Volume 64 Number 54 
      Produced: Thu, 12 Mar 20 05:09:18 -0400

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Corona outbreak (4)
    [Martin Stern  Stuart Pilichowski  David Ziants  Sammy Finkelman]
Drinking during Davening 
    [Martin Stern]
NYT Ethicist  
    [Joel Rich]
Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes 
    [Orrin Tilevitz]


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, Mar 8,2020 at 07:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

In response to David Ziants (MJ 64#53):

In my opinion, the reaction to the current corona virus epidemic verges on mass
hysteria. The way it is spreading is precisely what one might expect given that,
initially, there were no immune persons. 

I read today that the World Health Organisation have stated that about 80% of
patients experience only mild symptoms and recover completely within a week or
so. The quoted mortality rate is 3%, but is probably much less since many people
who were infected had no significant illness and so were not recorded as hving
been infected. I suspect it is, in reality, less than 1%, much the same as
ordinary influenza. Almost all those who have died had underlying medical
conditions - again like influenza - so, while everyone should take reasonable
precautions, there is no need to panic.

As time passes the pool of susceptible people will diminish and the rate of
spread will go down. It is certainly nowhere near as serious as the 1348-9
Bubonic plague epidemic which killed off over 50% of the population in many
parts of Europe though, from the way people are reacting, one might get the
contrary impression.

This is not to say that there is not a significant part of the population with
underlying health problems which might be at risk of serious illness or for whom
it might even be fatal. Surely it would make more sense to isolate them - by
restricting, for example, hospital visiting - until the epidemic abates - rather
than isolate everyone who may have come into contact with someone who has become
infected. I think the latter policy would be counterproductive because it would
slow down the build up of herd immunity in the general population, which is what
protects everyone from many other diseases.

To put it in context, this article appeared on March 8 on the Times of
Israel website:

Coronavirus follows a century of epidemics, dating back to the Spanish Flu


Before the emergence of the new coronavirus, which has sparked worldwide panic,
other epidemics had struck earlier in the 21st century, but were less deadly
than the previous century's pandemics. 

2013-2016: Ebola

The deadliest epidemic of the haemorrhagic fever Ebola broke out in West Africa
in December 2013 and lasted more than two years, killing more than 11,300,
mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  First identified in 1976, Ebola is
less contagious than other viral diseases, but is particularly lethal, killing
around 40 percent. 

2009-2010: Swine flu

The World Health Organization (WHO) says 18,500 died of so-called Swine flu,
or H1N1, which was first uncovered in Mexico and the United States in March
2009. The Lancet medical review, however, puts the toll at between 151,700 and
575,400. The pandemic alert was launched on June 11, 2009 and lifted on August
10, 2010 but the virus turned out to be not as deadly as first feared. Vaccines
were rushed out, but in hindsight, the West, particularly Europe, and the WHO
were criticised for overreacting at a time annual influenza epidemics every year
kill between 250,000 and 500,000, according to the Geneva-based UN health agency. 

2002-2003: SARS 

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome first emerged in Guangdong in southern China
in November 2002 before sparking a health crisis in mid-2003, in particular
traumatising Asia. It killed 774, four fifths of whom were in China and Hong
Kong. It was transmitted to man from horseshoe bats, eventually spreading to
around 30 countries. It had a mortality rate of 9.5 percent.

2003-2004: Bird flu 

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu killed more than 400 people, mainly in
Southeast Asia, after appearing in 2003. It first ravaged poultry farms in Hong
Kong, before being transmitted to humans. The WHO declared a global health
emergency, but the toll remained limited.

1981-to date: AIDS

By far the most deadly epidemic of modern times: according to UNAIDS some 32
million people around the world have died of the disease which affects the
immune system and leaves people vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Today
around 24.5 million people have access to retroviral drugs which when taken
regularly efficiently stop the illness in its tracks and heavily reduce the risk
of contamination.

1968-1970: The Hong Kong flu

Around one million people died of this disease, according to the US Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmitted around the world between
mid-1968 and early 1970, it in particular killed many children. It first started
in Hong Kong, spread through Asia and reached the United States in late 1968.
After lying low for several months it then hit Europe in late 1969. For epidemic
experts, this flu went down in history as the first of the modern era, due to
the advent of high-speed air travel.

1957-1958: Asian flu

Around 1.1 million people died of Asian flu, according to the CDC. The pandemic
hit in two aggressive waves. The virus first appeared in southern China in
February 1957. Several months went by before it reached America and Europe. The
disease, which results in serious lung complications, in particular affected the

1918-1919: Spanish flu

Spanish flu hit a large part of the world's population in the wake of World War
I, killing up to 50 million people, according to the CDC. Striking between
September 1918 and April 1919, it is considered the most deadly in history over
such a short period. Five times more people died of it than did in World War I.
The first victims were recorded in the United States, before it spread to Europe
and then around the world. Its mortality rate was estimated at more than 2.5
percent, according to the CDC.

