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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts The Coronavirus Pandemic

Chapter 18

Lockdown Fever

Rabbi Dov Berl WeinCheshvan 2 5781
22
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In the good old days when a person was isolated and alone for a period of time in one's own home, the common expression was that one was suffering from cabin fever. Due to the coronavirus pandemic’s effect upon society, many countries including Israel have enforced stay-at-home lockdowns in an attempt to combat the contagious nature of the disease.
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18 - Lockdown Fever
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There is great debate raging in all the countries and especially here in Israel as to whether or not the lockdown is truly necessary, and if it is effective in slowing the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, the lockdown has become a political instead of a purely medical discussion.

There is no question that the lockdown has had an enormous effect upon our society and community, economically, socially, psychologically, and spiritually. We are forced to wonder as to whether we have somehow made the cure as bad or perhaps even worse than the effects of the problem itself.

Since I am not a medical expert, I cannot really opine on this issue with any great degree of certainty or wisdom. Nevertheless, I think I am clearly aware of consequences that will be long-lasting after this lockdown is over and even after the pandemic is under control by vaccines, therapeutics or simply by the fact that in the past pandemics eventually run their course and end.

Whichever way we view this matter, there is no question that the lockdowns have had a devastating effect on our communities in general and on many individuals. And there are effects and consequences that will only become apparent months and years from now.

Jewish history and halachic norms based on tradition in these matters is greater even than the gift of prophecy. Invested in Torah, leadership throughout the generations many times established rules, customs, and instructions for social and private behavior that, so to speak, expanded the biblical rules of the Torah itself. These rabbinic decrees and customs many times were established not only to meet immediate and current situations but were farseeing enough to deal even with later consequences that at the moment of the decree may not have been visible or understood by the masses of Israel.

There is no question that all wise decisions must contain an element of prophecy within them. The rabbis have taught us that the wise person is someone who can anticipate the future and take steps to deal with it presently. The rabbis have also taught us that wisdom in these matters is even greater than the gift of prophecy.

I have thought long and hard about decisions and actions taken and made during these lockdown periods. I do not debate the medical wisdom involved in so doing nor do I intend to criticize or even strongly disagree with many of the rabbinic opinions advanced throughout this last period of the coronavirus. However, I do feel that many of the leniency's regarding prayer – including places of prayer and outside ad hoc prayer services – have long-term consequences, some of which may certainly not prove to be beneficial and positive.

The problem always is that Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again easily. Once you have told people that hearing 30 blasts of the shofar is sufficient, that many parts of the prayer service can be omitted, that attendance for prayer in an actual synagogue can be dispensed with because it is more convenient to pray at home, and that these originally ad hoc prayer meetings are allowed somehow to become permanent synagogue breakaways, then next Rosh Hashana – we should all live and be well to observe it in health and good spirits – there will be those who will somehow yearn for the good old days when we only had to be at a two -hour prayer service, with 30 blast of the shofar, no sermons and perhaps even the leisurely ability of private prayer in one's own home.

I know full well that there are people who will have difficulty physically in attending services in the synagogue building itself. But these people and people like them had such difficulties before the coronavirus struck. Everyone must do the best that they can and watch out for themselves in manners that they find healthy and convenient. However, it cannot be that the cure of the lockdown should somehow become the norm and acceptable to our community and to the Jewish world generally.

Our synagogue has remained open constantly and when we could not pray indoors because of governmental rules we prayed outside - but outside of the synagogue building and nowhere else. The preservation of our community is dependent upon the preservation of the primacy of our synagogue and only a mindset that understands this and agrees to it will allow us to escape from the ravages of lockdown fever.

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein





Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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