Monday, May 25, 2020

Rabbi Mayer Twersky on Opening Shuls & Camps - The Halacha is Clear & so is Common Sense!

If you're dead, you don't get another chance of getting it right!

With moves towards reopening across the board, it is worth reflecting again (as we did 2.5 months ago) on different views on the relationship between Pikkuach Nefesh, the Jewish respect for life, and opening religious institutions. There is now more information in the public domain, including two instructive pieces by Rav Mayer Twersky’s on the topic. 

To offer a very rudimentary framework for different approaches and attitudes to Pikkuach Nefesh that have been offered in the current crisis:

1. Attitude 1: We should be *less concerned* with the dangers in cases of religious activity. Shuls shouldn’t be closed or should be closed last. Opening Shuls should happen sooner than activities of equivalent danger. [There are different versions of what motivates this view – some see health guidelines as a conspiracy, some focus on Torah’s ability to protect – but the resulting attitude is the same.] This view is stated explicitly by some, and is implicit in the actions of those who only closed when coerced, those who attempt to skirt regulations, and those who lobbied local and national governments to allow them to reopen.

2. Attitude 2: We should be *equally concerned* with the dangers of COVID-19 in the context of Shul as in the context of other activities. There are different renderings of this view, but they often take the view that one is warranted to take minor risks in undertaking activities that are commonly done in society. [This is often based on the idea of Shomer Pesa’im Hashem, and/or that certain risks are below the threshold point that Halakha should be concerned.]

3. Attitude 3: We should be *more concerned* about the dangers of COVID-19 than the rest of the population. The two main proponents of this position are Rav Asher Weiss in Israel (he has called Israel’s Health Ministry “overly lenient” and “an ignoramus”) and Rav Mayer Twersky in the US. Significantly, his recent writing on this topic was endorsed by Rav Herschel Schachter, one of the major decisors for the OU, and has been invoked in communal decisionmaking.

The OU/RCA position itself seems to be somewhere between 2 and 3. It takes extra time beyond government guidelines (at least 14 days) before opening Shuls, and does so only with great care. At the same time, it does not fully endorse Rav Twersky’s note (to be analyzed below) and may ultimately support opening before he is on board.

It is worth reflecting on the basis of Rav Twersky’s reasoning for why we should be *more* concerned about COVID-19 than the rest of the population. Several weeks ago, Rav Twersky publicized a short article entitled “Vachai Bahem,” referring to the commandment that one preserve life, even if it means violating Torah commandments (with three exceptions). Here a basic summary of his view:

- Drawing upon the Rambam (Shabbat 2:3), Rav Twersky argues that in cases of danger it is prohibited to delay carrying out whatever is necessary, even if it violates Shabbos. This concept, based on Vachai Bahem, teaches that “the laws of the Torah in this world are not punitive but are merciful, loving, and peaceful.” Those who call this a violation of the Sabbath are heretics!

- The animating force of that essay is Rav Twersky’s family tradition. He extensively cites his grandfather, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, citing *his* grandfather, Rabbi Chayim Soloveitchik (Grach), in the following story. Grach was sick, a doctor was tending to him on Shabbos; he asked if turning on the light would help and the doctor didn’t give a clear answer. Grach told someone to turn on a light, and when they hesitated Grach berated him, calling him a heretic for not sufficiently considering risk to life!

- Building upon this, Rav Twersky decries the view that does not sufficiently take into account the Torah’s great regard for human life. He notes that although it is not his place to speak up among those greater than him, in a case of Chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) the usual rules of deference are not regarded. Those who didn’t close their institutions once there was danger not only endangered their followers but also desecrated God’s name. In addition, he confesses on behalf of some of his fellow rabbis, “even when we responded to directives to cancel gatherings, we tied our following these instructions to external factors [i.e. government directive] and not for the Torah’s concern for Vachai Bahem [human life].”

- He concludes that letter by saying that “It is our double obligation to correct as much as possible the past and to teach as to the truth of Torah going forward.”

This past Thursday, Rav Twersky authored another letter, relating to the current situation and the prospect of reopening. In short, he strongly cautioned against reopening at this point, offering several reasons.

