Leader of ultra-Orthodox world calls for lone prayer due to coronavirus

Rabbi Kanievsky ruled that anyone not obeying social-distancing orders is like someone trying to murder another, is responsible for causing their death; permits reporting them to secular authorities.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ultra-Orthodox rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
After weeks of stalling, the most senior rabbinic leader of the ultra-Orthodox world, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, has ordered members of the community to obey social-distancing orders, pray alone instead of in a prayer quorum and report anyone who violates the orders to the police.
Kanievsky’s instructions were notable for the level of trust they imparted to officials and experts regarding the coronavirus epidemic in contrast to previous comments the rabbi has made, as well as to a prevailing attitude in the community itself which often puts greater trust in rabbis than officials of any other kind, including state and medical ones.
Two weeks ago, despite the widening coronavirus epidemic, Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the other senior leader of the ultra-Orthodox world, both decided not to close ultra-Orthodox boys schools and yeshivas, on the basis that children studying Torah provides physical protection to the Jewish people.
On Sunday however, after data was released showing rates of infection among the ultra-Orthodox public to be particularly high, Kanievsky finally issued several rulings instructing the community to take the epidemic seriously.
In response to a list of six questions apparently posed to him by members of the public in recent days, Kanievsky took a strong stance on the importance of adhering to social distancing instructions and obeying the instructions of doctors.
The rabbi was asked whether people, who claim they trust that God will prevent them from become infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus and therefore violate social-distancing orders issued by the Health Ministry, should be considered “like a rodef” – someone "pursuing" people in order to kill them. Kanievsky responded yes.
In Jewish law, extreme measures can be taken against a rodef to halt their actions.
Kanievsky added that if a person violated the social-distancing orders and thereby infected someone else and caused their death, that person would bear liability for that person's death.
The rabbi also ruled that people should leave a cell phone on over Shabbat and answer it in case a doctor is trying to contact them in an emergency situation.
Using a phone on Shabbat usually violates Jewish law unless there is a matter of life and death, so Kanievsky’s ruling demonstrates the seriousness with which he is now taking the coronavirus epidemic.
In addition, the leading legal authority ruled that it was permitted to inform law enforcement agencies about an individual, a synagogue and educational institutions which violate the Health Ministry orders, even if it means that fines or even imprisonment will be imposed on such violators.
Kanievsky said in summation that the general public should pray to stop the epidemic.
Since Kanievsky and Edelstein ruled to keep boys' schools and yeshivas open, many such institutions continued to operate for several days on a near-normal basis.
The two rabbis never rescinded that decision, but last week the winter term ended and ultra-Orthodox schools and yeshivas are now on their Passover vacation, which lasts a month.