Sure, Dump the Mask – Just Remember, the New Interns Start in 1 Week & Their Last Semester Was Online

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    by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

    Yes, it is true.  The new interns are starting on July 1st, and they really did do their last semester on line.

    And yet people are asking:

    “Must we still wear a Mask?”

    “Can we fully go back to shul now?”

    “Is it still safek Pikuach Nefesh?”

    These questions and more are being posed throughout the frum community in New York, and the reactions are quite varied.  Some point to the dwindling cases of COVID in New York to justify a return to the old normal.  Others point to Florida, Texas and Eretz Yisroel to remain vigilant and cautious. A major Jewish newspaper chose to print pictures of a regular wedding with no social distancing whatsoever.  Many of its readers were horrified.  “Do they not give a hoot over those of us who are at risk?”

    Some Five Towns residents are maintaining the backyard minyanim –  even wanting to make them permanent.  In the meantime, many of the shuls are struggling to get minyanim.

    One Five Towns resident justified the BY minyanim, “First and foremost it is safer.  Secondly, the whole family is davening together.  Thirdly, I hate masks.  It’s closer. There are no mishebayrachs and no speeches. It is much shorter this way and I spend more time with my family. There is no talking and there is more kavanah.  Need I say more?”

    Although it is hard to argue with many of these points – were it not for COVID-19 – this sentiment can destroy Yiddishkeit.  There is a huge need to support the shuls – which are part of the very fabric of maintaining all we hold dear. Shuls are called a mikdash me’at for a reason.

    So where should we go from here?  Is caution being thrown to the wind?  Will more people in our community die, rachmana litzlan, if we assume that the pandemic is over and that we should return to normal?

    Because of the very strong sentiments behind this issue, the rest of this column will be viewed as controversial. Let’s begin with five observations, some of them, perhaps contradictory of each other at first glance.

    1. Hashem runs the world. Ain od milvado.  We must keep this in mind before we embark upon any decision.
    2. Hashem wants us to do proper hishtadlus – to take proper protective measures.
    3. It is a mistake to allow observation number one to color to or ignore observation #2.
    4. The metzius in our times is vastly different than what it ever was throughout Jewish history. Interstate and international commerce and travel has changed the dynamic entirely.
    5. Decisions, especially those that affect lives and especially those that deal with public policy, must be made with reason, logic and facts, not emotion. Anyone who doubts this should reread Rav Yisroel Salanter’s Igeres HaMussar.

    This author would like to suggest that there is very little historic halachic precedence to the concept of “reopening.”  In past epidemics when people stopped dying, that was generally a good indication that the danger had passed. Thus, any special protocols taken on were stopped upon seeing that there were no more deaths or illnesses. The possibility of resurgence was not even considered.  This explains the paucity of halachic literature on the issue.

    It is different now.

    We have seen the resurgence happen in Eretz Yisroel.  We have seen it happen in California, Texas, and Florida.   It is very likely that it can happen here too, if we let our social distance guard down and as soon as the comingling of people returns.  Let us bear in mind that there is, as of yet, no vaccine and, as of yet, no very strong and effective medicine to treat those that are affected.

    Let us also keep in mind that our particular lifestyle is such that we are affected at twice the rate as the general populace is affected.  This coonclusion is culled from a comparison of COVID-19 in the frum community in England to the rest of the community.  The most logical distinction is indoor minyan attendance.

    The studies also show that outdoor outbreaks are significantly less prevalent than indoor ones – by a 19 to 1 ratio.   It is this author’s view that the eight Mitzvos involved in preserving the lives of the immuno-suppressed among us are still very relevant.

    [To clarify, it is this author’s view that we should still be maintaining social distancing and wearing masks if feasible in the indoor minyanim.  For those at greater risk – they should continue with the outdoor minyanim.  The reason is that there is an uptick in at least 3 major Jewish communities that will be coming face to face with the New York community. This is also the advice of most doctors that the author has surveyed as well as two Poskim.]

    Hashavas Aveidah

    One Mitzvah, believe it or not is Hashavas Aveidah. The verse in Parshas Ki Seitzei (Devarim 22:2) discusses the mitzvah of hashavas aveida, returning an object, with the words, “Vahasheivoso lo, and you shall return it to him.” The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “vahasheivoso lo.” In other words, this verse is the source for the mitzvah of saving someone’s life. It is highly probable that it is to this general mitzvah that the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 325.

