Monday, October 5, 2020

A Serious Charedi Halachic Responsum on Covid and Torah?

Over the last six months, there has been enormous criticism over the claims from Rav Chaim Kanievsky (may he have a refuah shelemah) that Torah protects from coronavirus, which was employed as justification for keeping yeshivos open against government recommendations. Still, as I wrote, while the criticism is justified, it must be remembered that Rav Chaim himself is very old and very out of things. His five-word answers, drawn out of him by his manipulative family members, are not a serious halachic responsum, and even plenty of people in the charedi world acknowledge that.

In light of that, it is especially significant that a serious halachic responsum, on the topic of how much Torah protects against coronavirus, has indeed been published (you can download it here). It was authored by Rav Moshe Shaul Klein, widely considered one of the leading (charedi) poskim in Israel today, and is a leading member of Rav Wosner's Beis Din. Particularly significantly, he is the nasi of the Moked Harav International Halachah-Medical Hotline. An article in HaModia about the Halachah-Medical Hotline states that "Rav Klein is one of the foremost poskim today, and his knowledge in the medical field is amazing. He was a very close talmid of Harav Wosner, zt”l, and is known for his achrayus in psak." And so, while the charedi world is certainly not monolithic with regard to its approach to coronavirus, Rav Klein's responsum is extremely significant.

Rav Klein's lengthy responsum was published a few weeks ago, and begins by acknowledging the many, many people who have died of Covid. He notes that in general one must be very careful to engage in all precautions, and not to belittle them. But for praying in shuls and learning in yeshivos, things are very different.

Rav Klein's responsum primarily focuses on the application of the principle that shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim, "emissaries for a mitzvah are not harmed," and the related principle of shomer patayim Hashem, "God protects the naive." In traditional Talmudic style, these principles have questions raised against them from various scenarios, and distinctions are then drawn, such as that they don't apply when shechiyach hezekah, the source of harm is readily found.  After Rav Klein weaves his way through various Talmudic discussions which involve these principles, he concludes the first part of responsum by stating as follows:

"It appears that according to the situation that we see with the coronavirus, that at least 120,000 people in Israel were infected by it, and around 800 people died from it, and most of those who died were already sick (with other conditions) to the extent that any harm would disturb their health, and of the others who recovered, the the majority recovered completely, and only a small minority remained weak - this is certainly called lo shechiyach hezeka (no readily found harm). And there is therefore an obligation to open the synagogues and study halls and the yeshivos and kollels, for with such things it is said that shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim."

It is important to note that while arguments can be made about whether the costs of restrictions and closures (which are especially high to the charedi lifestyle) are justified by the low fatality rate of coronavirus, this is not the point being discussed in this responsum (at least, not overtly). Rav Klein is not arguing that the low danger of Covid is outweighed by the great importance of maintaining the shuls and yeshivos. Rather, he is saying that the danger of Covid, for people in shuls and yeshivos, is non-existent, because of shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim and other principles that we will later discuss.

Now, Rav Klein's claim that the situation is to be classified as lo shechiyach hezeka can be strongly disputed. His dismissal of the deaths of people with pre-existing conditions is deeply problematic, as is his dismissal of those who are sick but do not die. The Gemara (Yoma 11a) considers even mere financial cost to be hezeka. Certainly grave illness, let alone death, would be rated as hezeka.

But there's another point upon which I would like to focus, which involves three related questions:

1) What does shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim actually mean? 

2) What does Rav Klein think that it means? 

3) Has Rav Klein, who is using this concept to resolve a matter of life and death, ever thought about what it actually means?

Let's begin with the first question. What does shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim actually mean? Does it mean that someone involved in a mitzvah is never harmed? Does it mean that they are less likely to be harmed (and if so, how much less likely - 10%, 50%, or 90%)? Does it mean that they will be unharmed, unless they contravene conditions X, Y and Z - and if so what are X, Y and Z? Does it have any clear meaning at all?

As noted, the Gemara itself qualifies the concept, by stating that shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim does not apply in circumstances of clear and present danger. Rav Klein thereby concludes that where there is no significant present danger (which he considers to be the situation with Covid), then it does apply.

But what on earth does that mean?  Does Rav Klein believe that people learning in yeshivah or davening in shul are not harmed by coronavirus? Clearly, the evidence is otherwise! (And let's not forget about other lethal harm which befell people in the middle of Torah or prayer, in the Merkaz HaRav yeshivah and in the Har Nof shul massacre.) How on earth does he completely fail to at least address this question?!

In the same way as the Gemara comes up with the qualification that it doesn't apply when there is a clear and present danger, other people have come with all kinds of other ways to get around it. None other than Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes that if it's the person's time to die anyway, then he will die! He explains shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim to mean that the mitzvah itself won't be the cause of the person's death - it will only be the apparent proximate cause, not the ultimate actual cause.

In other words, if a person is learning in yeshivah and contracts a fatal case of Covid, or if he is davening and is suddenly shot by a terrorist, then it was not these things that led to his death in any way; rather, God decided that his already-preordained time to die should occur in this way. In Derech Sicha (vol. 1 pp. 99-100), Rav Chaim goes even further and claims that God does it as a particular merit for a tzaddik that his death comes about via the seeming cause of his doing a mitzvah, so that he can be said to have died being moser nefesh for a mitzvah. (This is odd, because according to Rav Chaim he was not actually moser nefesh for the mitzvah.)

Yet this explanation is deeply problematic. If people who seemingly die of Covid contracted while learning or praying did not actually do so, but are rather dying at their preordained time, then what of the people who contracted Covid while doing other activities? Are they not dying at their preordained time? There's a level where we say that things happen for ultimate, divine reasons. At that level, it can be said that we don't know the true reason why anyone dies. But there's also the real-world scenario (in which halacha operates), where people die due to accidents, murder, disease, and so on etc. Trying to selectively mix the two just doesn't work. 

