The Dayan Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss, a Sanz-Klausenburg Chassid who is the Rosh Kollel of Machon Minchas Osher L’Torah V’Horaah, on Monday issued a letter on the coronavirus pandemic titled “Limno’a Mash’chit u’Mageifa” (to stop the destroyer and the plague) in which he repeats a warning he issued back in March, just as the true dimensions of the pandemic were becoming apparent, and wails:
“Shame covers our faces as there isn’t a day whose curse isn’t worse than the day before, and every single day the victims of this disease depart, including Rebbes, Roshei Yeshivas, great teachers of Torah, and rank and file Jews, and thousands are groaning in pain and suffering. And we cannot claim, ‘Our hands didn’t spill this blood.’
“I’ve already said in the past that we must be more severe than the health authorities in Israel and the world, despite all their drawbacks, since only the holy Torah is a light unto us, and there we were commanded ‘Ve’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem (Be most vigilant in safeguarding your own souls, Deut. 4:15),’ and how would we not be ashamed when those who abandoned the yoke of the mitzvot along with the nations of the world are aghast, how would men of Torah not adhere to their commandment of ‘Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously’ (Deut. 4:9) – (see Rambam, laws of the murderer 11:4; and Shulchan Aruch Chok Umishpat 427:68)”
Rabbi Weiss concludes with an observation that since every plague is a test, and every difficulty is an opportunity for strengthening, let us invest ourselves in the labor and joy of Torah and the joy of the mitzvahs, and a blessing:
“Let the sound of Torah emanate and rise to the heavens from every home, every yard and garden, and may the entire public space be sanctified with the holiness of Torah and may we embody the verse ‘I will be ever-present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people’ (Lev. 26:12).”
Back in March, Rabbi Weiss wrote:
“Regarding many people’s question how to conduct ourselves regarding the coronavirus, I would express my opinion that it is clear and simple that we must strictly obey all the instructions of the health authorities, and that those who are in isolation must not leave their homes, not even for a mitzvah.”
Rabbi Weiss cited the famous decision made by Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin (a.k.a. Israel Salanter), who set an example for the Lithuanian Jewish community during the cholera epidemic of 1848, ensuring that any necessary relief work on Shabbat for Jews was done by Jews, insisting that Jewish law mandated that the obligation to save lives took priority over other laws. During Yom Kippur that year, Israel Salanter ordered that Jews must not abide by the fast, but instead must eat in order to maintain their health. There is a popular, though unsubstantiated claim that he himself went up to the synagogue bimah on Yom Kippur and made kiddush.