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Jewish responses to the coronavirus

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The world is gripped by the coronavirus and understandably, rampant emotions include fear and anxiety. Jewish leaders suggest this is also a time for traditional values like chesed v’rachamim – kindness and compassion – to shine through.

It’s not a stretch for Rabbi Reuven Fink to imagine what it’s like to have the coronavirus – the rabbi has been infected with it. He and his congregation, Young Israel of New Rochelle, have been quarantined. That has given the rabbi time to write about the illness and the response of his community (which I urge you to read in full.)

“People’s lives are so disrupted. And certainly our minds never diverted from thinking about and praying for our good friend who lay in the hospital in such serious condition. We thought of his wife and the kids and what they were going through in comparison to what our situation was. I told myself we would work things out. … And we prayed. …

“A crisis can bring out the best in people. It is bringing out the best in us. … This circumstance certainly gives us the opportunity to think. Our attention turns to mortality and our vulnerability. We sometimes find ourselves victims of life’s fragility and tentativeness. This is one of those times. It can help us to reorient our ultimate goals in life. …

“Together we can persevere and triumph over these challenges. With our ever-abiding faith in G-d who is the healer, we pray that we, as well as our fellow Americans and the peoples of the world, will conquer this disease speedily in our own days, Amen.”

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt has some practical advice: “Take a deep breath and relax.”

“Every posek (Jewish legal authority) I’ve discussed this with has said that a person with upper respiratory illness should not go to shul — some would consider them a rodef,” invoking the traditional Jewish term for someone who pursues another in order to inflict mortal harm. He told the theJewishStar.com, “a sick person should not go out and endanger other people.”

Despite numerous stories of hoarding and the reflex to turn inward, Yvette Alt Miller says advice from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control echoes what the Jewish community has known for centuries, “Get to know your neighbours.”

“As it happens, the Jewish community, as a whole, has lived by these principles for thousands of years,” writes Miller. “Throughout history, people have often noted how the Jewish people have survived and thrived for so many millennia, even while other ancient nations disappeared from the historical scene. One key to Jewish resilience has always been our community: We’ve always lived among our fellow Jews and looked out for one another’s well being. We’ve long recognized that we’re strongest when we stand together, helping and supporting each other.”

The World Health Organization has emphasized that one of the most important safeguards against contracting the virus is handwashing. It has provided information about doing so effectively.

Rabbi Alexander Davis of Beth El Synagogue of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, has pointed out that handwashing has always played a crucial role in Judaism. “We wash ‘al netilat yadiim’ upon awakening in the morning, before eating bread, and after going to the bathroom. Although it might seem like these rituals grew out of an impulse for physical cleanliness, the Torah suggests otherwise.”

The roots were spiritual – the washing of hands and feet was a requirement before entering the holy tent of assembly. Rabbi Davis quotes the Rambam who wrote, “physical purity leads to spiritual holiness.”

“To care for our body is a mitzvah. It is not only healthy. It is holy. It is how we honour our Creator who fashioned us.”

As author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing, Alden Solovy has written prayers calling on Divine assistance “For Nurses“ and “For Physicians.” Solovy recently turned his attention to the coronavirus with his Prayer for Medical Scientists.

 

God of wisdom,

Bless medical scientists and researchers around the world

With insight and skill, dedication and fortitude…

 

Source of life,

Grant public health and government officials

The strength to act swiftly and decisively,

With compassion and understanding…

 

Rock of Ages,

Bring an end to disease and suffering,

So that all may know

Your compassion and Your grace.

 

Praised are You, G-d, healer of flesh, maker of wonders.

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