Whatever qualification or rationalization is employed to explain why shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim does not apply in various cases, the bottom line, the facts on the ground, are that people engaged in a mitzvah are not harmed, except when they are. Do people not realize that the principle of shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim is something with absolutely zero effective significance? It's a nice aggadic concept, and one can create interesting aggadic questions and reconciliations with it, but it's not something that has practical effect which can be used in a halachic calculation to guarantee that people will not suffer harm.

Now, you might say, "But the Gemara uses this principle!" And the perhaps-surprising answer to that is that no, it doesn't. The Gemara never uses the principle of shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim to argue that people should engage in potentially risky endeavors. Every instance of this principle in the Gemara is the same: The Gemara mentions how people should not engage in certain actions which are risky; the Gemara then asks "But isn't it said that shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim?" And the Gemara answers that it doesn't apply in those cases, because there is a realistic risk. We have no idea when or even if the Gemara would ever actually apply it.

(It is true that at the end of Iggeret Teiman, Rambam invokes shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim when he urges that his letter be sent around despite the risks. But it is important to bear in mind that Rambam believed that his letter itself was urgently necessary to protect the Jews from dangerous persecution, and his invocation of shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim should probably taken as serving to convince his audience to distribute his letter.)

Later in the responsum, Rav Klein justifies his approach by invoking other Talmudic principles, such as that maan de'lo kapid, lo kapdinan - "if one does not take note of it, it does not take note of him." He notes that there were many things which historically were considered dangerous, and with which today we do not exercise caution, and the reason is the Talmudic justification (Pesachim 110b) of "if one does not take note of them, they do not take note of him." But the Gemara is talking about how in the Land of Israel, they were not concerned about the superstitious fears prevalent in Bavel! It's used as an excuse to explain why we don't care about demons or any of the dangers spoken about in the Talmud, in the light of the observable fact that no such harm from these things actually exists. It doesn't mean that when observable facts of danger do exist, one can immunize oneself from it by not caring about it!

In the penultimate paragraph of the responsum, Rav Klein addresses the issue of masks. He begins by stating that there is debate in the medical community as to their efficacy, and that in any case there is no empirical data showing that mask-wearing communities have lower rates of infection. He then adds that wearing masks has the downside of causing psychological harm from coronavirus anxiety, whereas those who don't wear masks merit divine protection (shomer patayim Hashem, ma'an delo kapid lo kapdinan), and if they are learning Torah, they are also protected via shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim. 

In his final paragraph, Rav Klein bemoans the spiritual harm caused by the shuls and yeshivos being closed. He urges everyone to strengthen themselves and return to mass-studying in the yeshivos, and to davven in shuls rather than outside. Astonishingly, he invokes the Talmudic principle of "Torah does not survive except in one who kills oneself for it." This traditionally meant that one should symbolically kill oneself, i.e. exert tremendous effort, to learn Torah. But he seems to be employing it non-traditionally and entirely literally! After all, he's not saying that one should exert tremendous effort to maintain Torah study while obeying restrictions - he is saying that one should go back the yeshivos, and literally take the chance of killing oneself! (And then, he proceeds to completely contradict this by saying that the Torah will protect people anyway.)

In any case, the final paragraph makes the real story clear. Rav Klein believes that the precautions for coronavirus - from closing yeshivos to even wearing masks - are so harmful to the charedi way of life that they should be disregarded. He doesn't believe that the dangers of coronavirus are serious enough to outweigh this, and so he devises a way to halachically back up that foregone conclusion. And his way of doing so requires him to make claims that he probably himself doesn't believe.

There are two points that I'd like to make about all of this (and probably many more that could be made). One is that this responsum, written by a senior posek occupying an important role with regard to Torah and medicine, shows that while there are respected rabbinic voices in the charedi world (such as Rav Asher Weiss and Rav Yitzchak Berkovits) who call for a cautious approach, and there are plenty of people in the charedi world who follow all precautions, there is certainly a significant problem of charedi rabbis justifying disregarding the risks and not taking precautions. The picture on the right shows meetings between Lakewood roshei yeshivah and Agudah officers, discussing how to fight the coronavirus restrictions - while meeting indoors, without distancing or masks.

The second point to be noted is that a lengthy and purportedly serious responsum, by someone considered one of the foremost poskim in the charedi world, and a particular expert in Torah-medical issues, is very, very problematic. It's one thing to be a non-rationalist with regard to issues of no practical significance, such as with regard to writing drush, or considering questions regarding the age of the universe. It's very different to be a non-rationalist when one is making actual practical decisions regarding life and death. To blithely employ principles about people engaged in mitzvot not being harmed, without dealing with the fact that this is observably not true, is appalling.  

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72 comments:

  1. If it just people's predetermined time to die anyway why get all worried about the pandemic. Either you will die or you won't die and nothing you can do to protect yourself will change that. If it is your time the pandemic or something else will get you and if not not

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    1. Or why protect yourself from any danger, like terrorism or a war? In fact there would be no need for an army. Oh wait ... well at least they're consistent

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    2. Read ספר החינוך on מעקה.

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  2. Did not have time to research nitty gritty halacha on this matter but will reflect what my great grandfather and grandfather two very esteemed litvak-misnaggid European Rabbis would most likely advocated. FOLLOW THE ADVICE OF ACCEPTED AND RECOGNIZED MEDICAL EXPERTS. MOREOVER, if there were government regulations or guidance that were issued then YOU MUST FOLLOW them. What sort of insanity has invaded Judaism ? ACJA

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    1. As Rabbi Shimon Freundlich (the Chabad shliach in Beijing) said, when the COVID epidemic started spreading and becoming a pandemic: "I am not a doctor. I am not a posek. But, in cases such as these, the doctor is the posek."

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  3. At the very start, Rav Klein cites a Gemara saying that the mitzvah of bedikas chometz would save a personal from possible scorpion stings except that one might tarry to search for a needle.

