Halachic handbook for the coronavirus pandemic

Here's what to do in circumstances where Jewish customs and rituals might increase the chance of exposure to, or spreading, of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

A paramedic adjusts his protective suit as he prepares outside a special polling station set up by Israel's election committee so Israelis under home-quarantine, such as those who have recently travelled back to Israel from coronavirus hot spots can vote in Israel's national election, in Ashkelon, I (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A paramedic adjusts his protective suit as he prepares outside a special polling station set up by Israel's election committee so Israelis under home-quarantine, such as those who have recently travelled back to Israel from coronavirus hot spots can vote in Israel's national election, in Ashkelon, I
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Since so much of Jewish practice is communally based, inevitably questions have arisen about how to act in certain circumstances where some customs and rituals might increase the chance of exposure to, or spreading of, the novel coronavirus.
One such concern is immersion in a mikveh, or ritual bath, which many religious women perform once a month as required by Halacha.
Some religious men also immerse on frequent basis, although this is a custom and not an obligation as it is for women.
Since public mikvaot are under constant supervision by mikveh attendants, there should be no concern for women not in quarantine to continue to perform this practice, Chief Rabbi David Lau wrote last week. However, anyone in quarantine should postpone their immersion until their quarantine ends, he said.
The same applied for men, although if a mikveh was dirty, immersion should be avoided, Lau said.
On Wednesday, the Srugim website reported that a men’s mikveh in the Tekoa settlement had been closed because a man who is currently quarantined immersed there recently, and the women’s mikveh has also been closed.
The yoatzot website of the Nishmat advanced Torah study institution for women has issued guidelines saying that mikvaot should continue to operate as usual but adhere scrupulously to regulations for filtration and chlorination, while preparation rooms should be thoroughly cleaned before another woman enters.

A woman with symptoms of illness should not use the mikveh without consulting a healthcare professional, while anyone in quarantine should not use the mikveh until the end of the quarantine period, according to the Nishmat guidelines.
Regarding other practices, Lau said anyone required to be in quarantine is “totally forbidden” to leave quarantine to pray in a minyan (quorum of 10 men).
To avoid spreading and widening exposure to the virus, he said people should stop kissing or touching mezuzahs, and synagogues should be well ventilated and ensure there is clean, fresh air.

“In these days, where sadly we see the spread of a terrible disease, there is doubt that one should not kiss mezuzahs or even touch them,” Lau wrote.
The Conference of European Rabbis (CER), the principle Orthodox rabbinical association for Europe, has ruled that if a person does not feel well, they should refrain from attending synagogue, even if they have to say the mourner’s kaddish prayer.
People should not kiss mezuzahs, prayer books, communal prayer shawls or Torah scrolls, it said.
Hand sanitizers should be placed in public places such as synagogues and schools, CER said.


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