Volume 64 Number 55 
      Produced: Sun, 15 Mar 20 06:11:09 -0400

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Corona outbreak (5)
    [Orrin Tilevitz  Isaac Balbin  Perets Mett  Carl Singer  David Ziants]
NYT Ethicist 
    [Martin Stern]
Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes 
    [Dr. William Gewirtz]


From: Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...>
Date: Thu, Mar 12,2020 at 06:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

Martin Stern wrote (MJ 64#54):

> 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 having 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.

I didn't read David Ziants's initial posting because I was in Israel,
experiencing first-hand an effective public response to the disease (unlike in
the U.S.). Among other things, the populace has been instructed that if they
have COVID-like symptoms, DO NOT go to the ER and infect everyone else there,
but instead call (MDA, I think), and a team will be sent to your home to test
you. I am also -- like Martin, I believe -- not an epidemiologist, and have no
medical background. With those disclaimers in mind:

1.  Martin's comparison is of apples and oranges. He is using the wrong
denominator.  AFIK, one is either sick with common influenza or one is not.  If
you have the flu, you have a diagnosed case of it.  The mortality rate for the
flu based on diagnosed cases is about 0.5%.  The mortality rate for COVID based
on diagnosed cases exceeds 3%.  Also, nearly everybody who dies of the flu is
pretty sick to begin with and likely would have died of something else. COVID-19
is striking down healthy people.  And, given the lack of natural immunity in the
population, a large number of people getting the disease means a lot of dead bodies.

2.  Herd immunity is all well and good.  That is the theory that Boris Johnson,
the leader of Martin's home country, is pursuing in - as I understand it -
declining to attempt to slow the spread of the disease. No other country, AFIK,
is following this approach.  Aside from the cost of lives to get there in the
best of circumstances, critics have pointed out that if the calculations of
Johnsons' epidemiologists are wrong, there will be a lot more dead bodies
because the hospitals will be overwhelmed and the medical professionals
themselves will be out sick, unable to treat patients.  One might ask this group
whether a society subject to the 7 Noahide laws is even permitted to follow
this approach.

3.  I Googled coronavirus together with 'mass hysteria'.  The combination is a
quote from President Trump, the self-proclaimed expert on the coronavirus (and
everything else). 

From: Isaac Balbin <isaac@...>
Date: Thu, Mar 12,2020 at 07:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

In response to Martin Stern (MJ 64#54):

His advice is sensible in the sense of VeNishmartem Es Nafshosechem [look after
yourself] however the word Meod appears, which suggests a Torah command to look
after your self *extra* well. How does one parameterise this, let alone accuse
some of hysteria for taking this more seriously that the norm?

From: Perets Mett <p.mett00@...>
Date: Thu, Mar 12,2020 at 08:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

David Ziants (MJ 64#54) wrote:

> 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 ? 

What is the source for suggesting that reading the Megila in Erets Yisroel has 
a higher standing that the reading in Chutz Loorets

I did not believe that there is any difference

However there certainly is a difference between the evening reading and the
morning reading. I do not see any way that one can be yotze the morning reading
from someone who is reading the evening Megilo.

Perets Mett 

From: Carl Singer <carl.singer@...>
Date: Thu, Mar 12,2020 at 08:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

In response to Martin Stern (MJ 64#54):

Briefly, People are NOT statistics.  "ONLY 1%" etc.  is meaningless to that 1%
and their kin, and to the broader population who have real or imagined risk.
Similarly, comparing statistics among various outbreaks neglects the
characteristics of each disease.

People who come to shul and immediately look for a box of tissues should
likely have stayed home.

Carl Singer

From: David Ziants <dziants@...>
Date: Thu, Mar 12,2020 at 11:01 AM
Subject: Corona outbreak

In response to my posting (MJ 64#53) Martin Stern wrote:

> In my opinion, the reaction to the current corona virus epidemic verges on
> mass hysteria.

I agree with Martin that the number of people actually affected by the 
epidemic is very small, but I think the reason is because governments are taking
all the precautions to ensure that people who have travelled to foreign
countries or have a remote chance that they might have had contact with someone
who has caught the virus are quarantined. If these precautions would not have
been taken, then the fatality (chas v'shalom) might be a lot higher.

These precautions are being endorsed by halachic authorities of all hashkafot
[outlooks] and colours , with the possible ramifications of bitul mitzva assei
[not doing a positive commandment] (e.g not hearing parshat zachor or not
hearing the megilla, although if necessary, the former can be done at another
opportunity during the year).

Since my original post, the Israeli Health Ministry (and possibly other
governments), have made precautions tighter.

As regards Stuart Pilichowski's comment on my original posting (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.

The purpose of my posting was as food for thought, and it is always good to
present halachic sources to support the ideas.

With respect to the shul or neighbourhood communities putting out guidelines for
new situations (whatever they may be), the idea is that this saves the necessity
for each individual to ask the Rav independently, as on the whole, at least in
my community, most householders have enough halachic maturity to make their own
decisions if they know the halachic parameters.

David Ziants


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, Mar 15,2020 at 06:01 AM
Subject: NYT Ethicist

Joel Rich wrote (MJ 64#54):

> 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?
> ...
> 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 ... Preserving your own
> uncertainty is defensible; putting others in jeopardy is not ... Urge her to
> level with her children about the facts ... 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?

IMHO the halachah is quite clear: "Al ta'amod al dam rei'echa [don't stand
idly by while your fellow's life is in danger]" - tell them and, if your
sister breaks off from you, then accept it since it is she who is acting
improperly not you.

Martin Stern


From: Dr. William Gewirtz <wgewirtz@...>
Date: Thu, Mar 12,2020 at 09:01 AM
Subject: Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes

Orrin Tilevitz wrote (MJ 64#54):

> 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?

I did not mean to imply that a gezairah of Rav Yehudai Gaon has less normative
impact than a logical conclusion of the gemara: both must be obeyed. I also did
not intend to imply that an academic reading, quite possibly unrecognized by
many/most poskim is to be followed. Academic readings have halakhic import, but
in a more complex way; they may inform a posek in how to lean in various
uncharted contexts. 

Nonetheless, changed circumstance is a recognized reason for changes in halakhic
practice. Where Orthodox Jews differ from Conservative Jews is on what
constitutes a legitimate basis for change. In fact, poskim across
all denominations often differ on what constitutes a legitimate basis for
halakhic change. Often time is a factor; some requiring more time to pass before
supporting a change, while others promote more immediate ones.

These factors continue to be actively debated and are fertile areas of
meta-halakhic study.


End of Volume 64 Issue 55