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    1. The gemara allows him to search for a needle at the same time as he searches for חמץ. But when he's done searching for חמץ the protection of observing the מצוה ceases & he's once again in danger. See Rashi.
      How to we apply this gemara practically? If someone is learning mask-less in a crowded בית מדרש what happens when he pauses to take a break? What happens after תפילה when he chats with his friend (no distance) as he removes his תפילין and טלית ?

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    2. This is actually a good, substantive objection to the ruling. As opposed to the ones in this post, which are only "deeply problematic" if one accepts the Rationalist shita.

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  4. How can a great posek have such obvious flaws in his argumentation? Is he himself convinced by the arguments he made or does he know that it could result in hundred of unnecessary deaths? I don't know what would be more frightening from someone who is supposed to have such a high position in the haredi world...

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    1. many poskim have articulated that they "know" the psak through their halachic intuition (hashgacha?) and then construct the case for it. there's a story told (i think about chasam sofer) that he left his psakim for his son to review and send out. one psak his son wasn't happy with the logic so he left it in the pile a few days. the father told him to send it, whether the logic was unconvincing to the son or not, the psak was correct

      moadim lsimcha

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    2. That's interesting! Do you have a link for the source?

      I could see how someone whose life goal was to protect tradition and status quo would conclude that his "traditionnal values" and intuitions held more weight than any logical deductions. But, at the same time, it makes one extra vulnerable to bias and the psak may be more a reflect of preconceived ideas than the expression of Hashem's will that we are often told halacha should be.

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    3. sorry-no. i listen to shiurim on line and don't remember who told that story.
      gt

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  5. I "love" how people claim that they are different medical opinions on the efficacy of masks. That is completely untrue. Hundreds of research papers show that masks work as source control, and that they help prevent catching viruses. These parts are easily accessed via google scholar. It's so easy to claim things when one isn't asked to bring actual, substantive proof.

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    1. Go to pubmed and search for articles on mask efficacy by Jingyi Xiao. A number of mask detractors will point to these meta studies. Cherry picking, yes, but it's not as cut & dried as many suggest, in particular for cloth masks. (Note that I believe there is more evidence on the side of the importance of even non-N95 masks)

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  6. "He begins by stating that there is debate in the medical community as to their efficacy"
    Actually he cites "opinions" that wearing a mask is dangerous!
    Old joke: What do you call a moron who graduated last is his class from a third rate medical school? Doctor.
    You can always find a "doctor" who has contrarian & dangerous unproven ideas. They are called quacks.
    What's really weird is that he applies שומר פתאים & שליחות לדבר מצווה to not wearing masks but doesn't applies these categories to wearing a mask in deference to the concerns of crackpot doctors. As if לא תעמד על דם רעך & ונשמרתם are not מצות that one can apply these categories? He found a few doctors who worry about mask wearing- despite that people in the medical field do this all the time AND NOTHING HAPPENS TO THEM! When one wears a mask to protect others- one is engaged in a מצוה! But that מצוה doesn't offer protection from non-existent dangers?!
    And that's one of the big flaws in this תשובה- he doesn't really deal with לא תעמד על דם רעך & ונשמרתם. (One who counts himself among the true חרדים לדבר ה will observe these מצות with all their הידורים & חומרות with zealousness & מסירת נפש.)
    Another problem: The charedi media & spokespeople have been repeating again & again how the community is very strict following all the gov't guidelines. How are they going to deal with this psak? Does he really command that much authority- when in comes to medical issues?


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  7. 1. This is how ALL poskim work on such shaylos (As well as supreme court justices in secular law etc.). For example Dati Leumi poskim just "intuit" that it must be mutar to shave, dance to music etc. on yom haatzmaut and then proceed to come up with all sorts of creative halachik justifications. Everyone comes from there worldview (and this is how halacha is obviously supposed to work as it was giving t humans and is quite flexible).

    2. More importantly - what this really comes down to is that you simply deny the validity of "shluchei mitzvah..." in ANY context. The gemarah is VERY clear in a halachik context that it is true when lo shciach hezeika, and that it means that you will not have bodily harm. for example, we can all agree that walking down the road to go to shul is lo schiach hezeka. Those that take the gemarah seriously will say that such a person ill not be harmed. If we find that people are harmed, it must be that it was their time anyway. People such as Rabbi Slifkin simply can't accept the rational Klal being said at all. It goes against there worldview.
    What I don't understand is why Rabbi slifkin doesn't simply include this in the long list of irrational gemarahs. But for those who have a non rationalist worldview (which rabbi slifkin admits has a very rich tradition in Judaism), it is perfectly acceptable and understandable that they accept such statements and live by them.

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    1. You can live by any nonsensical "methodology" (if you call disqualifying every exception to a statement that is obviously empirically false, of course always retroactively, a methodology) you want in your personal life. But when this nonsense affects public health it is not "perfectly acceptable."

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    2. When one is introduced to Judaism for the first time, it definitely can seem unreasonable and "nonsensical". All the things about miracles, prayer, Torah, and the spiritual way of life are certainly at odds with the modern materialist, scientific approach. But hopefully, the more you learn about Judaism, the more you will grow to appreciate it.

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    3. Anonymous:
      On the specific issues about shaving etc I think there is more like a "let's find a kula because this is important" (with the "this" being the need to look presentable at work during Chol Hamoed or being able to properly give thanks to Hashem for the modern-day miracle of the State of Israel) rather than "Oh hey I think it should be OK." Splitting hairs to you maybe.

      Regardless, Yom Haatzmaut is not the cause of hundreds of people's deaths and thousands of people's illness.

      And finally, while I do not for a second purport to know more Torah than this chareidi rabbinic leader whom I've never heard of, my rebbeim and his rebbeim clearly have different ways to ascribe VALIDITY to the idea of shchiach hezeka. If the most visibly contagious and dangerous worldwide infectious illness is NOT shchiach hezeka, then what, praytell, is?

      I wonder, there were no yeshivas during the Black Death (as I understand it, yeshivas were small enterprises centered around a particular rav/Rishon, not an institution - that only began with Volozhin), so I wonder what they would have done. And if we would be able to use the precedent or end up making distinctions ("they didn't have ICUs and such").

