Friday, January 08, 2021

Ignorance, COVID, and Rav Asher Weiss

R' AsherWeiss (Lakewood Scoop)
Even though the biggest news story of the day is the attack on Democracy by angry Trump supporters (and his part in it) there are other issues still plaguing us that should not be placed on the back burner. Not the least of which is COVID-19. New records of serous illness and death from that disease are broken every day. Even though the country is slowly but surely getting vaccinated, it has as of yet had no impact on the spread of the disease. 

This leads me to sing the praises of someone I have admired for quite some time. But my admiration  has now skyrocketed in light of what I recently heard him say. If were asked who I think should be the Gadol Hador today, I might very well say it should be Rav Asher Weiss. Even though he is Charedi and I am a Centrist. That is because he is widely respected by both communities… and may be just about the only one with that distinction. With good reason in my view.  

The latest illustration of that is his view on wearing masks and vaccines. In an audio recording (available on the Lakewood Scoop ) - R’ Weiss was introduced by Torah Vodaath Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman. Rav Weiss then tackles both of these issues. 

He was asked about a debate among Mechachim in the Charedi world dealing with masking children in the classroom during the COVID pandemic. The question raised is whether it is worth the downside in learning that it inevitably causes in young children. There are those who feel the downside is too great and children should not be masked while in class. 

His response was unequivocal. He said that COVID is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh; that we must take it seriously; and that we must abide by the guidelines of health officials. Telling children to wear masks does not take away from their Chinuch. It is instead a part of it - by showing them that we care about other people. And that we care about value of human life! 

I only wish that the rest of the Orthodox world would understand these values. Even though most of us do, more than a few of us behave like ignorant fools. Believing they are actually serving God more ideally by ignoring the rules. Especially when it conflicts with certain ritual habits like Davening with a Minyan. The sincerity of that belief does not make them any less foolish. And it certainly does not make them right. It just makes them selfish and wrong. The latest example of that is the unfortunate event reported in Arutz Sheva

A man who tested positive for the coronavirus was caught by police while trying to violate his quarantine by leaving his home to go to pray at a local synagogue, a police spokesperson said Friday.

In footage of the incident released by police, the suspect is seen wearing tefillin (phylacteries) and a tallit (ritual prayer shawl) while stepping out of his home.

Officers confronted the man outside of his home in northern Israel, noting that after testing positive for the coronavirus, he was placed in isolation at home.

Police had received a telephone complaint about the suspect’s violations of his quarantine order, and dispatched officers to confirm that the suspect was in isolation as required.

When officers arrived at the suspect’s home, family members said that he was in his room, but was unable to come to the door to verify that he was adhering to the isolation order.

While searching the surrounding area, officers spotted the suspect attempting to flee the scene in his car. He was called in for interrogation at a local police station, before being sent home to remain in isolation. 

Ordinarily, it would be laudable to go great lengths to perform a Mitzvah. Tefilla B’Tzibur (Davening with a Minyan) among them.  

Those of us fortunate enough to have had a Yeshiva education have had the importance of Tefilla B’tzibur drilled into us. It is indeed a clearly a superior form of prayer.  Chazal tell us that such prayer is more readily accepted by God. 

But there was something missing in that Chinuch. Which is that there are circumstances where that is not only NOT true, but might actually have the opposite effect. That Tefilla B’Tzibur will not be seen favorably in the eyes of God.

The Torah  requirement of respecting human life is above almost every other Mitzvah. While that principle is taught, it is almost taught in a theoretical way. Not in a way where we might be required to apply it. 

The focus on the importance of Tefilla  B’Tzibur is so intense that when challenges like COVID come along, it becomes almost unbearable to change the habit of Davening with a Minyan. The idea of davening alone at home is seen as such an inferior way to pray that some people will break the law in order to do so if need be.  

What about the dangers of COVID? That pales in comparison to prayer. A belief supported by the lack of faith by so many of them in the medical community. That makes it imperative to ignore the rules in favor of doing this very important Mitzvah. 

The ‘Frummer’ one is, the more likely it seems they will have this attitude. Which explains why there was so much pushback by the Charedi world in New York and Israel against restrictions placed upon Shul attendance. The desire to Daven with a Minyan by the fellow described in Arutz Sheva was so great that he was willing to do it while infected with COVID. This guy actually thought he was doing something good. And that hiding it from authorities was a Mitzvah! 

He is not alone. There is at least one young Chasidic Shul Rav here in Chicago that not long ago tested positive. He decided that missing Tefila b’Tzibur was too high a price to pay. So he built himself a little cubicle made of transparent plastic sheeting and placed it around his seat in Shul. He Davened there while he was infected. I don’t know how he got into that cubicle without walking from his house to Shul and back. But I doubt he was teleported ala Star Trek.

Why did he do that? There is only one answer. He placed so much importance on Davening with a minyan than he fooled himself into thinking he was not endangering anyone.  And teaching that by way of example to the Shul members that Davened there with him. That he might believe that what he did was safe, does not make it so. 

If only he and people like that fellow in Israel would listen to a man like Rav Asher Weiss who does understand that reality, we might all get out of this pandemic a lot sooner. Getting there with a lot less casualties .