- He opens with a wide-ranging ruling, that “holding Minyan outside, or inside in places where that is permitted… and opening Battei Midrash, Yeshivas, and (lehavdil) camps… are all absolutely prohibited right now,” due to the danger. Rav Twersky note that this is all based on logic, but he also provides halakhic sources, although they shouldn’t be necessary. 

- Given the nature of the disease, one must think not only about the danger to individuals, but the danger to the community as a whole. Since opening Minyanim will lead to some getting sick, it is prohibited, since it is at least a Sefeik Sefeika of Sakkanah, a remote possibility of danger.

- We follow expert medical advice, and particularly the opinion of experts, particularly for views on which they are certain, not their best estimations. Even those providing ways to return to Shul do not think this activity is risk-free, or else they wouldn’t exclude the elderly. Doctors should be trusted to advise as to what risk certain activities yield, but NOT what constitutes an “acceptable risk” – that is a Halakhic determination.

- Some Jewishly observant doctors think that Minyan is essential and thus the question is not *whether* to hold Minyan, but *how* to hold Minyan. They think: How can Shul be closed for so long? This leads them to express medical positions that assume incorrect views of what is an acceptable danger and which should be disregarded.

- Government guidance aims to limit the spread of the disease, but does not aspire to zero risk. Therefore *lenient* governmental guidance should not be followed and has no weight in these decisions. If anything, permissive governmental guidance is a reason for Shuls to be more stringent, since it will lead to increased gatherings and thus increased risk.

- Some have suggested that, since some will not follow a directive to remain closed, that we should advise them as to how to open up most safely. This is incorrect; such guidance will only strengthen their hand.

- Rabbinic permissive views are all based in error – they either lack the requisite medical knowledge, don’t appreciate the ramifications of their actions, errantly think they can rely on government rulings, don’t fully appreciate the halakhic value of Vachaai Bahem, or overestimate the value of Tefillah Bitzibur (public prayer). Since these views are based in error, they should not be taken into consideration at all.

- Some might ask: how can everything be opening us around us – stores, the beach, etc., while Shuls and Batei Midrash remain closed? The response to this is Anu Ratzim Vihem Ratzim – we don’t take guidance from these dangerous positions but follow the Torah-true view on avoiding danger. We thus avoid going outside in all of these cases (with possible exceptions for safe public walks, and the separate discussion of making a living).

- How long does this go? We need to wait until there is more medical *certainty* around how to avoid the disease. We should not rush to come back, and we have not yet reached the point where medical knowledge allows for avoiding danger with certainty. Rav Twersky closes with: “It is possible to wait for these things [prayer in synagogues, etc.] but it is impossible to return a Jewish life to the world.”

Rav Twersky offers a very powerful statement, and one that reflects, at least in part, the view that Shuls should be opened later than governmental and even public health guidance allows for. Time will tell the extent to which it is followed, but it is the most extensive (and extreme) presentation of that view.

May we all merit to see the day when it is safe enough that all rabbis will be encouraging Shul attendance, as in days of yore!

Mayer E. Twersky (born October 17, 1960) is an Orthodox rabbi and one of the roshei yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University.  Twersky currently holds the position of Grand Rabbi of the Talne hasidim.  Twersky is currently on the board of TorahWeb,[7] which frequently publishes short English articles of his.



Dinkins the Pinkins said...

Andrew "Cuomo the Homo" & Bill de Blasio are suddenly being mevatter on all the tenoyim to open up & just ramming everything through regardless because they are covering up & trying to distract from how they are responsible for all the elterra mentchen who were killed in nursing homes. Opening up created a huge buzz that has everyone preoccupied with it. And they have already farentfered a new spike of deaths to come from reopening as a "fact of life".

The politicians are all the same that the economy comes before hatzolas nefoshos. Democrats killed off all the alter shmageggies in nursing homes as part of the Liberal Obama "Death Panel" shita that killing unproductive old people saves billions of dollars & balances the budget deficit. But when caught then they start acting like Republicans that the ershter zach is to open everything.

Anonymous said...


Just wonder how one must hate NIRC and its corrupt leadership to actually come to their campus and attack rabbi Cook, who has expelled thousands of youngsters from the yeshiva and covered up for all notorious child molesters!

Satmar-Bobov-Hynes price tag to protect a pedophile said...