    Lo Sa’amod Al Dam Rayacha

    There is a negative mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well. This is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam. Collectively, if we avoid indoor gatherings we can ensure that we do not stand idly by our brother’s blood – where we would have otherwise caught something and bring it back to an immune-suppressed parent or grandparent.

    Lo Suchal l’Hisalaym

    There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of hashavas aveida, and that is the verse in Devarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the mitzvah of hashavas aveida. The Netziv (Ha’amek She’eilah) refers to this mitzvah as well.

    V’Chai Achicha Imach

    The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemara in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you. The Netziv in his Ha’amek She’eilah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life—until it becomes pikuach nefesh for himself.

    V’Ahavta l’Re’acha Kamocha

    The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43), understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. The Ramban specifically discusses the issue of medical danger.

    VeNishmartem

    There is also the Mitzvah of “veNishmartem me’od b’nafshosaichem (Dvarim 4:9) — the Mitzvah of protecting our health and well-being.

    Rak Hishamer

    The verse later on (Dvarim 4:15), “Rak hishamer lecha” is understood by most Poskim to actually comprise a second Mitzvah (See Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita Shaar HaTeshuvos #25) — to take special care in our safety.

    VeChai Bahem

    There is also the Mitzvah, “V’Chai Bahem – And you shall live by them” (VaYikra 18:5).

    Idna D’Rischa

    From a theological perspective, we have perhaps entered what Chazal term as an “idna d’ris’cha.” One of my rebbeim, Rav Dovid Kviat, zt”l, once explained that there are two manners in which Hashem judges the world. He judges with both midas hadin, the attribute of strict judgment, and with midas harachamim, the attribute of mercy.

    Generally speaking, Hashem judges us with midas harachamim. However, there are times in Jewish history known as an idna deris’cha, periods of divine anger. The Gemara in Menachos (43a) tells us that generally Hashem does not punish people for abnegating a mitzvas asei, a positive mitzvah in the Torah. We are only punished for violating negative prohibitions. However, in a period of divine anger, we are punished for negating positive mitzvos too.

    Rav Kviat, zt”l, explained that there is an idea found in Sefer Devarim (31:18) of “hester panim,” where Hashem, so to speak, hides His face. “I shall surely Hide My Face on that day.”

    In an idna deris’cha, Hashem ceases to judge with midas harachamim; He judges instead with midas hadin. Midas hadin is almost unfathomable to the mortal mind in terms of its sheer strictness. No one wishes to be judged with the midas hadin.

    Decisions with Logic and Not Emotion

    So why are so many people negating the advice of medical professionals?

    Rav Yisroel Salanter writes, “HaAdam chofshi b’dimyono v’asur b’muskalo – man is unfettered in his imagination, but bound in his use of saichel.”  Proper Hishtadlus means that decisions should be made with logic and not emotion. A first step in understanding how we should be making decisions in the knowledge vacuum that we are currently experiencing involves studying and analyzing what experts call, “the description-experience gap.” This studies how people make decisions when they do not have certain experiences but only go with their gut feelings. [See https://pure.mpg.de/rest/items/item_2504668/component/file_2520389/content].

    Some factors affecting improper decision-making are: 1] lack of proper sampling data because people have never experiences the low-probability event themselves 2] the recency effect – where greater weight is assigned to more recent experiences 3] the desire to give in to short term temptation 4] biases toward either better or salient memories.

    An example of the description-experience gap is the measurable difference in opinions on vaccination between doctors and patients.   According to a Harvard study (see http://library.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/ft/rh/RH_Decisions_2004.pdf), “Parents who research the side effects of the DTaP vaccine on the National Immunization Program Web site will find that up to 1 child out of 1,000 will develop high fever and about 1 child out of 14,000 will experience seizures as a result of immunization. Although doctors have these same statistics at their disposal, they also have access to information not easily available to parents—namely, personal experience, gathered across many patients, that vaccination rarely results in side effects; few doctors have encountered one of the unusual cases in which high fever or seizures follow vaccination. If the importance assigned to rare events differs as a function of how one learns about their likelihood, then doctors and patients might well disagree about whether vaccination is advised.”

    The Igeres HaMussar

    In this author’s view, this is how to understand Rav Yisroel Salanter’s Igeres haMussar – where the saichel is the additional information and the dimyon is the limited information of just going with the description and the 4 factors mentioned above.

    The Maharsha

    There is also a fascinating Maharsha in Yevamos 62a that asks on the Gemorah where Moshe Rabbeinu broke the luchos on his own accord without consulting with hashem – yet Hashem agreed to his actions.  Moshe Rabbeinu made a Kal v’chomer argument:  “If someone is a Ben Naichar (Moshe had a kaballah from hashem that this refers to someone estranged from Hashem) he may not partake of the Korban Pesach.  That is just one Mitzvah of the 613.  Here, however, they made an Aigel – violating all 613 – should I not therefore break the luchos?”

