From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim

First and foremost, we always depend on the Aibershta for all of our concerns. However, we must do our hishtadlus which we are required to do and not depend on miracles. There is much fear and anxiety in the air about the Novel Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 to such a degree, in some areas it might even lead to some sort of panic.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, as he mentioned in a recent major conference call sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel and Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud, as much concerns we have about the Coronavirus, we must also be concerned about Influenza. Rabbi Glatt mentioned that tens of thousands of men, women and children have died in the USA from Influenza. Future cases can be prevented by vaccinations and also proper hygiene. If someone is sick with serious colds or flu like symptoms should be in touch with his/her medical doctor about his/her medical condition and if he/she should remain home. Though, each person truly knows how ill he/she is and must decide if it is the right thing to possibly spread that illness to others. Going to the pharmacy and taking over the counter medicines might reduce one’s symptoms, but might not remove the serious cold or other serious illness that could be contagious. Coughing or sneezing must be contained by using a tissue and should be thrown away. If a tissue is not available, then one should cough or sneeze in one’s armpit and definitely not in ones hands. Washing the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is also important for proper hygiene. Proper hygiene is also important after leaving the bathroom.

The question is how a rabbi of a shul can approach a congregant who has decided to attend minyan and is openly not well. Or perhaps coughing and sneezing away. How does a rabbi convey this Do you post some type of a poster someplace in your shul? Do you convey in a respectful way your thoughts in a dvar Torah? Or, do you feel there is enough information that is already being conveyed in the news media. I was informed by someone recently traveling on a NYC subway train hearing a recorded announcement about sneezing and coughing in one’s arm pit if there is no tissue available or cannot wait. According to the medical professionals, it is possible to have the flu and not the Coronavirus, both which can be tested by a doctor. If someone knows he/she has serious symptoms can be placing others in danger especially the elderly and those with a poor immune system if that person is not careful about exposing others to his/her illness.

Please read the information below provided by the NYC Department of Health distributed by the JCRCNY and also the letter from Rabbi Dr. Glatt. Many of our Gedolim have been quoted both here in the USA and in Eretz Yisrael what to do should one have a contagious illness regarding if someone should attend a minyan and where and how to hear the Megilah. Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Presidium Chair of the RAA/Igud wrote a meaningful letter which is also included below. And the Igud’s Vaad Halacha published Purim halachic guidelines. May we be zocheh that all cholim have a refuah shelaima.

Yehuda Blank