Quarter million dollars

Anonymous said...

Paul, read your post, could you please comment on this?

Anonymous said...

The former talmid who attacked Ner Israel this morning has been named as Emanuel Yerushalmi. He is now arrested.

Paul Mendlowitz said...

I believe the CDC is reporting the cases accurately, I also believe the Social Distancing and the masks contributed to the the decline. Let's look at the numbers in 4 weeks again. In addition, in EY, new cases in yeshivas have skyrocketed in the past week to the hundreds. The science will tell us what is really going on, not the CDC or Agudah.

Anonymous said...

Emanuel Yerushalmi is someone else.

Perp's name is Emanuel YerushalmY.

Ed Koch said...

Maybe the CDC is telling the truth but several States have been caught fudging the numbers lower and that includes Cuomo's New York.

Matis Weinberg said...

If Yerushalmy was molested in the dorm, on Eisemann's lap or at Counsel Neuberger's Oneg Shabbos, I could see he might want to attack the Hanhala for doing nothing except cover up.

But don't look at me because Tatty shipped me off to Philly towards the end of mesivta already! Philly owed Ner Yisroel for taking their dirty laundry in a previous year (Eisemann).

Neubergers Iranian Refugee Camp roshei taivos NIRC said...


He might be an Iranian who changed his name to make it at least sound Israeli if not somewhat haymish

Anonymous said...

Solomon Cohen:

For those who don't know: IT'S WELL KNOWN THAT NER YISROEL HAS KICKED OUT A FAIR NUMBER OF BACHURIM FROM THE YESHIVA OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES, AND (I BELIEVE) RABBI COOK ADVISED OTHER YESHIVOS OF THE REASONS FOR SAID EXPULSIONS, EVEN YEARS AFTER THOSE STUDENTS COMPLETELY REFORMED AND PERFORMED WELL IN OTHER YESHIVOS. Mind you, the difference of four years for a teenager who has made great strides can feel like a lifetime for him. Rabbi Cook knows that; we all do. But it just didn't cut it for Rabbi Cook. And reputations, and, far more importantly, years of hard work for people like me, were nearly lost if we would have given up.

Simcha Cook is the husband of a Jewish artist Esky Cook.

Yaakov said...

I learned at Ner with Emanuel Yerushalmy. He is an Iranian refugee, a very decent guy. He could not just attack the yeshiva for no reason. Something is fishy...

Yankel Applegrad said...

This is a new frontier even for Margo. He was calling bookies in Vegas this morning trying to place a bet that he figured the perp was a "rrreject" from Iran. He didn't have much luck in that they didn't know what he was talking about as the incident didn't make the national news. But ol' Margo was still gloating that the Neubergers are suckers for taking Iranians, laughing that it vindicates his shita that he would never take into YTT an off the boat Iranian with no money - unless the father shnorred every night in Flatbush shuls to raise the monthly tuition.

Anonymous said...

Emanuel Yerushalmy is playing the Persian music "Walk away from me" on YouTube. Can you believe he is just another crazy man who attacked the holy rabbi?

دیگر تو هم بیگانه شو چون دیگران با سرگذشتم
میخواهم عشقت در دل بمیرد
میخواهم تا دیگر در سریادت پایان گیرد
بگذر ز من ای آشنا چون از تو من دیگر گذشتم
دیگر تو هم بیگانه شو چون دیگران با سرگذشتم
هر عشقی میمیرد، خاموشی میگیرد،عشق تو نمیمیرد
باور کن بعد از تو دیگری در قلبم،جایت را نمیگیرد
هر عشقی میمیرد، خاموشی میگیرد،عشق تو نمیمیرد
باور کن بعد از تو دیگری در قلبم،جایت را نمیگیرد
هر عشقی میمیرد، خاموشی میگیرد،عشق تو نمیمیرد
باور کن بعد از تو دیگری در قلبم،جایت را نمیگیرد
هر عشقی میمیرد، خاموشی میگیرد،عشق تو نمیمیرد
باور کن بعد از تو دیگری در قلبم،جایت را نمیگیرد

Short memory span said...