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  8. "Does Rav Klein believe that people learning in yeshivah or davening in shul are not harmed by coronavirus? Clearly, the evidence is otherwise! (And let's not forget about other lethal harm which befell people in the middle of Torah or prayer, in the Merkaz HaRav yeshivah and in the Har Nof shul massacre.) How on earth does he completely fail to at least address this question?!"

    This is a question on the Gemara, not on Rabbi Klein. You really think that every time we have a question on a Gemara, even a "deeply problematic" one, we don't follow it?

    "It's very different to be a non-rationalist when one is making actual practical decisions regarding life and death."

    Ah, this is the real point. You graciously give people the permission to not follow your shita, except when it really matters! And I would say the opposite. It's one thing to be a Rationalist with regard to issues of no practical significance, such the age of the universe. But when it comes to actual practical issues of life and death, such as SHUTTING DOWN shuls and yeshivos, you better be a non-Rationalist if you want the Torah to survive.

    "To blithely employ principles about people engaged in mitzvot not being harmed, without dealing with the fact that this is observably not true, is appalling."

    One could say the same for you. To blithely ignore principles about people engaged in mitzvot not being harmed, because you feel you have a question on the sugya, is appalling.

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    1. Why does everything need to be that of an extreme?

      Rabbi Slifkin, the simple reading of shluchei mitzvah enan nizokin seems to imply some level of protection. HOWEVER, the Gemara is clear that this is NOT a blanket protection. Seemingly, if we look at all those who died from Covid (not just in Eretz Yisrael), lechora, we see empirical evidence that shechicha hezeka. We also see that attempts around the world to isolate the elderly failed. And how are we to isolate those with diabetes and asthma and the like? Don’t those kids also deserve to go to school? I won’t judge until I see the Teshuva inside but as reported, it seems to not relate to reality as well know it.

      Happygoluckypersonage, why do we need to shut down? Move learning and davening outdoors wheb possible, mask (covering one’s nose as well as mouth), and social distance. Sure, you can find outlier ideas that these things aren’t helpful, just as, l’havdil, one can find outlier shitos in Halacha about all sorts of things that have been rejected by the consensus (take the Ra”ash’s shita about not needing two sets of dishes for basar and cholov). The truth is that the overwhelming scientific evidence is that being outside, masks, and social distancing help. One might counter that there is bias. Yes, there is bias but that bias only goes so far and can go the other way too. Additionally, countless frum doctors are advocating for these precautions and to claim these frum doctors are biased is to be motzee laz on frum yiddin. Sometimes shutting down may be needed but if we did what we are supposed to do, the chances of needing to shut down are much lower.

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    3. Anon, I find it ironic that people say masks and social distancing in the same breath, mixing the easy thing and the impossible thing. Because strict adherence to social distancing makes some of the most important activities impossible, and is equivalent to a shut down. That includes shuls and yeshivos.

      Number two, it is clear that Health Ministries/Departments will not be satisfied with minor measures "when possible", they will press for long shutdowns whenever infections go up. It is totally untenable for Jewish schools and yeshivos to be shut down and quarantined every few weeks, every time there are some infections discovered. This is the main issue Rabbi Klein is concerned with, and is why he advocates isolating, but not testing, a child who gets sick.

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    4. "But when it comes to actual practical issues of life and death, such as SHUTTING DOWN shuls and yeshivos, you better be a non-Rationalist if you want the Torah to survive."

      So the survival of Torah is predicated on whether or not you show up to Shul? When the temple fell we moved to shuls. If we cannot attend shul at this time pray at the home. Torah will survive so long as you read it. Period.

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    5. @happygoluckypersonage, Here's one last thing. During Sukkot, we may have to experience the weather, the elements. The weather is not always warm. Sometimes it is cold, wet, and rainy in the sukkah. But experiencing these kind of hardships helps refine and develop our character and appreciation for nature. Like Abraham who left his hometown at 75, we must learn to have self-reliance and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Interestingly enough, the Torah does not mention Abraham's earlier life until he becomes comfortable with his new way of living. Yes, not always learning in yeshivah or davening, or attending Shul, or even wearing a mask for that matter, is an inconvenience, but you must learn to live with it. Get used to it!

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    6. TH, it's difficult to explain to an outsider how much frum life revolves around shuls, yeshivos, and schools. You really have to live in the community for a while to get it. But your comparison to the Temple is spot on, closing shuls and yeshivos indefinitely is indeed equivalent to the destruction of the Temple. We wouldn't have voluntarily destroyed our Temple in a vain attempt to defeat this pandemic, I don't think.

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    7. As many have pointed out, rabbaninm this year are tasked with the job of mapping out a way to continue the world of Torah while taking into account the realities of the new situation MUCH LIKE Chazal did after the Churban. I was told about Rabbi Sacks' words in a machzor introduction, how he wrote how Chazal recreated Yom Kippur as a day of davening instead of a day of watching the Kohen Gadol.

      So sure, happygolucky, life is different now. But it is our job to keep Torah life going on in a safe way. Hakafos are being cancelled or curtailed, hoshanos are being minimized or tweaked, attendance in shul is kept to a maximum limit, outdoor minyanim have popped up - there ARE ways to keep going.

      And so what if social distancing is heard? Boohoo - this is what has been advised to SAVE OUR LIVES. Maybe not yours and mine specifically, but the next old person we come in contact with after catching the virus AND WE DIDN'T EVEN REALIZE.

      It's only hard if you don't care. I have seen outdoor minyanim that are able to remain spread out; I have seen outdoor minyanim that have everyone clustered together. The second minyan should split. It's not hard.

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    8. Yosef, I agree that in many cases minyanim can be moved outdoors, when weather permits. But my experience is that strict adherence to social distancing isn't possible even in those circumstances. I have almost never seen it happen, even among the most careful people who are trying very hard to distance. There is simply not enough room in the neighborhood to give every person a 6 ft radius. Perhaps your neighborhood has more space. But the elephant in the room is really schools, which are even more important to the Torah community than shuls, and which cannot be distanced or moved outdoors.