    The Maharsha asks why he did not make the kal vachomer argument – earlier when he was first informed by Hashem that Klal Yisroel sinned.  The Maharsha answers by quoting the Baal HaIkkarim (4:15) that it was nirah l’ainayim – his experience of it made a far greater impression.  Although Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in a responsum disagrees with this Maharsha – because how can one doubt Hashem – this concept of the description – experience gap clearly answers Rav Moshe’s animadversions and is the pshat of the Maharsha and the Sefer HaIkkarim.

    With such dangers facing klal Yisrael, we must take steps to ensure the safety of our immuno-suppressed brethren in whatever way we can.  It is this author’s view that the outdoor minyanim should be maintained until a vaccine is developed and those that go with the indoor minyanim should continue to practice full social distancing as much as possible (but we see from the pictures published in that paper that this is very difficult to maintain).  In the winter, the minyanim could be modified to include only shmoneh esreh and leining when it is extremely cold– but that is for another discussion.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    24 COMMENTS

    1. I write this only as a response to the guy who wants to keep his outdoor minyon. Rav Hoffman is a posek and its not my intention to negate anything he writes.
      It seems like boro park, willamsburg. Lakewood, Monsey, are a light years ahead of the five towns. I personally davened with an outdoor minyon until last week. It finally disbanded and although I’ll miss the smell of shabbos cooking at Thursday night marriv, and standing under a tarp when it poured one Friday night, and then stepping into the mud on the way out, or the raspberries falling on my head during shachris., I am still happy to be back in my shul davening at a real table with real benches and getting an aliya while looking into the sefer Torah. I also won’t forget the dirty looks, especially the last two weeks, some neighbors gave us. Of course they were upset some of these people never left their shul.

    2. The author is engaging in demogauger, playing on people’s emotions to win an arguement.

      The epidemic is over. And as the author acknoweledges , traditionally when people stopped dyin, life resumed, “but this is different”, he writes. No, it is not. Epidemics would hit areas, leave, and things resume., even while it was still fully active in other areas. Also, most areas did not get hit twice with the same plauge. The black plague made its rounds for a thousand years, but mostly appearing and vanishing ,only to show up somewhere else.

      And people with higher risks should take the necessary percautions themselves if they feel they are in danger, and not come to shul. Life must move forward.

        • Try reading yoeli’s full comment . Like classic fake news you type half comments.

          Even israel with a large new wave now has 0-1 deaths a day. It seems to be over there too even if lots of postive tests. Let’s pray only Palestinians die

      • If you knew how to spell and showed some knowledge of the English language you’d be more likely to convince others your fake news is correct to ward off them Googling it and finding out otherwise.

        Yes, I know, Google is just a liberal hoax.

        Sigh.

      • Ah yes let the old people take care of themselves. That’s wrong on so many levels. (A) That is not what happens. (B) The halacha is the klal must act for pikuach nefesh. (C) I suspect your Jewishness–where is your rachmanus.

    3. Fear mongering is not the way to go stop trying to push the narrative that it’s correct to stay home it’s like the secular news most of the erliche Yiden I know lakewood and monsey go to shul and school just as Hashem wants

    4. “Mikdas Meat” Once upon a time. Today when most Shuls stand for Big Kidush , ladies showing their newest
      dresses/sheitlach and so many shuls have a hard time to have a Minyan friday night before skieh, many many times there aren’t 10 people answering B”h b”s and Omen I have no doubt its NO LONGER Mikdash Meat. Davening at home (Bechol Mokajm asher atoh azkir es smi ovaj elecho uberachticho) is the new Mikdash Meat in our days.

      • Baloney. Make up your own torahs. As long as yidden come together its a mikdash mat. who says you need to daven before shikah?

        Takng in shul has been an issue since the tosfas yom tov and tach vtat. Nobody till you secular jews came long, said don’t daven in shul

    5. Bokitzur. Davening with a minyan indoor/outdoor is a potential Issur (8 different) Mdayrayse. (Sofek Dayrayse lechumre. Davening at home without a minyan is no ISSUR (Dayrayse) at all.

      • Nope it no issur if its safe. Its now safe. Outdoor was always safe and also never an issue. False narrative and OCD

        The koach of an amen yihah shima raba , koach of a tzibur, etc.. is far gerater than yourlitfak torahs about Issur vs no issur. Shuls are ur lifeline and our bies hamkikdush

    6. -Whatever.

