Obeying the Talmud in coronavirus crisis

Opinion: The insistence on keeping the ultra-Orthodox education institutions open it a time where gatherings are strictly prohibited is sacrilege that contradicts the basic Talmudic principle of saving a life above everything else

Chen Artzi Sror|
The Jewish mind loves to read every sentence four times, to dig for meaning deep underground, too bad viruses can’t learn Talmud.
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  • A virus doesn’t act according to any Talmudic law. On the contrary, a virus just spreads, a fact that makes the indifference of the religious and ultra-Orthodox population to the virus all the more vexing and worrying.
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    ישיבת מיר בירושלים
    ישיבת מיר בירושלים
    Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem breaching directives to fight coronavirus, March 15, 2020
    (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
    While Israel’s students are in quarantine, yeshiva students continue to study in large groups; while the streets are supposed to be empty of people, the streets of Bnei Brak are buzzing with people as if everything were normal.
    The insistence on keeping the ultra-Orthodox education institutions open at a time like this is pure anarchism.
    The main principle driving these students to continue to study is their resolve to not “cancel the Torah”, an undoubtedly important Talmudic principle, which as of right now contradicts two even more important Talmudic principles, “do not commit sacrilege” and “save a life.”
    There is a very real danger that packed crowds could cause an outbreak that will end in disaster. Furthermore any protection from the virus’ spread is based on mutual responsibility towards one another, where the majority gets together to help protect the few.
    When a group takes itself out of the equation, for the sake of God, all they do is give a bad name to the Torah and the commandments. It is up to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to use his connections in the ultra-Orthodox sector in order to stop any gatherings and not to cut corners.
    We need leadership, we need leaders to use their entire political weight and gravitas to make the most influential rabbis see the severity of the situation, and they in turn could influence dozens of people in their community.
    There are also other problems in other areas, for we will soon bear witness to how many people contracted the virus at Purim readings and parties.
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    בית הכנסת הגדול בבני ברק מגילת אסתר
    בית הכנסת הגדול בבני ברק מגילת אסתר
    Reading Megillat Esther at Purim in Bnei Brak
    (Photo: TPS)
    We can already see that some coronavirus cases visited synagogues, and women and men both breaking quarantine to bathe in the mikveh - turning a place of spiritual purity into a site of death and disease.
    For me, like many others, a locked synagogue is an unpleasant image. Yes, it is hard both spiritually and mentally, but these are unusual times that requires us to to take unusual steps.
    This is the time for rabbis of all streams of Judaism to take control and stop any gatherings. Consult with the professionals, don’t act wise, don’t pray, just save lives.
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