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    9. happygolucky, Its difficult to explain to an you how important it is to practice social distance during this time. As Yosef pointed out, if others can preform minyanim in a safe way, why can't you? Come on, lets all be a responsible human beings here. Its not hard.

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    10. DF, if it's so difficult to explain to the frum community why the importance of social distancing goes to the extent of making them PERMANENTLY close their shuls, schools, and yeshivos FOREVER, then there's no reason the frum community should listen to you. You are clearly somebody who would have no problem closing shuls, schools, and yeshivos even without the pandemic. Your best "explanation" so far has been that if the destruction of the Temple is OK, the destruction of shuls, schools, yeshivos is OK as well.

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    11. Schools do have a problem. One school we send our kids to spent the whole summer adding shields and such to the classrooms as well as planning out schedules to try to minimize contact.

      To say that something is "too hard so we won't even try" is just like what Paul said about the Torah, isn't it?

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    12. Yosef, I agree we should try. Our community tried very hard for seven months, united in our fastidious adherence to health guidance. After summer, we opened schools under the guidance of the Health Department with many precautions including wearing masks all day. Nevertheless, there were infections. We should take precautions where possible, but if that is still not enough, if there are still infections as will likely be the case, we absolutely must still keep our shuls, schools, and yeshivos open.

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    13. If I remember, I think one of Peter's biggest complaints about the Torah was that the mitzvot were a "burden." Similarly, DF said that wearing masks was a "burden." Neither of them is a "burden."

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    14. What confounds me is if Limmud Torah is so important, why can't schools at minimum adhere to regulations? I know of a high school on the East Coast that did not enforcing mask wearing. Naturally chavrusahs got COVID, cases climbed, and now that school is shut (as are all others in that town).

      So what they accomplished by flaunting regulations was stopping Limmud Torah. The cognitive dissonance is both astounding and disgusting.

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    15. I know of the schools in my community that did enforce mask wearing, and nevertheless cases climbed. It remains to be seen what measures can be taken to ensure cases don't climb, short of lockdowns. Evidence from different countries is all over the place, NZ just "declared victory" for a SECOND time after they thought they defeated the virus the first time, and cases still climbed. It seems likely that cases will climb again, and they will have perpetual lockdowns and "declare victory" many more times.

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  9. It is appalling that an representative of the "Chochma " of "Am Yisroel",a people who value life so highly can be so ignorant. His opinion will be directly responsible for the loss of many lives. Shocked beyond belief

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  10. I couldn't access the Responses. But I'm wondering: Does R. Klein relate to the fact that besides posing a danger to self (hence the references to the aggadic or Halachic principles of shomer p'taim etc.) Disregard of the accepted medical advice effectively turns the carriers into hundreds, thousands of "Typhoid Marie's"? So even if his Halachic position vis a vis the individual's plight is that the spiritual risks outweigh the physical risks, especially for the younger and healthier segments, these self same "low risk" or "acceptable calculated risk" segments, pose a real threat to the rest of the population! In conclusion, does he, and if he does, how does he factor that into his calculous?

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  11. what does " and is known for his achrayus in psak." " mean?
    gt

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  12. Ummm, the Gemara says that one can use Shluchei Mitzva etc as a practical guide, except where it is שכיח הזיקא. So the issue here is, is the tiny chance of death from covid 19 considered שכיח הזיקא.
    I happen to think that the issue is not שכיח הזיקא but something else. I am not willing to get into it over here, but I think that the law is binding on all of us
    Jason from Jersey

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    1. "Tiny" is unfortunately still more than usual, and it is an unmoving, unyielding phenomenon, and there are subpopulations for whom it is not so tiny. So yeah, still shchiach.

      I assume by "the law" you mean "since the government says to follow precautions, we must follow precautions" though.

      Delete
  13. 1. Someone learning in yeshiva is not a shliach mitzvah, he's just doing a mitzvah.
    Perhaps if I pay him specifically to sit and learn, he's my shliach emissary. But not general shlichut. But in this case, he can do "my" learning at home.

    2. As for the concept of one dies only when his time is up (et mispar yamecha amaleh), this specifically does not apply to a magefah, when one must avoid the magefah pandemic.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Went through it and is actually pleasent to read and see Rav Kleins mastery of Toira, you have some Gemara's I recently learned and haven't even thought of linking them to Corona.
    That said i believe that the big flaw in the whole responsa is that it comes from an individualistic point of view :  'If I can go out and daven and if I should worry of getting corona'. While there is no mention of infecting others. Its not even part of the reasoning in this whole responsa ?! What about the question of 'if its aloud to infect others ?'
    In otherwords its all about the well-being of the individual and the ציבור doesn't even come into consideration.
    Another point that bothered me was paragraph 22 where there was an argument of hospitals neglecting the patients. First of all this again shows that the tzibbur is not part of rav Kleins reasoning because part of the patients not getting the proper care is because the big amount of patients and the staff being overworked. But what really bothers me is the egoism and the blaming of others while only caring for me davening and me making sure that i learn. I have family member who works in Corona department and while there going in there on the risk of getting infected and work in difficult conditions and are overworked (one nurse gets Corona, another 2 gets therefore go into bidud and suddenly you have to add 12 mishmarot out of the remaining staff, who already is overstretched). And then the Rav criticizes hospitals for being bad.Don't get ppl sick and you won't have hospitals being on the brink of crashing.
    Personally it bothers me how disconnected the Rav is and how individualistic his reasoning. Anyways it's time certain parts of our brothers get out of this individualistic practising of Judaism and start realising that Judaism encompasses a nation being close to God. A nation and all that it takes to live as a nation according to the Toirah.
    The case he brings of Shmuel crowning David was about the personal well-being of Shmuel, while there are countless of examples in Tanach of ppl doing things for the klal on account of their own ruchniyos. Anyways it's all the mindset you learn Torah with. Reminds me about my brother's in חוץ לארץ who don't understand what the big fuss about Israel is all about.

