Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Isolated Chance

The man didn't stay in quarantine, the police came to look for him. What did his wife do?


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Cheshvan 7 5780
"Is this Yaakov Goldberg?"
"Speaking" Yaakov had half a second to contemplate who would be calling him now, before the voice on the other end continued.
"I’m calling on behalf of the Ministry of Health, to inform you that an attendee of the Rubin/Schwartz wedding was confirmed positive for COVID-19. Because of your presence at the wedding, you are required to enter a ten day quarantine. Compliance with this order is required by law."
The caller hung up the phone before Yaakov could digest what he had just heard. Quarantine? It didn’t sound like a pleasant prospect, but Yaakov was willing to do his part to protect others. But, wait a second! The potential exposure to the virus had taken place at a wedding that he was… supposed to attend! Yes, the groom’s father was a close friend, and Yaakov had really wanted to go, but a work emergency had left him no choice but to miss the wedding. Which meant that… Yaakov had no reason to be in quarantine, after all!
Yaakov and his wife, Batsheva, mulled over Yaakov’s options. He could try to find someone to call from the Ministry of Health, and explain that there was no reason for him to be in quarantine. Somehow, it didn’t seem likely that his story would impress anyone. On the other hand, it didn’t seem right to subject himself to quarantine for no particular reason, though.
The next morning, Yaakov awoke to the sound of his waterfall-and-chirping-birds alarm, as he did every day. Without further thought, he got dressed, took his tallit bag, donned his mask, and headed off to shul. It was about ten minutes after he opened his siddur that the trouble began.
The sound of tires crunching over gravel drew Batsheva’s gaze to the window. She watched as a vehicle, emblazoned with the words "Ministry of Health," pulled up to her house. This could not be good. How would she explain the absence of her husband, who, according to Ministry of Health records, was supposed to be in quarantine?!
Thinking quickly, Batsheva grabbed her husband’s spare tallit, threw it over her head and shoulders, and went to answer the door. The white swathed individual standing in the doorway took a look at the tallit clad figure, scribbled something on a notepad, and headed back to the car.
Batsheva breathed a sigh of relief, as she gingerly replaced the tallit in its bag. That had been a close call. Her husband could have faced a serious fine, if he had been found violating quarantine. Then another thought struck her. Was she allowed to deceive the Ministry of Health representative, like that? On the other hand, maybe she was justified, because her husband had no real reason to be in quarantine. Did she do the right thing?
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
Batsheva was allowed to do this. She did not lie. All she did was put on a tallit. 1
Another question which arises is that of "lo yihiyeh kli gever al isha" (a male garment may not be on a woman) (Devarim 22:5). Targum Yonatan ben Uziel explains that this verse prohibits a woman from wearing a tallit or tefillin. However, because Batsheva wore the tallit only briefly, for the purpose of deceiving the person at the door, this prohibition is not a factor.
Another consideration is the commandment of "dina d’malchuta dina," which requires a person to follow the laws of the country in which he is living (assuming that secular law does not contradict with Torah law). Perhaps, despite the fact that the Health Ministry quarantined Yaakov falsely, dina d’malchuta dina would still apply. The counterargument to this is that, if Yaakov were to appear in court, he might successfully argue that the quarantine order was issued falsely, and, therefore, he was not required to comply with it. The matter requires further examination.
In summary:
Batsheva was allowed to wear a tallit in order to avoid a fine which was based on a false premise.

^ 1.There is a story in the Gemara, involving the wife of Ohn ben Pelet, which contains some similar elements. Ohn had been persuaded to join Korach, in his campaign to discredit Moshe Rabeinu’s G-d given right to lead the Jewish people. Ohn’s wife wished to save him from this terrible sin. She persuaded Ohn to change his ideological position, however, Ohn was unsure how to extricate himself from the mess he had gotten himself into, as Korach and his men still assumed that Ohn was siding with them. When Korach and his followers came to Ohn’s tent, his wife stood at the entrance with her hair uncovered, and informed the men that Ohn had died. (See Sanhedrin 109b) Although the cases are different, in that Ohn’s wife was saving him from a grave sin, there is some commonality in the stories.

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