Any comments?

Martin Stern

From: Stuart Pilichowski <stupillow@...>
Date: Sun, Mar 8,2020 at 11:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

In response to David Ziants (MJ 64#53):

Is the conglomeration of sources in place of asking for a psak? Whatever
happened to asking one's Local Orthodox Rabbi? 

What's the policy of this forum? I always thought it was food for thought - not
necessarily psak halacha l'maaseh. 

[David's posting was, in our opinion, the former - MOD]

Stuart P

From: David Ziants <dziants@...>
Date: Sun, Mar 8,2020 at 11:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

Further to my point (MJ 64#53):

> There are authorities who permit, under extreme circumstances (like this) to
> fulfil ones obligation by listening to a live broadcast via electronic means,
> for example over the Internet or over the telephone.

According to these authorities, I wonder what the ramifications are with respect
to the following scenarios:-

1) I am in isolation in Australia, and it is Purim day, this year Tuesday
morning and I have the opportunity of listening remotely through electronic
means to megilla live from someone reading from England where it is night
(Monday night or early hours of Tuesday morning). I understand that the daytime
reading is, in general, more important as that is the reading as commanded in
Book of Esther (borderline d'oraita although in the ketuvim), and the night time
reading is certainly only Rabbinic. So, can the day time listener fulfil his
obligation from a night time reader?

2) Can someone in isolation in Israel, where it is is considered that the
obligation of all mitzvot is a higher mitzva, fulfil the mitzva of hearing
megilla from a reader in chu"l [outside Israel] ?

3) What if the isolated listener is in Jerusalem on Shushan Purim (this year
Tuesday night), and listening to the megilla from someone in the USA Tuesday day
time, so the day time reader does have a higher obligation, yet the reader is in
chu"l ?

4) What if the isolated listener is in Shushan on Shushan Purim (this year
Tuesday night), and listening to the megilla from someone in the USA Tuesday day
time, so the day time reader does have a higher obligation, and they are both in
chu"l ?

David Ziants

From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Mon, Mar 9,2020 at 05:01 PM
Subject: Corona outbreak

David Ziants writes (MJ 64#53):

> 1) Shuls and minyanim operate normally (at least so far in Israel), although I
> have already heard of one big shul in the USA which has had to suspend
> operation.

I think this would be the Young Israel of New Rochelle, New York.


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, Mar 8,2020 at 10:01 AM
Subject: Drinking during Davening

I came across this rather interesting question in the Eretz Hemdah's 'Ask
the Rabbi' column for Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5780:


> Question: I showed my surprise to a serious young man who was drinking coffee
> during Shacharit. He said it helps him daven and is permitted. Can that be
> correct?

I must admit when I first saw the title, considering the time of year, that I
expected the topic to be drinking alcohol before or during davening on Purim
(and Simchat Torah) which I have unfortunately seen on occasion. B"H I was
relieved to see that such completely unacceptable behaviour was not being given
the merit of being considered a hava amina [hypothetically permitted]. 

> Answer: We are not discussing one with special physical / medical needs.
> It is forbidden to eat before davening Shacharit (Berachot 10b), as derived
> (although it is probably Rabbinic) from Do not eat on the blood (Vayikra
> 19:26)  i.e., before you have prayed for your blood (=life). It is considered
> haughty to indulge in food before addressing Hashem, and therefore drinking
> water, which is not indulging, is permitted (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim
> 89:3). Many Acharonim permit drinking coffee and tea, specifically when one
> needs it to concentrate on davening; adding flavor enhancers is questionable
> (see Mishna Berura 89:22).

I have never noticed anyone doing this before davening Shacharit but have
frequently seen people fetching coffee before minchah or ma'ariv when it will be
followed by a shiur - but these considerations would be less applicable then. In
any case, I don't think they actually drank the coffee while davening.

> Tefilla is supposed to be done with reverence and awe. Many halachot govern
> how ones body, clothes, and surroundings must be at that time (see Shulchan
> Aruch, OC simanim 97-99). The height of tefilla is considered standing before
> the shechina (Rambam, Tefilla 4:16). Eating and drinking when in close
> contact with Hashem is considered a big chutzpa (see Shemot 24:11). Since this
> is antithetical to tefilla and a beit knesset is set aside for tefilla, it is
> forbidden to eat there (Shulchan Aruch, OC 151:1) ... It seems obvious that
> eating in the midst of davening is worse than eating before. Therefore, even
> if one davens in a place where he may eat, e.g., at home, in a beit midrash
> (Rama ad loc.) or he follows the lenient minhag (see Beur Halacha ad loc.),
> he should not drink during davening.