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  15. Do people not realize that the principle of shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim is something with absolutely zero effective significance?

    Do people not realize?! This is just your opinion, and a very unconvincing one at that. Rabbi Klein certainly holds it has immense practical significance, as well as other poskim throughout the generations (see the metzitza b'peh controversy). This is just your own shita blinding you to other possibilities.

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    Replies
    1. Were Rabbi Klein to attend a medical study he would be perfect!

      Delete
  16. Please forgive my ignorance, but I don't understand why someone learning in bais medrash would be protected as a shliach mitzvah? Wouldn't he be an Osaik bmitzvah, not a shliach mitzvah?

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    Replies
    1. The Talmud employs the principle with respect to someone searching for Chametz before Pesach. So it appears that the language is not specific (lav davka).

      Delete
  17. This is a very bizarre teshuva. Even if everything he says is true (and he's wrong on much of the metzius), it is still possible to run a shul and beis medrash in a Covid friendly way with adequate distancing, masks and perspex screens, with minimal disruption to charedi life and in line with all recommended medical guidelines.
    How far does he take it? If someone tests positive then they shouldn't miss morning seder either?

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  18. Another factor the teshuva ignores is chillul Hashem. To avoid it, the Gemara adjures one to avoid doing things even if they only seem to be incorrect. Behaving in ways secular Jews regard as selfish and primitive may contravene this principle.

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    1. THIS

      This is why that story a few months ago about the post-Covid Brooklynite who donated antibodies that ended up curing a midwesterner who had never met a Jew before are so important. Unfortunately, they are few and far between.

      Delete
  19. Covid is overrated ,overblown and politically motivated ,WHO and these Government bodies Changed their views up and back many times ,
    It is a basic foundation halacha when the DR does not know we dont follow his view see Mateh Efriam Yom Kippur .
    The real question is Why is the government keeping a lid on the real way to get rid of Covid?through vitamins and sunlight and natural immune boosting ?
    Why are we being kept in the DARK about vitamin C and D and apple cider vinegar? Or coconut oil and hydroxocloroquin or Ivermectin all PRoVEN to heal Covid in hospital settings !!
    Dont believe me google it your self ! So the Rabbi Klien is just telling us not to be blind foolish mislead people M AY God Bless Him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please find me PEER reviewed medical studies that back your silly claims. If you can't, then all you have is wild, ignorant conspiracy theories, backed by NO evidence. I also highly suggest you not counsel any other people with these idiotic notions, as you don't seem to understand how science works. Of course I am probably wasting my time even replying to your post and you will probably not be able to come back to me with any PEER reviewed medical studies supporting your claims. You will probably come back to me with some nonsensical sequitur that is more silly than your original post.

      Delete
    2. COVID is not overblown, you just refuse to accept medical facts. Look at what happened all over the world. Vitamins and sunlight DON"T HELP.

      Delete
    3. Oh look, another "immune boosting" fraudster. How much money do you make selling people phony supplements that don't do a thing and are just placebos with no evidence to support your hoaxing claims, Greater Monsey? How much do you line your pockets selling people false hopes about vitamins and apple cider?

      Hydroxychloroquine doesn't work for severe covid cases (the ones who actually need a treatment to survive), and doctors have largely stopped using it. It didn't work in ANY randomized controlled study it's been attempted in. It doesn't even lower viral load, let alone have outcome benefits. Lo and behold as the more recent trend has been that hospitals are NOT prescribing HCQ anymore, while there has been an increase in the prescription of dexamethasone and remdesivir for hospitalized COVID patients, the mortality rate across every age group has dropped in the US's second wave.
      That could of course be coincidence, but using a placebo (HCQ) as a treatment in the first wave certainly could not have helped matters.

      Delete
  20. R. Natan, thank you for referencing this teshuva, I was not aware of it. I also very much appreciate your analysis, you raise many good points. I do, however, have to take issue with your two main critiques.

    You write “ Every instance of this principle in the Gemara is the same: The Gemara mentions how people should not engage in certain actions which are risky; the Gemara then asks "But isn't it said that shluchei mitzvah einam nizokim?" And the Gemara answers that it doesn't apply in those cases, because there is a realistic risk. We have no idea when or even if the Gemara would ever actually apply it.”

    That’s incorrect though. The gemara in Pesachim says explicitly that in theory shluchei mitzvah einan nizakin would apply to bedikat cahametz and that the only reason it doesn’t actually apply is because of a secondary concern (that they might continue to search for other things after they’d be done with bedikat chametz). This means then that I theory the principe is valid and legitimate.

    I also have to take issue with your interpretation of מאן דלא קפיד. In Arvei Pesachim it definitely means that קפידא is subjective and only affects those who are concerned.

    R. Klein is however wrong to apply it to Covid for a different reason. That premise is only said about mazikin, it’s not a universal rule about all dangerous scenarios.

    Be’yedidut,
    Ysoscher

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    1. "That’s incorrect though. The gemara in Pesachim says explicitly that in theory shluchei mitzvah einan nizakin would apply to bedikat cahametz and that the only reason it doesn’t actually apply is because of a secondary concern (that they might continue to search for other things after they’d be done with bedikat chametz). This means then that I theory the principe is valid and legitimate."

      But again, you have a loophole on why it doesn't apply. And that loophole applies to pretty much everything. I've never gone to shul where people don't engage in idle conversation after davening is over.

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    2. "That’s incorrect though. The gemara in Pesachim says explicitly that in theory shluchei mitzvah einan nizakin would apply to bedikat cahametz and that the only reason it doesn’t actually apply is because of a secondary concern (that they might continue to search for other things after they’d be done with bedikat chametz). This means then that I theory the principe is valid and legitimate."

