I was proud of Israel’s initial response to, and treatment of, COVID-19. Since the first cases were diagnosed in early March, the government framed our response to the Coronavirus as a moral obligation: It isn’t about us; it’s about our parents and the elderly.
The public swiftly adapted to the (extreme) restrictions, and aside from a bit of non-compliance on the fringes, Israelis sacrificed their livelihood and personal freedoms for the health of the nation.
The religious community also quickly adapted, making significant changes to its daily routines. Shuls and batei midrash were immediately closed, and all prayers moved to our living rooms. The Pesach seder was observed, by many, without friends and family, and Yom Haatzmaut was celebrated in front of the television at home.
Numerous leading rabbis and poskim, in Israel and abroad, supported these strict measures and offered halakhic and spiritual guidance. They provided guidance and instruction regarding the observance of Shabbat, Pesach, funerals and weddings, mikavot, brit mila and pidyon haben in extenuating circumstances. Sadly, they also offered counsel for families and doctors facing life and death questions. They continue to spend days and nights on WhatsApp and Zoom meetings offering guidance to younger rabbis and teachers.
However, as the numbers of daily infections dropped, and as it became clear that Israel was spared the fate of Italy and New York, Israelis began to cast aside the safety precautions, ignoring “social distancing” and removing their masks.
The government began lifting restrictions, leaving the public confused and frustrated. For example, while we are told to keep two meters from one another, we may all sit around the same table and eat at a restaurant. And our children returned to their schools, and dormitories, despite the impossibility of observing these safety precautions in any meaningful manner.
And now the number of cases rises daily, approaching 200 new cases each day.
To be honest, we apparently still don’t really understand much about this virus. It appears not to be on our groceries, outdoors seems to be much safer than indoors, and jogging in a public area will probably not infect anyone.
Furthermore, there doesn’t yet appear to be a rise in deaths, and the fear of being a “rodef”, i.e., causing someone’s death through one’s non-compliance, has ceased to convince people.
However, here is the catch: There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis who need to return to their jobs. Our children need to return to school and to be educated in a healthy environment. I would like to resume teaching Torah to students who come from abroad. I would also like to take my children to visit their grandparents in America. And, to be honest, I could really use a vacation.
There appears to be only one obstacle to returning to some form of normal life: non-compliance. Close, social contact without proper precautions endangers our livelihood and will delay our return to normal life. (And yes, it also endangers lives.)
If the concept of “rodef” no longer speaks to you, there are plenty of other appropriate halakhic terms, such as mazik, chovel, and me’abed mamon chaveiro which may describe the behavior of those who spread the virus.
So please, just wear your masks!