This would also apply to minchah and ma'ariv in a beit knesset though not in a
beit midrash, where I observed it.

> One can deflect these conclusions. If drinking coffee is permitted before
> davening, then it is not halachic eating, and who says the halacha is stricter
> during davening than before? ... Also, assuming it is forbidden during
> Shemoneh Esrei, who says Psukei Dzimras lesser level of meeting Hashem,
> as a preparatory/introductory stage, carries the same weight (Rama, OC 89:3
> may equate them)? Indeed, many of the halachot of tefilla refer only to
> Shemoneh Esrei (see Mishna Berura 97:3).
> What do the sources say? There are many sources on drinking before davening; I
> did not find classical sources on this question. Why would there not be much
> discussion of the matter? ... Perhaps there is not a full-fledged issur, but
> sensitivity to shul and tefilla made it taboo. I spoke to many (Ashkenazi)
> decades-long shul attenders, none of whom can recall until recently healthy
> people drinking during Psukei Dzimra and later. Those who need coffee, drink
> before davening. Then they enter shul, put on tefillin, and DAVEN ONLY. That
> is a very appropriate minhag even IF arguably not fully required. There are
> signs that some in the new generation view things differently. While they can
> be wonderful Jews and daveners, they would be pulling things in the wrong
> direction, according to several rabbanim (and non-rabbanim) I have discussed
> the topic with. Drinking while davening degrades the atmosphere of the shul in
> our eyes. 
> In some Sephardic communities, it has been more common for at least decades to
> continue, during Psukei Dzimra, drinking coffee begun earlier ... I pray
> that the Ashkenazi minhag of full opposition will survive.

Has anyone come across this questionable practice or have any opinion on it.
In addition, would the opposition to it be less at minchah or ma'ariv?

Martin Stern


From: Joel Rich <JRich@...>
Date: Wed, Mar 11,2020 at 03:01 PM
Subject: NYT Ethicist 

This appeared in the NYT Ethicist.

Q.I have been struck by a fatal disease, inherited from my father. I have
children, who know they have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the disease from me.
I have several siblings. One has children of her own. She has so far refused to
be tested on the off chance that she, too, has the gene. This means that her
children don't know anything about the cause of my disease. There are
interventions that could protect any future grandchildren, but her children
don't know they are in danger of passing the disease along. I have been tempted
to tell my sister's children myself, but I know this would result in a major
breach in our relationship (a real loss to me). What is my ethical
responsibility here? 

Name Withheld

A. The trouble isn't that your sister refuses to be tested. That's her choice.
The trouble is that she wants to prevent her children from knowing what she
already knows. By keeping them in the dark, she's robbing them of the ability to
make their own choices. And here's a critical point. Even if they declined to be
tested themselves, simply knowing that they're at risk would enable them to
protect any children they might have in the future, through "nondisclosure
testing." Clinics can conduct preimplantation embryo screening without sharing
the results with the at-risk parent. Preserving your own uncertainty is
defensible; putting others in jeopardy is not. As painful as a breach in your
relationship with your sister would be, it's clear that your sister's misguided
plan is itself weighing heavily on you. Urge her to level with her children
about the facts. (She could implore them not to tell her if they are tested and
get a positive result.) Were she still to refuse, tell them yourself.

What I would like to discuss is whether the halachic response would be different
and, if so, what would it be?

Joel Rich


From: Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...>
Date: Mon, Mar 9,2020 at 07:01 AM
Subject: Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes

William Gewirtz writes (MJ 64#53):

> Not sitting in the sukkah on Shemini haAtzeret is strongly implied by a 
> careful reading of the text of the primary sugya (Sukkah 46b-47a). That
> conclusion is often overlooked because of the final phrase - the law is that we
> sit and do not make a berakha, which is likely a later interpolation (and 
> change) probably introduced by Rav Yehudai Gaon.

Let's say William is correct -- and I have no reason to think he's not -- that
the gemara's stated conclusion in the sugya that "we sit in the sukkah but don't
make a beracha" is a 9th century interpolation, a fact unknown to all of the
decisors who assumed that it was part of the gemara closed by R, Ashi and the
like. Does that make a difference in psak? 

In general do we, Orthodox -- as opposed to Conservative -- Jews, have the power
to change practical halacha, contradictory to accepted psak, based not on
changing circumstances (e.g, it's a lot colder in northern Europe in Tishrei
than in Israel) but on modern critical methods of reading a text?


End of Volume 64 Issue 54