Israeli media reports that Ultra-Orthodox patients make up 50% of the coronavirus patients being treated in hospitals in the country, a community which constitutes ten percent of the total Israeli population. In Israel, some in the Ultra-Orthodox community have continued with funerals and minyans, and just yesterday 400 people attended a funeral. Shamefully horrible. .
In many traditional Jewish communities – including Great Neck, New York – corona cases exploded in part because communal leaders didn’t listen to the advice of medical professionals and continued with Purim celebrations – and the community has had high counts of corona victims.
Now, with Passover approaching, both Israeli and American Rabbis have rightfully urged people not to hold extended Seders for Passover next week, when Jews customarily hold large festive meals with extended family and friends.
Yet, I wonder why aren’t more Rabbis speaking out about how difficult this Passover will be? Should people get rid of non-kosher for Passover food when they don’t know if they will be able to get it back after Passover? Should we shop in kosher stores when we are told not to leave our homes?
If we can’t get something should we run from store to store? Is that a realistic expectation this year? Should Jews be expected to go find macaroons when we can’t get toilet paper? There are severe restrictions on our individual freedoms, many people have increased concerns surrounding the economy and people are trapped in their homes, how can they clean for Passover properly? Kids are at home.
Rabbis in each community should speak about the level of commitment required in their community. Is life not difficult enough already? Everything mustn’t be observed this year.
Rabbi Naftali Citron of Manhattan’s Carlebach Shul recently noted, “Your life and your health is the most important mitzvah. With three or four exceptions that are not relevant here; taking care not to become sick or depressed (in a psychologically dangerous way) are more important than any mitzvah. We need you to be well otherwise you can’t do any mitzvah. We need you to be well because the Torah was given “To Live By” and not Heaven forbid the opposite. All laws of Shabbos and Passover are suspended to help safeguard someone from death or illness that might lead to death including psychological illness. This means if you are at risk stay home don’t go to a group Seder. Really there should not be any group Seders. Just members of that household.
This means if you know someone at risk offer to take their phone calls on Shabbos or Yom Tov. This means that if you need to check on a loved one that is sick or psychologically vulnerable on a three day Yom Tov go ahead and do it.” Rabbi Citron noted he is sharing what he feels is mandated by Jewish law.
Interestingly, in Israel someone petitioned the Israeli High Court, requesting they declare this year to be a leap year, which would add an additional month, effectively delaying the Holiday of Passover.
Rabbis have spoken out suggesting limiting the size and scope of our Seders, to conduct Seders using zoom and other technologies – but that’s not enough.
This Seder night will be particularity different already – we are fighting a plague this year. No one will ask at this Seder how this year’s Passover is different from other year Passovers.
Rabbis should lead on these issues during Corona times. May we be free from Corona next year.