Practical Pandemic Protection

Question

Hi Rabbi, are there any guidelines in Jewish sources and history that might give insight into a practical way of dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic? Thanks and stay well!

3 months

Answers

  1. Thank you for your thought question and kind words. I hope that you are well and will remain well also.

    Although the current pandemic is caused by a previously unknown virus (hence the name “novel), I will try to note a few practical tips that are preventative and therapeutic in nature. Please do not see this as medical guidance or a substitute in any way for a doctor’s directive. Rather, this is meant to be a platform for sharing what our wise rabbis and leaders of the past taught us.

    Personal Hygiene: This tip, although it may sound obvious, is one whose importance is sometimes ignored in normal times. The idea of maintaining good hygiene has origins in Jewish teachings long before modern medicine’s discovery of microbes and contagion.

    There are numerous teachings in our sources regarding preventing disease by being careful in matters of hygiene. For example, our Talmudic Sages taught and practiced the following: “Be careful of the flies near people with a contagious disease called ra’atan since they carry the disease.”

    There are a variety of generally well-known Jewish laws and customs that involve washing one’s hands and body regularly. For example: washing hands upon rising and before eating, washing one’s face in the morning and bathing regularly. Many attribute the regular washing of one’s hands as a key factor in protecting Jewish communities from the “Black Death” plague of the 14th century that was supposedly the most deadly contagious disease in history. However, due to pandemic anti-Semitism, unfortunately many blamed the relatively fewer Jewish casualties as proof that the Jews were the spreaders on the contagion.

    Charity: Some say that the words Judaism and charity are synonyms. In both Jewish law and philosophy, charity is more than a mitzvah of giving financial or other assistance to the needy. It is doing so because it’s the right thing to do. The following Talmudic anecdote relates how charity to the poor can literally be a lifesaver.

    Rabbi Akiva was told by astrologers that his daughter would be killed by a snake on her wedding day. When it turned out that her life was saved by her inadvertently sticking a golden decorative pin into the eye of a snake, her father asked her what her merit was. “The evening of the wedding,” she explained, “a poor man came knocking on the door in search of food. Since no one heard him because they were busy celebrating, I gave him my own portion of the wedding feast.” This story is but one of many examples in our history that illustrate the meaning of the verse in Proverbs 10:2 and 11:4 that “Tzedaka (charity) saves from death.”

    Social Distancing: It is documented that the renowned Torah scholar named Rabbi Akiva Eiger warned against large gatherings during a cholera outbreak in 1831. He issued many directives to limit the size and scope of gatherings and was commended by the government for his role in helping stem the epidemic. His rulings included staggering the times for people praying in the synagogue, and limiting a minyan to a maximum of 15 people. Rabbi Akiva Eiger emphasized the importance of both the practice and the enforcement of this concept of “social distancing.”
    Of course, being in a state of quarantine or isolation, as many are nowadays, is taking this concept of group-limit to the extreme.

    Helping Each Other: The Torah states, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) In a stressful time such as an era of pandemic disease, one might be naturally inclined to focus on one’s own wellbeing and tend to ignore the needs of others. Judaism teaches that a person should want the same goodness for another that he wants for himself. In today’s climate, this might include making efforts to help elderly friends and neighbors acquire medications and food (in accordance with guidance and regulation of local health authorities). Someone with antibodies might donate plasma for use in treatment of ailing patients. (Visit https://covidplasmasavealife.com/ ) Perhaps a person can volunteer to make protective masks for others. Each person can certainly easily determine what is needed and appropriate for each community.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team