: ידיכם, דמים מלאו.רחצו, היזכו--הסירו רוע מעלליכם, מנגד עיניי

      Delete
  9. "on the other hand, the Health Ministry has permitted gatherings of 10 people (even 20 in large rooms with enough space)." No, they never have. Not initially, not at any point. This is something woven out of whole cloth. Which just reinforces your point that allowing minyanim of any kind, under any circumstances, is absolutely impermissible.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Please help. This post reminds me of an old Jewish joke where something is decreed and a Jews says, "Don't worry. The ... won't be ... The ... won't be ... and even the ... won't be ... .
    Can someone fill in the blanks please!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's been a few months now but nobody has commented. I don't know if this is what you were thinking about, and I don't see the relevance exactly to corona, but:

      Husband and wife, living in the shtetl. Husband comes home from shul all distraught. Wife asks why. He responds that the rabbi said that the Messiah is coming and they will all move to Israel. Cue both of them lamenting that they just started making a living, they just repaired the leaky roof, the farm was just paid off, etc. Then the wife says "Wait wait wait. We know that God saves the Jewish People, right?" "Right," responds the husband. "So," she says, triumphantly, "God has saved us from Egypt, from the Inquisition, and from pogroms. Therefore, we can be sure He will save us from this Messiah, too!"

      Delete
  11. Shock horror that anyone could think differently than the groupspeak about corona. As time goes by this is getting closer to being a bad flu, with the associated mortality that this involves. One of the chief uk statisticians has said that in statistical terms there is no excess mortality over what would be expected in the next year anyway, just that people are dying from the virus instead of something else. The ex chairman of the Israel health ministry is on record that there is no need for the reaction that is going on. You guys are so so quick to denounce the charedim but maybe just stay away and let them decide how to run their own lives.
    A far better strategy here would be to simply isolate the vulnerable elderly (like mrs. slifkin לאיט''א) and let everyone else get on with their cold - those that have any symptoms at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there are a few outlying "experts" that disagree, it's great for the press, allows them to present it as juicy controversy. It's pretty obvious that this is way worse than than flu, there were over 900 coronavirus deaths in one day in Italy, nothing close to that has happened in the past century.

      > maybe just stay away and let them decide how to
      > run their own lives.
      What an outrageous statement! They have no right (neither under secular law nor according to the Torah) to decide to act in a way that causes danger to others!

      Delete
    2. Thinking for themselves might be defensible, if that's what they were doing. The cohort under discussion by and large has no ability to weigh the facts, since they are completely ignorant of them. Do you think Charedim know the common death rate for the flu? Or what the death rate is for Covid 19, in China vs. South Korea vs Italy? Just being "skeptical" i.e., ignorant, isn't thinking for oneself.

      Delete
    3. Oh, so here we go again, always letting the guys off the hook to do what they want. Now it's up to the elderly to self isolate so the men can be irresponsible, just like it's up to the women to isolate and disappear from the public eye, so men don't have to exercise their self discipline not to look at women. This is a time when your normal routines are interrupted and possibly HaShem would like you to examine those routines and possibly upgrade them. It's time for the boys to assume the responsibilities of self discipline or isolate themselves. Enough of passing off the responsibility.

      Delete
  12. he could not legally instruct them to disband - WRONG!!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Actually, the analogy was actually first written by my father (https://www.facebook.com/yaakov.har.oz/posts/10158314275759391) and Rabbi Pesach Wolicki had commented on that post :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. From: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/619475/jewish/The-Joy-of-a-Mitzvah.htm:

    “But why weep?” continued Rabbi Zushe. “Don’t you know that the same G‑d who commanded you to pray, also commanded you not to pray when the room is unfit for prayer? By not praying in this room, you have achieved a connection with G‑d. True, it is not the connection that you had sought. Yet, if you truly want the divine connection, you would be happy that G‑d has afforded you the opportunity to obey His law at this time, no matter what it is.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent analogy. But you left out the end of the story!:
      The guards heard the commotion and came running. Witnessing the two brothers dancing—with their long beards and flowing tzitzit—the guards asked the other prisoners what had happened. “We have no idea!” they answered, mystified. “Those two Jews were discussing the pail in the corner, when all of a sudden they came to some happy conclusion and began to dance.”

      “Is that right?” sneered the guards. “They’re happy because of the pail, are they? We’ll show them!” They promptly removed the pail from the cell.

      The holy brothers then prayed minchah undisturbed . .


      The impediment that was preventing them from praying was removed.