It was just last summer that a character on the Fresser Moetzes said that camps should ban tubing & white water rafting because of the POSSIBLE danger of midas hadin on "Mi bamayim". Camps followed suit with some even assering jet skis on still ponds!

He was the same character who initially attacked Vaccine Mad Scientist Kaminetzky at a Fresser Convention during the measles crisis, before doing an about face & following RSK around like a lemmela to echo his every word.

Now that there is a PANDEMIC which makes "Mi bamagaifa" even worse than other years, these Agudah Fresser ROYDFIM are fighting to open up all the camps ahead of any remotely sane schedule!

Rabbi Samuel Kaminetzky said...

Who is this imposter vos er redt kfira mamash? Me & my rebbitzen are the only scientists from Drexel!


Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania canceled its camps through September

In the meantime, we spoke with Drexel epidemiologist and visiting professor Michael LeVasseur, who weighed in on what protocols camps should enact if they do open as well as whether it’s a good idea to send your kid.

The takeaways? We should delay camp openings — and reopening in general — until we’re able to collect more information through contact tracing. LeVasseur wouldn’t advise sending kids to camp. Sorry, parents.

Given what we know now, do you think it’s a good idea for summer camps to reopen in June? Given what we don’t know right now, I think it’s not a good idea to reopen. Contact tracing is just getting started here in Philadelphia. I don’t know that by June we’ll really understand how many people are infected, where they’re getting infected, what the benefit is to wearing cloth masks. We’re not operating with a lot of information. I’m thinking camps will have protocols in place to maintain social distancing and maintain hygiene in June. But if I had kids, I don’t think I’d send them to summer camp. For example, we’re not entirely sure how effective the cloth face masks are yet. If we’re putting our faith in these cloth masks and have kids wearing them and they turn out not to be effective … well, I’d rather have faith in data and science rather than in covering my face with a t-shirt.

Does it seem to you like reopening activities like camps early could make for a bumpier journey down the road? If we hold off on opening summer camps, might they be more reliably safe later on? Yeah, it’s mid-May, and we’re talking about three weeks away. I just don’t think we’ll have the information. The other thing I’m concerned about is if we’re reopening now, just as things are starting to decline, we won’t have the capacity to do much contact tracing. If you have five people getting infected per day, you can trace them. If you have 100 people getting infected per day, it becomes much less manageable. We don’t even know what the infection rate is right now.

What would you say to parents who feel there’s no other option but to send their kids to summer camps? As an epidemiologist, I wouldn’t advise parents to send their children to summer camps.

What steps should camps take to mitigate a COVID-19 breakout if one does occur? I assume camp leaders will shut down the camp for a short time if someone associated with the camp contracts COVID-19. (Hey Dr., the Fressers already said they will send the infected out of camps but NOT shut the camps down)

What’s the take-home message? It’s not just summer camps dealing with these conversations; it’s a lot of the way we exist as a society. We just don’t have the answers yet.

Brisker said...

Even before the Philly Kaminetzkys went off the deep end with measles & corona, Rosh Yeshivas Brisk R' Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik publicly called them reshoyim for the mamzerus scandal with zoyna Tamar Epstein-Friedman & said no one should have anything to do with them:

נפל דבר בישראל

באמריקה התירו אשת איש לשוק רח"ל בלא גט -
זהו נבלה ממש

וחוץ מעצם הענין שאין רצוני ליכנס בזה שהוא באמת חמור מאוד

הרי אף במקום שצריך ליכנס להתיר עגונות ישבו רבותינו האחרונים שבעה נקיים עד שהוציא פסק

וגם בזה לא היה להם די והתנו ההיתר בהצטרפות עוד גדולים

וכאן עושים כאילו הוא דבר של מה בכך

ורשעים במחשך מעשיהם התירו ולא התירו

כאן בארץ ישראל כשרצו להתיר שני ממזרים הפכו את העולם

חובה גמורה על הרבנים וראשי הישיבות באמריקא לזעוק צעקה גדולה על זה

והרי זהו אחריות עצומה על כל המשך הדורות באמריקה כי זה פתח לכל מיני רבנציקעש שיוכלו לעשות ככל העולה על רוחם

ואסור ללמוד אצל ראש הישיבה כזה וכמבואר ברמב"ם על הרב שאינו הולך בדרך טובה

Rabbi Simcha Cook said...

