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The COVID-19 Diaries day 8

03/30/2020 12:53:29 AM


ליל שני, ה' בניסן, תש"פ
Sunday, March 29, 2020


Today I had a disturbing experience.

We have a dilemma regarding our location for Pesach. After we married, my wife and I made an annual trek  to my parents in Toronto for Pesach. After I became the Rav of KZD, we started going to my in-laws instead, so that I could remain local. Just like it was for my mother for so many years, Pesach is something that my mother-in-law, despite all the kashering, purchasing cooking organizing, etc. looks forward to as a highlight of her year.

This year, like many, many others, the coronavirus has put our Pesach location into question.

As of now, we are going with the following plan. Since the only ones leaving the house, and only for basic food shopping are myself and my wife, if we can be “confident” that none of us are carriers of the virus, we will consider going.
How can we be at all confident? Well, that’s where it gets tricky. So today, the three kinderlach that have cold symptoms went on a field-trip (yes, the whole “school” went so that they could get out of the house - I tried to get them to stay home to no avail) to get tested for COVID-19. So now we wait for the results. If any of them test positive, then our decision has been made for us. If not... then it remains tricky. TBD.

The test itself was only mildly disturbing. Did one of your friends (I’m certain no one reading this), ever put spaghetti up their nose, only to pull it out their mouth? (here’s a link to a muttonhead doing it if you really want to watch Well, that’s basically what the test is. I’ll leave it at that.

The disturbing thing was the shiur I played to use the time productively. A prominent and popular speaker shared his perspective on the world’s response to the virus. I wasn’t expecting to hear what I heard. In a nutshell, he said that the world overreacted and really it’s nothing more than the flu, etc. etc. etc.

This bothered me for a number of obvious reasons, that I do not think it necessary to go into. But it was disturbing to hear someone this late in the game still viewing it this way.

When all this began, I also naively thought that closing YU, KBY, New Rochelle, was overreacting. I was consulting with an infectious disease doctor who, merely reflecting the understanding of the CDC, understood the possibility of contagion to only be significant when the carrier is expressing symptoms. To me, that was the most significant piece of information. It was based on that information that I made all my decisions vis a vis the Shul. I believe I acted responsibly and in full accordance with Halachah, as Halachah responds to reality as we understand it. One person, respectfully questioned my allowing shalosh seudos the last Shabbos the Shul met, but I made my decision based on the accepted medical knowledge at that time. It is still unclear if an asymptomatic individual is significantly contagious.

Once I began to hear of contagion creeping closer to the people of Pomona, I felt it was time to close the Shul. A primary calculation that was going through my mind was something I had heard from Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a, regarding hospital policy. He paskins for Shaarei Tzedek in Jerusalem that a doctor may and must make the proper documentation on Shabbos - WITH A SHINUY -, even when that particular documentation is not pikuach nefesh in and of itself, because if that is not a POLICY, people will die. Mistakes will creep in and be made and it will cost a life. Therefore, as a matter of policy, everything must be documented. I am told that Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a disagrees with this. Be that as it may, in the case of attending a Shul, there is at least some safeik pikuach nefesh, and therefore, as a policy (among other cheshbonos) I felt the Shul had to close.

I take our spiritual wellbeing no less serious than our physical well being, and closing a Shul is a difficult thing to bring oneself to do, but I felt it was necessary. I wasn’t the first, but I was far from the last to come to this conclusion.

This past Shabbos, there were at least 11 deaths in the frum greater NY community alone. Pictures were spread on Sunday of morgues that no longer had proper space for the deceased, and bodies were wrapped in bags and left on the floor - reminiscent of the aftermath of a terror attack. In Italy decisions had to be made as to which patients to put on respirators because there weren’t enough for everyone that needed them, and the doctors had to decide who had a chance to live and who would not be given that chance. Everyone here is terrified that those decisions will have to be made locally as well. Patients locally are being doubled up on respirators to prevent this from becoming a reality.

In Bnei Brak Sunday afternoon, HaRav HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a finally, sort of, told people that they must daven beyechidus - because Bnei Brak has the second highest number of infections in the country only behind Jerusalem. The population in Bnei Brak is under 200k, while the population of Jerusalem is around 900k. If nothing is done to slow the infection rate, it is statistically guaranteed that more people will die.

The bottom line is that COVID-19 is dangerous and deadly, for whatever reason. Whether it is because it is more contagious than the flu, or because we have no immunity, or whatever. But to suggest that the world is overreacting after seeing the number of deaths, danger of death, rate at which it is spreading, and knowing that there is a limited number of respirators, is completely ignoring the value of life and the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh.

So do I try to argue with this Rav? Do I send him an email? I really have a hard time believing that it is worth it. But wow, that is disturbing. People have a way of seeing things in a distorted manner, for whatever reason they subconsciously have.

  13 Tammuz 5784