Half a million people take part in mass online prayer against coronavirus

Chief Rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu: coronavirus pandemic shows that however important world economy is, it cannot trample other values

Hasidic Jewish men gather for a morning prayer outside of a synagogue, closed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hasidic Jewish men gather for a morning prayer outside of a synagogue, closed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Half a million people participated in a mass online prayer event staged on various different digital platforms and involving rabbis and participants from around the world, to request divine intervention to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The initiative was promoted by the chief rabbis of Israel rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau along with several organizations and other prominent rabbis, including Chief Rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of France Rabbi Chaim Korsia, head of the New York Yeshurun Congregation Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Chief Rabbi of Beijing Rabbi Shimon Frondelich, and CEO of the OU in Israel Rabbi Avi Berman, among others.
It was suggested by Yarden Leitner, a young student who decided that "not only will the virus not prevent us from gathering, we will unite as the Jewish people never did before in all of history." "When the people of Israel are united," he said, "nothing is too big for us to handle."
The prayer service was live streamed on a dedicated webpage as well as in a live Facebook event and other formats, and the various participating rabbis recited psalms, prayers of supplication, prayers for healing the sick, and blew the shofar and ritual trumpets as part of the entreaties to God.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, one of the four holy cities of Israel, said that although it could not be said what exactly mankind was doing incorrectly which may have spiritually given rise to the current pandemic, he said that the world would have “different insights” into how it should approach life once it ends.
“Since the world was created there was light and darkness, good and bad. Man has to choose the good, and to avoid the bad, but sometimes people make mistakes and bring upon themselves the bad,” said the rabbi.
“We all understand that there is a creator who didn’t just create the world and then leave it, but is to be found in it – and we are praying to the One who created the world and guides it, to heal it and send a full recovery to all the Jewish people and the whole world.”
Eliyahu observed that decisions made by major world economic powers to protect their populations from the COVID-19 pandemic were notable for how adversely they will effect the global economy.
And he said that this illustrated how the global health crisis had “opened the eyes” of nations to the fact that there were more important things than just economic prosperity.
“The world, which put the economy at the head of its priorities at the expense of other values, is today being reset. People are realizing that the economy is not everything, [but] that life is everything,” said Eliyahu.
“The world today is knowingly making a sacrifice, sacrificing the world economy and saying ‘the economy is important, but human life is more important.’
“The economy is important, but it cannot trample other values.”
CEO of the Orthodox Union in Israel Rabbi Avi Berman said of the prayer event that “Our role as observant Jews is to appeal to the creator of the world,” and said that when the Jewish people come together their prayers are answered.
“We have no doubt that when we are united as one, we reach the highest spiritual peaks. Therefore hundreds of rabbis and community leaders around the world come together for a joint prayer with the people of Israel in their land, in order to create the spiritual strength for this unique prayer.”
Some criticism was leveled at the mass prayer event, since the chief rabbis initially called for people to assemble in synagogues in 10-men prayer groups for the service.
The Tzohar rabbinical association in particular called on Tuesday for the event to be made into an exclusively digital prayer service, because of the danger of spreading the COVID-19 disease in communal prayer services in synagogues.
Following the announcement of new social-distancing regulations in Israel by the government on Wednesday, the chief rabbis subsequently said that any real-world communal gatherings for the mass prayer event could be conducted outdoors and with a maximum of 10 men, spaced two meters apart.