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Is It Proper For A Person With A Bad Cold (Or Virus) To Daven With A Minyan?


Rabbi Marc Angel

Let’s begin with several related questions. Is it generally proper for someone to act in a way that is detrimental to his/her health? Is it proper for someone with an infectious disease to knowingly come into contact with people thereby endangering their health?

Venishmartem me’od lenafshoteihem.” The Torah instructs us to preserve our health to the extent possible. We are not supposed to take irresponsible risks that undermine our physical wellbeing. If we are sick, we need to take care of ourselves. If we have bad colds, flus or covid we need to manage these illnesses properly and not do things that can worsen our condition.

Moreover, it is a basic moral responsibility to be concerned about the health of those near us. If we have an infectious disease, we should be as careful as possible not to transmit it to others.

If a person has a bad cold, flu or covid, should he daven with a minyan anyway? If he is a mourner who wants to say Kaddish with a minyan, should that override health concerns for himself and others?

If he is very sick, he should pray at home. Hashem surely understands the situation.

If, though, he feels well enough to attend a minyan, he should only do so in a manner that poses no threat to his health or the health of others. He should be masked. He should pray as far away as possible from others in the minyan. If he’s praying in a shul, he should sit off in a corner. He should not attend minyan in a crowded room.

Yes, one may feel a strong emotional, religious need to pray with a minyan. But health issues must take priority. Hashem knows what is in our hearts.

– Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Director, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

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It seems as if today, after two-plus years of dealing with Covid, some people are more sensitive to being in closed quarters with people who have communicable infections such as a cold or the flu. This added sensitivity may have halachic ramifications. Let’s look at some of the sources.

Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid of the 12th century stated (Sefer Chasidim 673) that it is forbidden for a person who has a contagious skin disease to bathe with another person, unless he first discloses his illness. He states that there are three biblical commandments that are violated if a person fails to do so: “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind (Lev. 19:14),” “Love your neighbor as yourself (ibid. 18),” and “Do not stand idly by your fellow’s blood (ibid. 16).”

Rav Chaim Falaji of the early 19th century was asked (Shu”t Nishmat Kol Chai Choshen Mishpat 49) by a group of shul members the following question: During a plague, there was a physician who was a member of their shul who was involved in treating patients with the plague, and he wanted to continue attending minyan at shul. The members, nervous that they would catch the plague from him, wanted him to stay away. Rav Falaji sided with the members of the shul, based on a Mishnah in Nega’im (13:12) that requires sequestering a person with leprosy from the other members of the synagogue, as well as a Talmudic principle (from Bava Kama 23a, see Tosafot ad loc.) that one must be even more careful about harming others than about protecting his own wellbeing. While he praised and encouraged the doctor to continue treating these patients, the physician still had no right to expose others to his possible contagion if they were nervous about it.

The Chatam Sofer of the 19th century was asked (Shu”t Chatam Sofer Yoreh De’ah 7): A pious and learned gentleman in the shul was suffering from an illness that made him prone to seizures while in the synagogue. This brought great fear to some of the parishioners. The Chatam Sofer was asked if this man could lead the davening, even if it would cause some of the more delicately-natured people to potentially fall ill from the shock of the spectacle. The Rav concluded that if there was no way to mitigate this person’s fainting spells, he could not lead the services, and instead the shul members could compel him to daven in a private chamber adjacent to the shul or in his home.

Rav Yitzchak Zylberstein, shlita, concluded from the Chatam Sofer’s ruling (in Chashukei Chemed Berachot 21b) that anytime a person presents a disturbance or offense to the other members of the shul, they have a right to bar that person from davening with them. The question presented to Rav Zylberstein was in regard to a person who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While at times the person behaved normally, there were other times when, due to his illness, he would create disturbances for the congregation. Was he permitted to daven with the minyan? Rav Zylberstein concluded that while this matter required great delicacy and sensitivity, it was in the best interests of everyone, including the man himself, to daven away from the minyan. He also suggested that this halacha would apply to any situation where a person’s presence is offensive to others, such as in a situation where a person has foul body odor that disturbs the other congregants.

At a later point in his discussion, he applied this to people with cell phones. He stated that everyone has an obligation to mute their phones before entering shul, so as not to disturb or offend others.

It would seem from the above, that when the fear of contagion is genuine and considerable, then it might even be a biblical prohibition to expose others in shul to that contagion. Moreover, even when the fear of contagion is not well-founded, nonetheless, if a significant number of the other parishioners take offense at the sick person’s presence, it would be halakhically proper to stay away from shul so as to avoid making other people nervous or upset from one’s presence.

May we all be spared future illness and daven in good health with each other.

– Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is mara d’asra of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (The BAYT), and honorary president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

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Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

In the current environment, it is prudent and politically correct to stay away from shul when one is ill.

But let’s get real! Would a person with a cold not go to work or would teachers or children who have colds avoid school? Would a person not board a plane for a long-planned vacation if he has a cold? That would be asking too much. Rather than have a decree that applies universally, we must return to a life in which people demonstrate personal responsibility for their decisions. The main factor here is: might other people be realistically harmed by your presence? If so, then the person should refrain from going to shul.

Colds and viruses have varying degrees of contagion. If one goes to shul with mild conditions, then it is proper to sit apart, not talk to anyone up close (generally, good advice in shul), not shake hands with others and leave before the conclusion. Any illness which is contagious requires isolation. It is worth noting that not harming other people is a greater zechut for the niftar or nifteret than is reciting Kaddish. The former is a Torah obligation while the latter is a custom.

So go but act responsibly.

That being said, I did not attend shul on Shabbat Chanukah because I am suffering from the flu. Davening alone was a greater kiyum hamitzvah than thrusting myself and my germs into a crowded shul. It was the first time, I believe, that I ever missed a Shabbat davening because of illness. It wasn’t easy but it was the right thing to do. And my wife insisted.

– Rav Steven Pruzansky lives in Israel and is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey.


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