      Delete
  15. Go to Nofei Aviv in beit shemesh. The outdoor minyanim on Shabbat are nice but as outlined above groups of 3 and 4 do start talking "during leining" (not good) and frankly very few of my neighbours are following the 100 meter rule. I saw fellow Avivians walk outside and tell the other members of the community of their plans to walk for an hour for exercise and avoid the main roads and certain streets to evade any police presence. People are simply not listening. And if they walk and catch it and bring it back to the community? Why can't people be machine on ben adom lchavero?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nofei Aviv ResidentMarch 29, 2020 at 11:26 PM

      Agreed. But the rav of the kehilla is in favor of these minyanim, so hard to shut this down.

      Delete
  16. Many charedim simply don't trust the authorities, and for good reason in my opinion. The government can make different rules for different age groups, but has made no attempt to do so. No one should be surprised, then, when people disobey government orders. Create logical rules, and people will be much more apt to listen.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well, RCK agrees with RNS.
    https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/haredi-leader-forbids-public-prayer-tells-followers-to-abide-by-virus-rules/

    ReplyDelete
  18. I attended outdoor minyan last week with 10 people spread out, at least 4 meters. I will not do it anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  19. from reb chaim kanievski
    השו"ת המלא בכתב ידו של שר התורה
    א. אדם שלפי הוראות הרופאים חייב להיכנס לבידוד כדי שלא ידביק אחרים אם חלה, והוא עצמו חש בטוב ואינו חש שום כאב או חולי, האם יכול לצאת מביתו, או שמצווה עליו להקשיב לרופאים למרות שמרגיש טוב?

    "לשמוע לרופאים".

    ב. אדם שטוען שהוא בוטח בה' שלא יחלה, ועל כן מזלזל בהנחיות הרפואה (בשמירת מרחק זה מזה, וביציאה מהבית שלא לצורך דחוף וכדו') האם אפשר להגדירו כ"רודף" כי עלול להביא אנשים אחרים לידי סכנה?

    "כרודף".

    ג. ואם ח"ו זלזל בהוראות וגרם למישהו למות, האם נחשב מזיד או שוגג?

    "קרוב למזיד"

    ד. אם יודע על אדם שחייב להיות בבידוד שיוצא החוצה ומסכן אנשים, מותר לגעור בו בקול ובחריפות, אף שאולי יתבזה מכך?

    "מותר".

    האם מותר למסור את שמו של אדם שמזלזל בהוראות הרופאים ומסכן את האחרים, לרשויות החוק? וכן האם מותר למסור מידע על בתי כנסת ומוסדות שלא נשמעים להוראות הרפואה, גם אם יביא לקנס כספי גבוה או אפילו מאסר?

    "מותר".

    ו. האם יש להשאיר טלפון פתוח בשבת למקרה שהרופאים יצטרכו להשיגו ויוכל לענות בשל חשש פיקוח נפש?

    "מותר".

    ז. מה הציבור יכול לקבל על עצמו כדי לעצור את המגיפה הנוראה שכבר מתו בה רבים כל כך?

    "להתפלל".

    yehuda tanner

    ReplyDelete
  20. Last night somebody told me about an outdoor minyan they attended last Shabbat where they decided to give aliyot only to people who know how to read for themselves, so that that nobody needed to stand close together. Seemed like a good idea, except that it started to rain in the middle and everybody ran together into a nearby apartment, negating all precaution. The story supports the point of the author of this article, it would have been better for them all to have prayed by themselves at home.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Please write an article about people running in hayarkon Tel Aviv or walking in Rotchild etc...
    Today is the day against the Charidim! This sickness arriving by non religious people!
    Is a shame that all the time that there is a group of religious not acting well they talk about all the charidim! Worst than hitler s time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. 60% of the virus beds in Sheba Hospital are taken up by the ultra-orthodox community that refuse to adopt social responsibility. 60%. They don’t contribute to 60% of the Israeli economy. They are ignorant & selfish.

      Delete
  22. I attended a maariv with my son the night before shuls were closed in the U.S. I already had davened at home on Shabbos and was opening doorhandles with my sleeve. I can tell you that I could count who coughed and how many times
    I had no ability to concentrate and left b4 the end. I don't see how anyone can properly daven under the circumstances.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Instead of bashing outside - minyanim we can focus on how to keep them safe; they will be happening whether the bloggers like them or not. I have seen backyard minyanim where everyone was keeping 15 feet apart and when it rained they skipped krias hatorah. When krias hatorah was performed the Torah was opened really wide and the oleh stood far from the koreh and did not touch the torah. Chareidim will be far more compliant when they are given a right way to do things than if they are told [arguably incorrectly] that it is technically forbidden

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How in the world can the koreh and the oleh be standing 6-15 feet apart and still be reading the same text? Sounds like it was probably a berachah levatalah.

      Delete
    2. large text scroll 21 inch klaf. But, regardless, even if a person can not see the words clearly it is not a bracha l'vatala. we follow the opinion that even a blind man can receive an aliyah

      Delete
  24. Moot point now. Bibi has banned outdoor minyanim.

    ReplyDelete

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