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Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

Coronavirus, the Halakha, and the Council of Experts

Monday, March 30, 2020 @ 04:03 PM
posted by Roger Price
Credit: cdc.gov

Guest Essay by The Freehof Institute for Progressive Halakha

At this writing, the COVID-19 outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Tough measures are being taken around the world to deal with the disease, whether to contain or to mitigate its spread, and to attempt to cushion its economic impact. Travel restrictions and quarantines are in effect in North America and Israel; schools and universities have moved to online instruction; large public gatherings have been banned. This crisis is a test of our ability, as individuals and as communities, to come together to do what is necessary to preserve the public health and to calm the rising fear that many are feeling.

Is there a particularly halakhic insight that might be helpful to us at this time?

It is well known, of course, that one of the primary values in Jewish legal thought is pikuaḥ nefesh , the preservation of human life, which overrides almost every other religious duty.1 From this mitzvah to save life, it follows that we must heed the advice and counsel of physicians and all others who are particularly qualified to diagnose, evaluate, and remedy dangers to human health. We read in the Mishnah (Yoma 8:5): “a person who is ill on Yom Kippur is fed according to the instruction of experts.” In other words, the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur, one of the most seriously-felt duties of the religious Jew, is suspended when the experts – Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishnah, identifies them as “qualified physicians” – declare that the patient must eat to maintain his or her health. All this would seem obvious: if pikuaḥ nefesh is important enough to set aside even the most stringent prohibitions of the Torah, it’s reasonable that we ought to rely upon qualified experts to tell us just when life and health are endangered and what we need to do to alleviate that danger.

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