Rabbi Moshe Shaul Klein, Rav of the Or HaChaim neighborhood in Bnei Brak, a Dayan and a Posek who is accepted by all the Haredi communities, declared on Thursday, the eve of Hoshana Rabba: “I don’t say what you should do in practice, I only explain what the view of the halacha is: It is not a problem to convene according to the Halakhah for the purpose of a mitzvah because the mitzvah protects.”
He explained that according to the coronavirus data, the disease is not considered Shchiach Heizeka (commonly present danger).
Rabbi Klein taught a lesson on Jewish Law that was broadcast live on the religious Kol Chai Radio. B’Hadrei Haredim published a summary of his remarks (הפוסק החסידי: אסור לסגור בתי כנסת וישיבות; אי אפשר להתפלל בחוץ).
“The outlook of the medical people is not that of the Torah,” Rabbi Klein said. “Those who are not Torah scholars do not understand that Torah and mitzvot are the source of life for the people of Israel. Regarding the authorities, we should heed the advice of the doctors, but regarding mitzvot the outlook is different.”
Rabbi Klein did not spread illusions about the expected consequences of violating the rules of the Health Ministry in favor of observing the mitzvot: “If the Chief of Staff was in a war, would they say that he is in isolation, he is sick with the corona, therefore the soldiers are not allowed to gather in groups of more than ten, in which case he will not manage the fighting?” he asked, and answered: “We understand that this constitutes Pikuach Nefesh (danger to life). We know there will be certain death, so we do not say it.”
“If they understood that Hoshana Rabba is the Day of Judgment when we must be engaged in more prayer, nothing is more essential than this, it’s like the army, and they will only succeed if we let them pray and study – and if they don’t, that’s the real danger to lives – the abolition of Torah and mitzvot,” Rabbi Klein added.
He insisted that “synagogues must not be closed, yeshivas must not be closed, it’s like fish without water. Praying in the street is the wrong alternative, yeshivot are our lifeblood, you can’t say pray outdoors, you can’t pray and study properly outdoors, and so the yeshivas and synagogues are our life.”
A survey conducted by the Health Ministry in collaboration with the four HMOs from July to September which included about 55,000 participants, found that the rate of the presence of coronavirus antibodies in Haredi localities was five times higher than in non-Haredi localities.
During the first wave of the pandemic, in the spring, in localities defined as “red,” the rate of antibodies was four times higher than in localities that were not defined as red.
The four leading red cities are also cities with a large Haredi population: Jerusalem – 7.01 patients per 1,000; Bnei Brak – 27.02 per 1,000; Modiin Ilit – 33.99 per 1,000; and in Ashdod 9.97 per 1,000.
To Rabbi Klein’s credit, he did not try to contradict the scientific truth that those who observe the commandments of prayer and study in public and in closed spaces risk their lives, and he did not try to justify it with the idea of ”herd immunity,” like other Haredi sources.
Health Ministry Director-General Professor Hezi Levy said at a briefing held on Thursday that “we are not going in the direction of herd immunity.” Levy referred to the serological survey conducted by the ministry, which found that only about 5% of the population in Israel developed antibodies to the coronavirus.
Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of transmission to individuals who lack immunity.
According to the survey’s findings, the rate of exposure to the virus in Israel is far from being sufficient for “herd immunity.” The Health Ministry also explained that a high level of antibodies in a person’s blood does not necessarily indicate long-term immunity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with the religious radio station Kol Barama: “There’s no such thing as ‘herd immunity’ – herd immunity is herd death.”
Ahead of Simchat Torah, the prime minister added, he is “asking everyone who is listening – protect yourselves, there will be no dances on Simchat Torah. There would be no greater blasphemy than if because of Simchat Torah we would lose lives. Pray outdoors, keep the guidelines, and thus sanctify both the Torah and life.”
The PM conceded that “the Haredi public lives in greater density and it’s more difficult, but it does not exempt us all from trying more.”
He also argued: We do not persecute any one public, only the virus and the disease. I beg of you: ‘Guard your souls very much’ (Deut. 4:15) by heeding the rules.”
Rabbi Klein, for his part, argued that “the fears that the authorities put into us with the virus do enormous damage to the lives of many people. I know people who used to be strong and because of these fears they take sedatives to get out of their mental suffering, and we should also take this, too, into consideration and know that it causes immense damage and intimidation. You have to know that you have to be careful, but the fears that come with it are very harmful to a lot of people.”
Rabbi Klein also accused the health authorities of over-concentrating on Corona at the expense of other diseases: “I knew closely a man who had a heart attack and MDA came, but they had to first put on all the protective gear, so by the time they went in to take care of him there was no one left to take care of anymore. It would have been better to call the burial society and not MDA.”
The Health Ministry published on Thursday a list of hundreds of small localities in Israel that are already considered “green.” Among them are: Eilat, Nesher, Kiryat Bialik, Omer, Tel Mond, Kadima-Zoran, Oranit, Tel Sheva, and Hura.
Some 40% of the localities in Israel are still “red” but the Health Ministry estimates that if the decline in morbidity continues at a similar rate, dozens of more localities will turn “green” next week.