2021 Annual Assessment

Two notable books on Halacha and the COVID-19 pandemic were published this year. One is The Coronavirus Pandemic, Volume 30 in Rabbi Asher Weiss’s Minchat Asher responsa series. Rabbi Weiss is one of contemporary Judaism’s most important and creative poskim, or legal arbiters. As the rabbi and posek of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Weiss was familiar with coronavirus issues before most of his rabbinical colleagues. The book mainly addresses difficulties in fulfilling religious obligations due to social distancing and quarantine, e.g., how to blow a shofar while wearing a mask, or whether it is permitted to wave the lulav while wearing gloves. Unlike some Haredi leaders, Weiss emphasizes the obligation to preserve life, and the importance of complying with the directives issued by medical authorities. In contrast to Weiss’s book, which focuses on the individual and the community, National Disaster [Makat Medina]: State Halachot During the Coronavirus Crisis, published by the Torah and State Center in Nitzan (formerly in Gush Katif), deals with Jewish law at the national/governmental level. As such, the work reflects a key tenet of Religious Zionism, namely that the Jewish state in Eretz Israel should embody Jewish religious values and conduct itself accordingly. National Disaster explores, from a halachic standpoint, such issues as the degree to which the economy should remain open so as to avoid economic collapse, despite the risk of mass contagion and high mortality. Some of the articles in the collection also discuss Israel’s responsibility to Diaspora communities. Although the book constitutes an interesting effort, there is a perceptible difference between discussions on such “classic” topics as Shabbat or kashrut, informed by a halachic literature spanning centuries, and explorations of state/governmental issues that are new to the world of Halacha.

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