Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel / Flash 90

The global rabbinic leadership has called on the House of Israel to observe a half-day fast on Wednesday, March 25 (Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan) as the Jewish world – indeed, the entire planet – continues to struggle with the COVID-19 coronavirus that has attacked one country after another.

In Britain, the country’s most senior rabbi in Leeds, Dayan Yehuda Yaakov Refson, died Sunday night at the age of 73 after developing symptoms of the coronavirus. The rabbi and his wife Ettel served as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Glasgow, Scotland in 1973; three years later they moved to Leeds where he served as rabbi of the Shomrei Hadass Synagogue for 44 years. He was laid to rest on Tuesday.

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British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirivis paid tribute to the Dayan, z’l, saying he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of his passing and added, “It has been my privilege to work with this outstanding scholar and educator.”

Letter from Manchester Beis Din
The Manchester Beis Din in Britain also wrote a letter in which the rabbis called upon the Jews of that country and around the world to make a commitment from Tuesday’s afternoon service to begin a half-day fast early Wednesday morning to “beseech God for his mercy so that we all remain healthy.”

The letter also detailed the chapters of Psalms (tehillim) that one should say, depending upon one’s age, in addition to the Yom Kippur Prayer, “Avinu Malkenu” at the Tuesday afternoon service.

The fast in Manchester begins at 4:11 am and finishes at 12:15 pm, the letter said. “According to Rabbi Yehoshua, the world was created in Nissan, so Wednesday would be Erev Rosh Hashana, a time for extra prayer,” the letter explains.

“May God answer all our prayers and save us from any harsh decrees and may we and our families and all of the People of Israel be strong and healthy,” the letter concludes.

Letter from Leader of Lithuanian Jewish World
The leader of the Lithuanian Jewish world, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, issued a special letter published in the Hebrew-language Yated Ne’eman newspaper Monday morning in which he wrote:

“It says in Yevamos (ס”ג א’) that no punishment comes to the world except for Yisrael. In the past year, due to our many sins, there was much bittul Torah. Therefore it is incumbent upon each and every person to be mechazeik with all his strength to try and increase limud haTorah, which has the koach to protect and save from all illnesses as we are taught in Sotah (21a).

“Also, it is recommended at this time to fast a half a day on Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan and to recite the Tefillas of Yom Kippur Katan, and the ikar of a taanis is Tefillah. The main part of any fast is the Tefillah, and may hashem listen to our cries and say enough to our tzaros and send a speedy refuah shleimah to all cholei amcha Yisrael.”

“Whoever wants to fast the whole day or half a day should remember to accept the fast on Tuesday in tefillas Mincha and then he can say Aneinu in Mincha on Wednesday. B’dieved it’s possible to accept [the fast] until nightime and some are matir [to accept the fast] also at nightime.

“One who fasts half a day without a kabalah cannot say Aneinu but it’s still a zechus [to fast]. One can say at the time of the kabalah ‘Bli neder’ or ‘until I want’ [but if he didn’t fast until after Mincha he shouldn’t say Aneinu].”

“ואב הרחמים ויאמר למלאך המשחית די במהרה.
“חיים קניבסקי”.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.