— Ho-ho, “Emanuel Yerushalmi”! Now the whole world knows that your real name is Manooel (an ugly heathenish first name) Yerooshalmy because you are a little stinking subhuman Iranian immigrant who foolishly wanted to come to America to learn some Torah and be its follower. No, my dear, the Torah belongs to us, the chosen Illuminati with superior lineage. We, not you, fix what the Torah is and what it’s not! So, if we happen to think it’s OK to molest our students, you must obey and instantly take off your pants. Because, you know, if you don’t act as a good boy, we’ll practice little eugenics and won’t let you get aptly married! We’ll also call every Jewish institution and tell them you are a bad boy who does not listen to his teachers! What, you reply we destroyed your useless life? Ho-ho! Maybe we only destroyed you spiritually (and barely touched your genitals), but you tried to kill us physically, and the material world is all we have! Let me now give you our Jewish yeshiva blessing: To 120! That is how long you should be in prison for rebelling against our authority, and I’m sure our friends in police (they already did a great job fixing your nose) and justice system will fulfill my humble blessing-request!
Yours very truly,
Your rebbe Simcha Cook

Anonymous said...

the whole yerushalmy story is so murky; the yeshiva campus was supposed to be closed due to the coronavirus, but their office and sanctuary were somehow open; public prayer is still banned in baltimore, so what were the rabbis doing there at seven in the morning? seems like they were breaking the law themselves! now you don't drive for twenty minutes from balto to pikesville for no reason; yerushalmy probably knew they had secret prayer services and intentionally drove there; what did he want to accomplish? are we talking about personal revenge for being cheated or raped or did he know they were gonna do some abomination and wanted to stop them? he is now represented by ner israel mouthpiece isaac klein, whom the yeshiva has ordered to hush up the case; so klein is saying yerushalmy is crazy; nobody will believe that for a moment but what do you expect him to say: that the rabbis are criminals themselves? too many dark ner israel secrets...

Filthydelphia said...

Ner Yishmoel was of course following the anti-vaxx pied piper Shmuel Kaminetzky, one of their own, as he pushed yeshivos to stay open after Purim.

And R' Aron Feldman was one of only two signatures last week alongside RSK against the Vayelepoler Rebbe's son in that ridiculous dust up that mirrors the insanity in Crown Heights. Just like the unofficial Meshichist attack the official Meshichist because they are bad for fundraising, we now have the unofficial anti-vaxx RSK, who yes he wants all the shuls & yeshivos to be secretly open, but he has to squash Pinchus Frankel of the official anti-vaxx because he's scaring donors & he could tip off government officials the the RSK-led Agudah has been lying to them the whole time that they "respect the law".

Hancock Park said...


A comment on this very blog all the way back in 2005 accused Rabbi Chaim Burich Rubin of being a skirt chaser.

Is that true? Or is he only a Corona chaser?

Monsey said...

The situation at Rockland Kosher is completely out of control.

The store is violating all kinds of laws because they simply don't care.

They let the heimishe peasants come without face masks. Instead of one person per family & no kids, it's a gantze family outing and they stand around yenting, cracking jokes & guffawing out loud which releases as many virus particles as coughing.

While the Mexican workers wear face masks because they have a somewhat fear of dying, some of the heimishe employees do not. One heimishe unmasked peasant cashier is even yelling at customers if they don't crowd together more tightly in the checkout line!

The greedy fresser owner is taking advantage of the pandemic to deny refunds. And he violates laws on bait & switch, false price advertising. They challenge customers to go ahead & report them. And he doesn't care that he's oyver on halachos, even announces it out loud.

On the magazine racks outside the sliding doors they allow the crazy anti-vaxx PEACH roytzchim to leave their propaganda magazines which have more takers than the other magazines.

Monsey said...

Also at Rockland Kosher - The store has continued allowing use of the filthy kelim mikva which rabbonim in many cities assered these boyros after consulting with doctors.

Anonymous said...

How are you there, Paul, do you have enough ammo, chaver?

Paul Mendlowitz said...

Thank you. GLOCKED & LOADED! :-)


Anonymous said...

🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫 🔫

Manooel Yerooshalmy said...