Leading Rabbi: Be more extreme than health authorities

Rabbi Asher Weiss publishes letter calling for extreme measures to stop the coronavirus, even beyond those mandated by government

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Rabbi Asher Weiss
Rabbi Asher Weiss
Arutz Sheva

Rabbi Asher Weiss, head of the Darchei Hora’ah rabbinical court, has published a letter calling for extreme measures to be taken to stop the coronavirus, even beyond those mandated by the government.

“Plagues have accompanied the Jewish People since time immemorial,” he writes, “and in every generation, the halakhah [Jewish law] demanded that we be stringent to the utmost degree, since the laws applying to a plague are not the same as those applying to a tranquil period of time.”

Rabbi Weiss explains, “All great rabbis, from West to East, Chassidic and Lithuanian, without exception, have ruled that one must follow the orders of medical experts – that is, remaining confined at home, fleeing from places of danger, maintaining a distance between people, and covering the mouth and nose.”

“It is a source of shame for us that not a day passes without more deaths,” he writes, “including Chassidic Rebbes, roshei yeshiva, Torah educators, regular people – and thousands are suffering agonies from this disease – and we cannot say that our hands have not shed this blood.”

Rabbi Weiss went further and called for even more stringent measures to be adopted than those the government requires: “I have already said in the past that we must be more stringent than the Israeli health authorities and the rest of the world … because the holy Torah instructs us to ‘Be exceedingly careful with yourselves.’”

Indeed, in March of this year, Rabbi Weiss also wrote a letter addressing the epidemic, in which he stated that “we must strictly obey all the instructions of the health authorities.” He even cited the famous ruling of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter during the cholera epidemic of 1848, when he ordered Jews to eat on Yom Kippur in order to preserve their strength.

However, Rabbi Weiss’ opinions are not universally shared by haredi rabbis; last week, Rabbi Moshe Shaul Klein, a leading dayan and posek who was one of the main students of Rabbi Shmuel Wosner ztz”l, stated that the current epidemic does not come under the category of “sh’chiach heizekah” (a widespread danger) in halakhah, and that therefore, “It is not a problem in Jewish law to gather together for the purpose of a mitzvah, because the mitzvah protects.” He was referring to coronavirus statistics that show a fatality rate of under three percent and probably much lower – a far cry from the death rate from cholera that was, in the 19th century, around fifty percent.

“We should heed the advice of the doctors,” he continued, as quoted by Behadrey Haredim, “but regarding mitzvot, the approach is different.”

He went on to explain that he was not claiming that no one would die as a result of the virus, but rather, that just as the government applies different rules to different situations, so too does this apply to the coronavirus.

“If the IDF Chief of Staff was in a war, would they say that he is in isolation with coronavirus, or that the soldiers can’t gather in groups of over ten?” he said. Of course they would not, “because he would not be able to win the war that way.”

Similarly, “if [the government] understood that … we must be engaged in prayer, that nothing is more essential than this, it’s like the army – and they will only succeed if we let them pray and study – and if they don’t, that’s the real danger to lives – the abolition of Torah and mitzvot.”

Therefore, he concluded, “the synagogues must not be closed, the yeshivas must not be closed. It’s like taking fish out of water … The yeshivas and synagogues are our life.”