      But again, you have a loophole on why it doesn't apply. And that loophole applies to pretty much everything. I've never gone to shul where people don't engage in idle conversation after davening is over.

      Delete
  21. The difference between your analysis and his, is that he accounts for details and you do not. The people who died, as sad as it is, do not constitute a שכיח הזיקא, he is quite right about that. The percentages are tiny.
    Put it this way. Imagine the worlds' governments decided to ignore this virus and allow their countries to carry on as usual. A fifty year old man with an average health condition who wished to go to Shul, work, the theater or store, would not be wrong for doing so. His chances of mortality would be too low to consider it an unacceptable level of risk. I don't think anyone would disagree with that, if using logic. Of course, when emotion comes into play, there is no knowing what people would say, but logically speaking, such a person could go out and mingle.

    That is why a person is not transgressing ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם by going to Shul in these days, even without social distancing, masks or any other precautions. This can in no way be considered שכי הזיקא.

    And btw, שכיח הזיקא is not based on statistics. The Torah does not usually use statistics, although modern life is largely based on statistics. שכיח הזיקא would be based on the fact that people generally survive this experience, the average person does not suffer long term effects from this disease, and death is quite rare. It happens, but not to the average person who contracts this disease. As an example, when a friend is diagnosed with cancer, we worry. When we hear someone has coronavirus, we are generally not worried. (At least those who live in areas that saw the uptick back in March) That shows us that it is generally לא שכיח הזיקא, we don't need actual statistics according to halacha.

    The issue that Rabbi Klein, and virtually every other Teshuva writer on this topic, seems to have missed, is the damage done to others. By going about business as usual, it is a ודאי that someone will suffer illness and death. What are our obligations on such an occasion? On whom does halacha place the burden of upending his or her life to save those (as yet nameless) people? How far and for how long? Does the rule of דינא דמלכותא דינא apply here, or is it a חמסנותא דמלכא?

    These are all Sugyos that we need to study and discuss, they belong in a Gemara and doctors' information is only a small part of the equation, albeit necessary.

    Jason from Jersey

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    1. Perhaps a fifty-year-old person going to shul is not - by logic - in danger of death.

      But he might be in danger of committing murder (well, manslaughter) by getting infected, barely recognizing it, and then transmitting it to his sixty-three year old boss who is a cancer survivor or his eighty-year old mother.

      Delete
    2. "And btw, שכיח הזיקא is not based on statistics. The Torah does not usually use statistics". The field of statistics is a fairly recent invention. To say that it is not used is to assume your conclusion. Of course it was not traditionally used because it wasn't there to be used. Poskim today absolutely do use statistics.

      Delete
    3. Yosef R - you should read till the end, where I mention that he ignored that point.

      But how sure are you that it is indeed ossur? What are the chances of him infecting someone else? If everyone lived life as before, what are the chances that any individual interaction will infect someone and kill him? Not too high. So what is the Issur? I am not saying it is muttar, in fact I think that it is Ossur. But only if the government forbids it. Without a government mandate, I think the chances are too low to forbid it. But with a government mandate, even sans דינא דמלכותא (as many Poskim believed that in the State of Israel, that does not apply), we would be mutually obligated to keep the law to prevent any deaths.

      David Ohsie - Why should the Torah change? If the Torah had a method of assessing שכיח הזיקא before statistics were discovered, why should someone delete that system in favor of the new one? What would be the Torah source for that?

      Delete
  22. Can we tackle the question of "is Covid a threat to life?"
    Based on Worldometers.info, 3% of people infected died and this number is in decline.
    There are many issues with the data, we don't know how many people have it without symptoms for example, which suggests the death rate is even lower.
    We know the death rate varies with age, so for some age groups the death rate is seriously low.
    Compared to other causes of death, are we reacting proportionately and rationally? Do we ban the sale of high sugar foods for example given what a killer obesity is? Are we installing Peloton's in Yeshiva so bochurim can excercise while learning? What about driving (odds of death in car crash ~1%), owning a swimming pool? Where do we stand on gun ownership?

    As long as the health service can cope with the patients thereby ensuring the death rate remains low, any response that disupts and causes pain to our daily lives is disproportionate and irrational.

    As such, these Chareidi Teshuvas may turn out to be correct

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  23. In any case, the final paragraph makes the real story clear. Rav Klein believes that the precautions for coronavirus - from closing yeshivos to even wearing masks - are so harmful to the charedi way of life that they should be disregarded. He doesn't believe that the dangers of coronavirus are serious enough to outweigh this, and so he devises a way to halachically back up that foregone conclusion.

    Weighing the costs of a protective measure against its benefit is entirely proper and necessary. If we didn't do that we would have shut down all the shuls (and all other activities requiring leaving the house) as soon as automobiles became common, lest one be killed in an automobile crash.

    On the other hand, that requires accurate evaluation of the risks and the preventative measures. The notion that the psychological harm (is there really any?) of wearing masks outweighs the protective benefit, both for the wearers and for those they might infect if they are infected and don't realize it, is laughable. That really is a far bigger problem than the use of "sluchei mitzvah".

    The sensible thing to do is adopt safety measures that maximize the safety while minimizing the costs. That would mean, in chareidi society, adjusting the times and places of davening (i.e. every shul and every suitable outdoor area should run sparsely attended minyanim from amud hashachar to sof z'man tfilla--and only from borchu) and learning to reduce the density, strict adherence to mask wearing, including trimming beards as needed, and reducing all other possible sources of spread even more. For one, having seen weddings of kids of friends (not in the chareidi sector, I should add) on livestream where precautions were utterly ignored, weddings should be limited to an exact minyan (including all the functionaries) plus the bride and her mother.

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  24. A closing of the yeshivas and shults is catastrophic to the haredi way of life and it's understandable that all efforts are being made to keep them open and that the risks are justifiable from their perspective. Yes, people will die, but the yeshiva and the hassidic courts will continue their existence. The tshuva isn't convincing and it's unfortunate that this is the best that the society can produce. But this is who we are and this is our level. The logic employed and the values are different from what is acceptable in the world in general. It's all very simple actually.

