Living Halachically, And Mathematically, During This Pandemic

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by R. Gil Student

I usually enjoy Rabbi Chananya Weissman’s opinion pieces, whether I agree with him or not. His latest article, however – “Herd Immunity or Herd Insanity?” (The Jewish Press, January 1) – sadly misfires.

Rabbi Weissman claims that if you don’t shake hands with others and kiss the Torah in an outdoors minyan, you are a paranoid hypochondriac. He calls avoiding such behaviors insane. He doesn’t deny that Covid-19 is real and dangerous. But he says there are many ways one can die, so why worry about the virus?

This argument, however – as well as some of the other arguments he makes – runs counter to halacha, logic, wise public policy, and mathematics.

During an epidemic we must act differently than during normal times. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 60b) says when a plague comes to a city, one should stay indoors. Later authorities, including the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 116:5), Maharshal (Bava Kamma 6:26), and Maharsha (Bava Kamma 60b), say you should flee a plague initially but if you can’t, you should stay indoors once the plague takes hold. A Jew is supposed to act carefully and remain in safe places – or as safe places as possible – during an epidemic.

We find such health advice in other areas of halacha as well. For example, poskim discuss whether a person may endanger himself to fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick (bikur cholim) if the ill person is highly contagious. The author of Bikur Cholim BeHalachah UveAggadah (ch. 10, n. 18) posed this question to Rav Nissim Karelitz and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, both of whom responded that it’s forbidden (see also Tzitz Eliezer 9:17 ch. 5:4.)

Continued at The Jewish Press: link

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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