Kenneth Ryesky

(More than) a pennyworth of difference

“What the deuce is it to me? You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

[Sherlock Holmes, upon being informed by Dr. Watson that the earth revolves around the sun.].

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

I now sit here in my apartment typing my first posting on this blog, confined to quarters under Israel’s emergency COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. Legally, I may only leave the 100-meter radius surrounding my building for limited purposes such as purchasing food or medical items, or obtaining healthcare. My usual physical workout, a brisk run ranging anywhere between two and seven kilometers, is now verboten, as are the long pleasure walks to explore and enjoy the scenery of various neighborhoods and parks. Bus and rail transportation is severely cut back, and when available, would place me into crowded quarters were I to use it and thereby increase my exposure to the WuFlu virus.

My wife is not so restricted in her movements because she is a hospital physician, an occupation appropriately deemed essential, and accordingly is given dispensation to travel to and from her job. Her risk of infection (and therefore, mine) is elevated on account of the situs of her employment, and elevated further because she has aged beyond sixty years, and because so many of her oncology patients have suppressed immune systems.

Petach Tikva, where I live, is the second city eastward from Bnei Brak, which has attained the dubious distinction of being Israel’s “Corona Capital” amidst the COVID-19 epidemic, and which is now sealed off by the Israeli police and army, who limit entry and exit at the perimeter and patrol the streets to enforce order.

My wife and I had initially been planning to do the Pesach Seder up north with our son, d-i-l, and grandson, but that plan is obviously scrubbed, what with the total lockdown on travel; we saw it coming and decided to stay put for the Seder, a decision made in time for us to sign on to the services of a commercial caterer who has promised delivery (and, a few hours ago, delivered).

We thus far have coped reasonably well with the ever-tightening restrictions.

The foregoing is my personal vantage point in the COVID-19 discourse that follows:

Imprimis, this CoronaVirus thing has gotten my brain running in overdrive for the past few days, with Corona-related incident or concept triggering my creative juices, and then, another trigger on another Corona-related matter derails my thinking on the first angle. Wash, rinse, repeat!

The latest trigger is this news item “35 forced into quarantine after infected man knowingly takes Jerusalem bus.”  Here, a thoughtless and inconsiderate person who learned of his infection by the WuFlu virus knowingly walked out of isolation and into a bus, resulting in the exposure and mandatory quarantine of 35 total strangers.  The damage done to these innocent bystanders’ lives and those of their families is obvious and inexcusable, and the legal system will lose all of its credibility if significant consequences are not visited upon this depraved miscreant.

The immediate thought that occurred to me is how long will it be before someone asserts something to the effect that this lowlife lives in an insular community (Beitar Ilit) where television and internet are banned, and, bereft of adequate information, he could not adequately internalize the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus epidemic?

Excuses along the same lines have already been proffered regarding Rabbi Kanievsky’s 180-degree turnabout from his original order to disobey the social distancing regulations to an emphatic directive to adhere to them, while the breach of the regulations during intervening time between the two events has certainly led to more COVID-19 infections and deaths.  “Had [Rabbi Kanievsky] been presented with all the facts and figures including an understanding of how contagious and deadly this disease is, there is no way he would have allowed the schools and synagogues to remain open.”

So just who is at fault? Is it Rabbi Kanievsky’s palace guard for not giving him an objective complete picture of the matter?  Is it Rabbi Kanievsky himself for not making further inquiry regarding an assertion that a Jewish government of a Jewish country was banning the use of yeshivas and synagogues?  Or is it Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for not giving the key rabbis such as Kanievsky a “heads-up” regarding the seriousness of the CoronaVirus?

I say that the answer is “D.  All of the above.”

A further tightening of the restrictions is imminent, and starting in less than 24 hours there will be a total lockdown.  Now that I have just today published an article that is critical of Kanievsky and Litzman for their breaches of the social distancing regulations, I myself must now be in full compliance with them.  To be sure, it will be a challenge, especially if Netanyahu, instead of easing up after Pesach, lays down even tighter stringencies.  But comply I must!

One of the emergency regulations is that everyone must wear a mask in public places. When I went out this morning (to procure some healthcare supplies) the compliance rate with the mandatory face mask rule was very high, but certainly not 100%.  If the government here is really, really serious about slowing the spread of the virus then it will enforce that rule and slap a few violators with fines to send the message that it means business. In this day and age when everyone (except members of some insular communities) and his mother, brother, sister, and pet mynah bird carry cellphones with photo and video capabilities, obtaining irrefutable evidence as a predicate for writing a ticket is in the hands of ever police officer.

[This would pose no issues for our own household.  My wife has been on board with hospital protocols from her first day of medical school anyway, and as of last week I have not set foot outside of our apartment, not even into the hallway, without wearing a mask, if only to foreclose upon the prospect of being an asymptomatic vector who, despite feeling physically fine, is exhaling microscopic virus-carrying droplets into the atmosphere with each breath.  Given that I live with a woman whose risk of infection is greater than average, this is the least I should be doing, even if there were no mandatory mask rule.  Everybody should want to wear mask in public under the prevailing conditions.]

Back in the USA, we did a total kitchen remodel in two of the houses we owned.  Each remodel job was undertaken on a somewhat emergent basis (think leaking drainpipes or gas pipes inside the walls), messy and inconvenient, disrupted our customary normal routines, and had a significant impact upon our family budget.  One of those remodeling was completed less than two weeks before Pesach, so we roughed it for a few days (an expensive and ill-recommended way to prepare for the holiday).

This COVID-19 thing is nothing less than a remodeling job on the whole world, but unlike the remodeling of our kitchens, it is not being done according to our specifications (nor Bibi Netanyahu’s, Litzman’s, Kanievsky’s, or even Donald Trump’s).

As matters currently stand, the insular community is headed for a big naufragio.  As with all of us, Kanievsky’s days on this earth are not infinite, and absent a course correction, someone like the coughing boy in Beit Shemesh may well be in line to be a future Gadol HaDor.

For a consulting detective such as Sherlock Holmes, whose job is to ascertain the facts and identify the perpetuators of crimes, the fact that the earth revolves around the sun may well be irrelevant. But rabbinical leaders such as Rabbi Kanievsky, whose job is to act as an arbiter of questions in all areas of life, cannot discount and ignore the broader picture. The COVID-19 situation has made billions of sheqels more than “a pennyworth of difference” to the insular communities that are Rabbi Kanievsky’s constituency, and indeed, to all of Israel.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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