      Facts:
      The entire FRUM community from Boro park, Willamsburg,Lakewood, Monsey,Kiryas Joel etc life is going on as it is supposed to. ALL stores are open and of course ALL Shulls, Mikvahs, Yeshivos are open as well. Weddings are going on. Life is back to normal.This has been going on for quite a few weeks B’h.

      Why?

      Because everyone either had the Virus and those who didn’t have it by now normally wont get it anymore. Because by now they were all in contact with those that had it.And if they didn’t catch the Virus till now they wont get it.

      Of course I will wear a mask when I go into a non-Jewish owned store,Bank,Post office. But otherwise it’s not Purim and no more mask for me.

      All of you who believe a word that attention seeker Cuomo says should still wear masks and keep social distance.

      • Israel disagrees with your (and EDUCATED trump etc) false theory. Chazal says that we in Chutz Looretz (America etc) are……… In Eretz Yisroel they understand this much better. More people died in Boro Park than in entire Israel. This are FACTS. Israel increased testing…

      • Governor Coumo in NYS opens up the economy daily. Less than 1% infection rate. Texas, Florida,Arizona,Ky and other trump following States have daily increase to a point that even Texas is now trying to follow Governor Coumos lead. No wonder that Coumo has 82% rating and Trump is 36%

      • “from Boro Park, Williamsburg,Lakewood,Monsey,Kiryas Yoel…Stores Open..Shuls etc open” YES . Correct. NY and NJ are all liberal, Democrats are doing well, thanks to COUMO. Yiden in Texas,Louisiana,Florida and other trumpist states just getting a 2nd hit even worse than the first was by listening to trump.

      • Right, we must be following Cuomo’s advice when we make personal safety decisions. Have you spoken with a doctor that you trust to make medical decisions in other areas of your life about this? Why wouldn’t you wear a mask if it (rightly) makes other people feel more comfortable and safe?

        I’ll tell you the ugly answer, though you probably don’t want to hear it. It’s not because there’s an issur to wear a mask- there isn’t. It’s not because it’s a mitzva to “fight the doctors”- it isn’t. Both of the statements I just made are universally acknowledged.

        You know why you won’t? Because you’re a selfish loser who is rationalizing dangerous and despicable behavior to give yourself a little more comfort at the expense of yenem. You’re not a Ben Torah, you don’t have Yiras Shamayim and Yiras Cheit. You have Yiras your friends who may mock you for being careful, and you care exclusively about yourself and not about others. Leave my Hashem out of your self absorbed calculations.

        Are we all perfect? Certainly not. But don’t come here and try to justify your despicable, selfish, dangerous and problematic behavior in the name of G-d. Because of people like you we can’t have nice things.

    7. The frum communities in Brooklyn all believe that the virus is gone. They have zero or close to zero new cases in about 7 weeks. Many ,medical professionals agree that it’s gone.

      But will it come back? If yes,when, today, tomorrow, next week or not at all? That is the question.
      And this is where the risk is.

      • so should we wear masks for the rest of our lives lest it return? Is this the new norm? Where do you draw the line?

        Every winter is flu season should we wear masks every winter?

    8. Fake News. Democrat hoax. No one died of COVID 19.

      Only 15 people got sick. It was no worse than the regular seasonal flu and it was over by April. It was like a miracle.

    9. 1) There are less reported cases
      2) Social distancing rules have been ignored by growing numbers of people
      3) There are huge spikes in many states, with thousands upon thousands of new cases being reported daily.
      4) There is not even close to a guarantee that this extremely dangerous virus will not suddenly reappear.
      5) The fact that many people are symptom-free for weeks and can spread the virus without even knowing has to be taken into account.
      7) The level of danger is way above the threshold for ‘dashu bei rabim’ and ‘shomer pesayim HaShem.’
      8) The reward of going to a shul to daven in a minyan has to be weighed against the realistic possibility that the virus will be spread in just such a setting, as has been documented, resulting in death [or permanent lung, heart or kidney damage to many survivors] to members of the kehillah.
      9) We violate Shabbo, Yom Tov, Yom Kippur etc if a person or a medically knowledgeable witness feels the person’s life MAY be in danger, even if the danger is remote.
      10) Despite these indisputable facts, there are people, at best ignorant, who choose to go to indoor minyanim when so many of our rabbonim have urged us not to do so.
      This is truly unbelievable.

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