“The fact that they are in the same building does not render them one unified group.”
Today’s Daf Yomi reading considers if one eruv or multiple ones are required when five groups of people spend Shabbat in one hall that is divided into separate rooms, and each one has its own entrance into a courtyard. An alternative of partitions rather than separate rooms is also considered in the discussion. It is an easy leap from this discussion to partitions that separate people from each other during these pandemic times, and the shared commitment to keeping each other safe.
Beit Shammai believes that an eruv – usually established by a loaf of bread – is required for each and every group that occupies the gathering hall where the individual spaces are established by partitions. Beit Hillel, who is often the yang to Shammai’s yin, says that only one eruv is required “as the partitions do not render the different sections separate houses.” Hillel does concede, however, to the belief that if the groups occupy separate rooms or are located on different floors, a distinct eruv is required for each and every one. He acknowledges that “the fact that they are in the same building does not render them one unified group.”
A simple flimsy partition that does not reach the ceiling – perhaps a movable screen – is the catalyst for a ruling by Rabbi Ḥiyya and Rabbi Shimon. They agree that such an impermanent partition does not create separate living quarters and only one eruv is needed. The lesson is presumably that if one wants to save on the cost of a loaf of bread, he should invest in a movable screen, which can pay off in the long run. Of course, in this instance Shammai and Hillel continue to disagree, with the former saying regardless of whether the partition reaches the ceiling, multiple eruvs are needed, while Hillel stands firm that only one is required.
In essence, the gathering hall is our shared community where our homes are the divided rooms. Some of us live in larger homes than others or in denser neighborhoods. We are more than seven months into fighting COVID-19 and it takes all of us to do so. We each have our own health and that of our neighbors’ in our hands, and our actions have consequences. We wear masks, wash our hands, and maintain social distancing out of respect for each other.
We are nowhere near fighting back this virus and are looking at least another six months of living careful lives. Here in New York City we have achieved some hard-won gains. We were shut down from March through July, which was long after many parts of the country and the world opened up. And we opened up slowly, with many restrictions still in place. I track the testing positivity rate daily and obsessively, as a metric that tells me how well the city is doing. As of October 16th, the positivity rate in New York City was 1.6%. This is significantly higher than it has been, but still relatively low.
In certain “hot spot” neighborhoods the positivity rate is as high as 6%. Among these hotspot neighborhoods are ones that are primarily occupied by the Hassidic in Brooklyn. This has led the Governor of New York to impose restrictions on non-essential businesses and to roll back the openings in these selective neighborhoods, in a targeted strategy that is attempting to save the entire city from suffering another wholesale lock-down.
Against this backdrop, the New York Times reported that New York City moved to shut down a Satmar Hassidic wedding that was allegedly planned in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 10,000 people. If the news story is correct, 10,000 people were planning to gather during a pandemic. Governor Cuomo commented that “you can get married. You just can’t get 10,000 people at your wedding.” The family has since indicated that due to the unwanted publicity the wedding would be a private affair. Whether it is a gathering of 100, 1,000 or 10,000 people, such an event would serve as a catalyst for community spread. And with community spread, would come another city-wide shut down and all the pain that would create for the small businesses who are barely managing to survive.
I understand that the Hassidic community is one that is highly interconnected and gathering for weddings and funerals is part of what binds them together. I get that they are not able to livestream their religious services the way my reform synagogue does. I get that it is a very serious matter to close their synagogues and that there is a conflict between the right to worship and public safety. But we are in the middle of the worst health crisis of our generation and it takes everyone in every community to work in lockstep to maintain the hard-won gains we have made in this city.
We are all residents of this great city, and we all need to do our part to keep the numbers down in order to avoid the type of tragedy we experienced last spring. It must be wonderful to be a part of a supportive community like the ultra-religious ones in Brooklyn where one probably never feels like they are making their way on their own in the world. But don’t they also feel an obligation to their city at large?
Jeh Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, commented on the second wave of COVID-19 that is now sweeping the US: “this did not have to happen. We could have done better.” But it would have taken all us to turn this around.