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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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