Monday, May 25, 2020

Rabbi Twersky versus Insanity

The, Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferes Avigdor (screenshot)
I remember Wickliffe.  Wickliffe is a quiet suburb of Cleveland where Telshe yeshiva is located. It is where I spent the  1st 2 years of high school (1960-62). That is where I first saw Rav  Chaim Dov Keller, who then was about to move to Chicago to open up the Chicago Branch of Telshe with his brother-in-law, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levine, ZTL. (I mention this town because of an incredibly foolish video by a Rosh Yeshiva who is located there. More about him later.)

I am sad to report that Rav Keller is currently very sick - suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Rabbi Keller is in his nineties and his health is compromised. He is in need of our prayers. (Chaim Dov ben Kreindel) He was among a few others that apparently caught the virus at the Telshe Megilah reading last Purim. He has been suffering ever since.

A friend of mine in his 50s with no underlying health conditions (an avid cyclist having competed in many grueling bike marathons) is an alumnus of Telshe-Chicago. He attended that same Megilah reading in Telshe (as he does every year) and caught the virus too. He was so sick that he had to be hospitalized, placed in an ICU on a ventilator. Thankfully he is off the ventilator and back home. But still weak and not fully recovered. He was quoted recently saying that when he was on the vent he believed one foot was already in the Olam Ha-Emes (the world to come)! He didn’t think he was going to make it. I’m told that quite a few others that attended that Megilah reading caught the virus too.

It is a story like this that makes me wary of attending any Minyan now. It’s true that Megilah reading was done before anyone understood the dangers of COVID-19 and none of the precautions now mandated were in place. No one is to therefore to blame for what happened to Rabbi Keller and my friend. I mention it to only to demonstrate how serious this insidious illness is and how contagious it is even before any symptoms appear.

This is why I am still opposed to Shuls opening up right now. Although many of them have, setting up the complex precautions recommended by health officials, the idea that they will all be as strictly adhered to as Shul officials intend them to be is at best questionable.

A factor complicating matters is that yesterday, huge numbers of people completely ignored the guidelines. Beaches, boardwalks, and parks all over the country were filled with people not wearing masks crowded together oblivious to the possibility of being affected by an asymptomatic individual right next to them. Health officials have expressed concern that this may very well cause a spike in the numbers infected – spreading out in all directions (while yet undetectable) making contact tracing a nightmare.

Someone getting infected and ending up on a ventilator a distinct possibility. Perhaps even greater than what it was just a few days ago. Hopefully nothing will happen to those attending those Shuls now. And if it God forbid does – they will end up the way most people who got it did - with relatively mild cases and fully recovered 2 weeks after onset. 

But as I am sure my friend will tell you, it is definitely not worth taking the chance. That and the near 100,000 people in this country that have died as a result of contracting the virus should tell you all you need to know.

This is why a Teshuva (responsa) written by Rav Mayer Twersky (who asked Rav Hershel Schachter to vet it and was advised to spread it far and wide) is so important. He understands what is at stake.

He says that because of the threat to our lives (Sakana) our people must stay home. It is forbidden to Daven with a Minyan (inside or outside) or any other type of gathering in this country! No Yeshivos day schools or summer camps. Even if it is now technically permitted by the government.  Further details can be read (in Hebrew) at this website.

Pretty strong words. But necessary ones in my view. Which are being listened to by the OU/RCA/CRC. And which contrasts with the view of the right as expressed late last week in an Agudah public announcement in Chicago. While they understand the dangers and are installing a massive amount of precautionary rules, they felt that since the government allows it, they will tempt fate with the hope that the relaxation of public restrictions based on solid medical advice, their precautions, and the merit of Tefilah b’Tzibur will protect them.

I hope they are right. But I agree with Rav Twersky. One should not take chances with a disease like this and congregate for any reason.

Which brings me to that Rosh Yeshiva in Wickliffe. He begins by attacking those who photographed illegal Minyanim and reported them to police. He said they are guilty of Mesirah (iInforming on fellow Jews to a hostile government).  And then incredulously he says Halacha permits killing such a person without a Beis Din! (quickly adding that one must first ask a Posek. That’s nice.)

He goes on to ridicule health officials and praises all the Minyanim in Lakewood for having Minyanim all over the place  - long before the relaxation of restrictions of public prayer. And ridiculing any doctor or Posek that says Shuls should be closed. 

This is not an elderly Rav in Bnei Brak. This is an American that is well aware of what is going on in the world. But he chooses to ignore what health officials say – accusing them of not having sufficient understanding of our religious needs. ‘Ki Heim Chayenu Ve-Orach Yameinu’ he says. What do these health officials know about that?! Practically accusing them of being anti religious he says: They allow grocery stores to be open so that families can have fresh vegetables – why should houses of prayers be shut?!

Talk about being clueless. And more importantly dangerous. I wish I could say I am surprised at his attitude. But there are some people on the right who just can’t get passed the idea that the world is out to get us. For this Rosh Yeshiva, this isn’t about Pikuach Nefesh. It’s about Esav Snoei L’Yaakov. The evil Goy, the gullible Jew, the ignorant doctors, and the incompetent Posek. In his view, Shuls should have never been shut. I guess he doesn’t know about Rabbi Keller. Maybe someone in Wickliffe should tell him?