Recently, Mr. Joe Perrello of the Sullivan County Legislature sent out a letter to the community about Covid-19. It states, in part:
Over the past week, I’ve noticed – as have my neighbors and friends – a disturbing pattern of both visitors and residents no longer wearing masks or even social distancing when out in our communities. I live in Fallsburg, a welcome hotspot for summer tourism, but now I fear it and other areas of our county will become hotspots of COVID-19.
Coronavirus may have lessened in our area (thankfully), but it’s not gone – indeed, people can be carrying the potentially lethal virus without even knowing it, and thus spreading it without even knowing it, especially if they’re coming from an area where there has been a high infection rate. That’s why the governor of New York, along with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, have just mandated a 14-day quarantine for anyone coming into these states from certain hotspot states like Florida and Alabama….
Not wearing a mask during these times sends the message, intentional or not, that we simply don’t care about the health and welfare or our neighbors. Not only is that disrespectful and discourteous, it can create needless friction with those neighbors, be they here year-round or just for the season. We don’t need more challenges during this already challenging time.
As a resident of South Fallsburg, I have also noticed a widespread lack of concern over wearing masks and staying six feet apart from each another. This lack of concern is problematic for three reasons:
1) Hashem commanded us, “V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem” (to be exceedingly careful with our health) and, “V’lo saamod al dam rei’echa” (not to be negligent when it comes to the health of others).
2) We are obligated to follow the law of the land (dina d’malchusa dina).
3) Causing a chillul Hashem is a serious aveirah (“v’lo sichalalu es Sheim kadshi”).
I’m fully aware that most people in Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Lakewood believe the pandemic is over. They argue, “We haven’t been wearing masks since shortly after Pesach. Look! No one is getting sick, and in our communities there are no new hospital admissions. So why should we force ourselves (and especially our children) to wear masks?”
The answer is that while I fervently hope they’re correct, we are seeing serious resurgences of the disease in many areas. Eretz Yisrael, Texas, Florida, Alabama, and California are all being riddled with disease.
You might argue that the disease has already worked its way through New York. But people are coming here from Florida all the time. Westchester County has already experienced new Covid-19 cases due to exposure from Florida travelers. Furthermore, any student of the Spanish flu of 1919 knows that the second wave of that pandemic in the fall was much deadlier that the first wave of the preceding spring/summer.
Covid-19 is a silent serial killer. We don’t know if or when, chas v’shalom, it’s poised to strike again. Every infectious disease doctor – without exception – has stated that keeping apart from one another and wearing masks will significantly decrease the spread of this horrible disease.
Even if we adopt a smoker’s attitude regarding our own health, we can’t be cavalier about the health of others, especially the elderly, the immune compromised, the obese, and those with lung diseases or severe diabetes. At the very least, we need to stamp out the attitude of annoyance toward people who wear masks; they are simply being considerate of others. Even if the only thing wearing a mask accomplished was making others feel comfortable to come out of quarantine, it would be the right thing to do.
Now, let’s talk about dina d’malchusa dina. The CDC has strongly recommended wearing masks when it’s not possible to keep apart from one another. Storekeepers in New York are allowed to refuse entry to people without masks. As Jews, who are expected to be the segula mikol ha’amim, we must always set an example and follow the rules.
Many people argue, “What about the protesters? Were they wearing masks?” But we never make decisions based on the lowest common denominator. We aren’t going to loot just because others did and we aren’t going to tear down statues because others did.
Now, let’s turn to what I think is the gravest concern: chillul Hashem. The Gemara homiletically interprets the verse “Kol m’sanai ahavu maves” to mean “All those who cause Me to be hated deserve death.” Such people cause others to say, “The Jews? How disgusting! If that’s the way they behave, I don’t want anything to do with them or their G-d.”
I was recently in the Catskills; local residents were wearing masks and were looking at Jews who weren’t wearing masks with a mixture of distress and anger.
Let’s face it, they already consider our summer stays an invasion. Do we need to make them also righteously indignant that we might fill up their hospitals and inflict them with disease because our cavalier approach?
If we wish to be more relaxed in our own colonies and developments, fine (not that I’m recommending it). But when we’re amongst others, particularly non-Jews and treading the minefields of chillul Hashem, we must bite the bullet and wear a mask.
In the merit of taking care of our health, the health of others, and the reputation of Hashem, may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.