    Yakov

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    1. Closing of yeshivot and Batei Medrash is catastrophic to MO too.
      Charedim don't have a monopoly on desiring yeshivot and Batei Medrash. Despite charedi prejudices against MO.

      Delete
    2. So don't close!
      Keep them open in a proper manner, with dividers and distancing and... COMPUTERS!! (Computers of course is more of an answer for the schools and for weekday minyanim)

      Delete
    3. MO are not likely to go off the derech the result if it, many chareidim are.

      Yakov

      Delete
  25. A friend of mine sent me this:

    Pg. 236--רלו of first commentary book on Deuteronomy in Meam Loez,

    "There was a story of Rabbi Yossi who was traveling and on the way he went into a place where there were ruins in Jerusalem in order to conduct his prayers. At that moment, Elijah the Prophet appeared and waited at the entrance of the ruins for Rabbi Yossi to complete his prayers. When Rabbi Yossi completed his prayers, Elijah the Prophet said to him, 'Shalom Aleichem Rabbi Yossi'. Rabbi Yossi replied and stated 'Shalom my Rabbi and my teacher'. Elijah said to Rabbi Yossi, 'My son, why did you enter this area of ruins'? Rabbi Yossi replied, 'In order to pray'. Elijah then said, 'You should have prayed as you traveled'. Rabbi Yossi said, 'I was afraid that if I prayed as I traveled, then people that I would meet on the way would interrupt me'. Elijah said to him, 'you could have prayed a shorter prayer thereby avoiding putting yourself in danger by going into an area of ruins'. "

    "And so we learn from this exchange between Rabbi Yossi and Elijah that even though Rabbi Yossi went into an area of ruins in order to do a mitzvah , the mitzvah of prayer, regardless, Elijah told him that it would have been better had he conducted a short prayer while traveling rather than enter a dangerous place. And this is indeed the law concerning a time period when there is an epidemic. During such a time, one must immediately flee or lock themselves in their home and not delay. This is indeed the reason why G-d commanded Noah to enter the ark even though G-d could have commanded Noah to go to Eretz Israel since there was no flood there. And the reason for acting in this manner during an epidemic is because when the angel of destruction is given the authority to strike, it does not distinguish between good people or bad people. Indeed, if one hears about a smallpox outbreak, it is incumbent upon a person to flee with their small children and not endanger themselves. And our sages were more stringent regarding avoidance of potential danger than they were regarding avoidance of potentially doing something forbidden."

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  26. See Maharsha Shabbos 118b

     ממתים בדרך מצוה כו'. לא שייך בזה דשלוחי מצוה אינן נזוקין דהיינו ע"י עסק המצות לא היו נזוקין והכא מיירי בדרך מצוה במת בעת שעסק במצוה ולא ע"י עסק מצוה

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  27. You inspired me to further look into the sugya. It turns out that R. Klein's teshuva is an outrage. I hope to write up my response but briefly: there are two major flaws in his arguments, 1) both of his arguments שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקים and מותר להחמיר על עצמו only apply when you make choices which only affect you but not if others might be impacted by those choices as well. Assuming that the yeshiva bochur is halakhically permitted to go to yeshiva because of sheluchai ..., he still might contract the virus and then infect others who are not protected because they aren't engaged in a mitzvah. The same is with R. Klein's "choosing yeherag ve'al yavor for a non-cardinal sin" argument. Your choice isn't just about you, it also affects others and you can't choose to sacrifice another person's life. 2) R. Klein presents the shluchei ... argument as a matter of fact without any qualifications whatsoever. Well, that's incorrect. There is a huge literature on this issue. Some poskim completely reject it as a valid halakhic concept and others qualify it. Some of those qualifications end up making it impossible to apply the concept to our case. That R. Klein would ignore this entire corpus is surprising and problematic.

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  28. To the extent that the statistics he quoted are correct, the debate about constructive jurisprudence is not even of academic interest.

    The empirical and sociological facts are dictating the conclusion, and the Halachic discourse is and has always been about presentation. Which academics like Marc Shapiro have pointed out has been a feature of Rabbinical rulings from time immemorial, from ayin tachas ayin, beis din d'shoru mishchah, pruzbul, hetter mechiras chametz, hetter mechira for shmittah etc.

    The fact is the man is partially right. Right because full lockdowns to save lives likely cost more lives than they save: suicides, lost cancer, stroke and heart disease treatments; reduced national GDP to spend on health. Partially because a balance needs to be struck, and proportionate changes to lifestyle are necessary.

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  29. The gemara states (קידושין לט) in the סוגיא of שלוחי מצות אינם ניזוקין, that even when applicable (היכי דקביעה היזיקא) a person must be only involved in a mitzvah. If in fact, the person is also involved in an aveirah simultaneously, the protection would not apply. (דילמא מהרהר בעבירה הוה).

    So if there is a person with Covid in schul, and someone talks שיחה בטילה, let alone lashon Hara, or inadvertently utters a ברכה לבטלה, or talks during chazaras hashas, or maybe even learns during chazaras hashas,then the protection would be void. So it obviously cannot be a matter of public policy to rely on this.

    Furthermore, it is questionable if you could apply the principle to something which is not a חיוב מצוה, but rather only a קיום מצוה. There is a logic to this. Since we are obligated, and must do the מצוה, so there is some protection as we fulfill the obligation. The issue of the
    obligation of public prayer or reading of the Torah is beyond the
    scope of this comment.

    מאן דלא קפיד לא קפדינן refers to demons or מזיקין. It does not refer to viruses.

    שומר פתאים השם cannot apply in a country where people do where masks and distance and it is actually mandated by public health officials. Furthermore, there are other issues as to where שומר פתאים השם applies that are beyond the scope of this comment.

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  30. My last comment should have said "where it applies (הכי דלא קביעה היזיקא)". If it does not say "דלא", please edit.

    ReplyDelete

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