Monday, November 30, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa Season 2-Episode 13-Let's make this Yud Tes Kislev more about the Graz than the Baal HaTanya

 Rischa D'Araisa Season 2-Episode 13-Let's make this Yud Tes Kislev more about the Graz than the Baal HaTanya

The Rabbis sketch the enormous impact Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi has had on all of Klal Yisroel,with Rabbi Kivelevitz wanting to emphasize the major contribution of the Shulchan Oruch HaRav.

Rabbi Bechhofer probes how the Rav's refashioning of the Shulchan Oruch compares with the earlier work, Rav Mordechai Yoffe's Levush, and Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein's Aruch HaShulchan.

Kivelevitz makes the case for distinguishing "the Graz" qualitatively and in purpose from those works with sharp somewhat startling assertions, which Bechhofer agrees to.

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 12-A Halachic Prescription for Celebrating the First Covid-19 Thanksgiving

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 12-A Halachic Prescription for Celebrating the First Covid-19 Thanksgiving

In anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday,Rabbi Kivelevitz recaps some of the salient Halachic opinions regarding the celebration of the day by prominent Poskim with Rabbi Bechhofer appending his own customs and approach.

Bechhofer cites Abraham Lincoln's 1863 proclamation as instructive to the religious nature of the day,while Kivelevitz believes the language and context of the directive has important lessons for recognizing God's care and grace especially after the last ten months of fear and death.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

A Tidbit About my Grandfather zt"l: When Sami Rohr Wanted to Sleep –

When Sami Rohr Wanted to Sleep –
Op-Ed by Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski: The response of Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet to Sami Rohr's refusal to join a Torah shiur teaches us a lesson from this week's Parsha and how we must take advantage of every opportunity.

When Sami Rohr Wanted to Sleep

Op-Ed by Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski: The response of Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet to Sami Rohr’s refusal to join a Torah shiur teaches us a lesson from this week’s Parsha and how we must take advantage of every opportunity.

By Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski -Director of Chabad of Basel in Switzerland

R. Sami Rohr z”l once told me that when he was a refugee child in Basel during the Holocaust, Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet, who was then the rabbi of the charedi community in Basel, asked him to come to a class on Tehillim on Shabbat morning, before the services. “And it wasn’t a Chabad shul that started at 10:00 am; this meant coming at 7:00 am.”

Sami refused, saying to Rabbi Shochat: “I have one day a week to sleep, and you want me to come and learn?”

But then, the rabbi looked him in the eye and said: “You have one day in the week to learn, and you want to sleep?”

The rabbi won.

There is a passuk in this week’s parasha that carries so much meaning and gives us a direct message for our own lives, and it is not even one of the most popular psukim in the parasha.

It is not part of the story of the birth of Yaakov and Esav, nor does it tell of the fascinating relationship between them. It isn’t even part of the saga of the wells that Yitzchak dug. It is a passuk that comes after the story of the digging of the last well – Rechovot, as it was named. But, as mentioned, this passuk can teach us the way to live.

“For now Hashem has granted us room, and we can be fruitful in the land.” So said Yitzchak. At first glance it sounds like a sigh of relief: the quarrels are a thing of the past, Hashem has given us some room and now we can sit in peace and quiet for a bit. Yes, this is a commentary that many will accept happily, but not the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a Jew who didn’t know what the word “rest’ meant. Anyone whom he met immediately received a directive to do something more – usually double what he had been doing until then. It couldn’t be that if Hashem gives us some more space, we will sit and rest.

The opposite is true: If you have reached a state of relief and space, Hashem has granted you rachavut, this is the time and place to focus on expanding your fruitfulness, whether fruitfulness in the simplest meaning of expanding the Jewish family, or, like Yitzchak, who had only two children, fruitfulness expressed in actions – influencing the world and other people.

And that is exactly the question: When Hashem gives us a bit of peace and expanse, is it so that we will sleep another hour, or so that we will be active for another hour?

By the way, Sami Rohr z”l implemented his Rav’s directive in other areas of his life as well. Whenever he reached another level in his material abilities, the Jewish world felt it through the tzedakah he gave.

His physical “fruitfulness” as well – his sons and daughters – are continuing his way.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Meseches Derekh Eretz Zuta part 1 and Playlist Link

First in a new series on Meseches Derech Eretz Zuta

(and a link to the playlist)

We are using the commentary of Rabbi Yitzchok Eliyahu Landau of Vilna (author of my favorite commentary on the Siddur, the Dover Shalom, found in the Siddur Otzar HaTefillos). 
The commentary can be followed or downloaded at

The complete playlist is at

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 11-Cloaking Devices: "itztala sheaino shelo"-Does being caught in a lie about their past achievements invalidate a Rav from ever being considered a Manhig for Klal Yisroel?

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2-Episode 11-Cloaking Devices: "itztala sheaino shelo"-Does being caught in a lie about their past achievements invalidate a Rav from ever being considered a Manhig for Klal Yisroel?

I have added to Rabbi Kivelevitz' "Program Notes" below. My additions are in brackets.

Thinking about [the vast lies and exaggerations that we have experienced over the years from President Trump, and the fewer] lies and exaggerations President-elect Joe Biden has spoken that have not stood in his way from assuming the highest position in our land, Rabbi Kivelevitz asks Rabbi Bechhofer about Rabbanim that have been similarly caught telling falsehoods about their past that are part of a false narrative of achievement and study.

Rav Herschel Shachter underscores that the Issurei HaTorah that mention sheker are concerned with denying a financial debt, falsifying a past history would violate the Mitzvah of Vehalachta Bidrachav, as one of the prime attributes of God is Emes.

Bechhofer believes that after a sufficient censure-ship period [of contrition and humility], the Rabbi who has been caught in this distortion, should be welcomed into the community of scholars and be allowed to rise to prominence and leadership.

[Please see my series on the Laws of Lying and the Alter of Kelm that I referenced during the program. The specific reference to the Alter from Kelm is in Ma'amar 9.]

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hosting Illegal Yeshiva in his Basement - Response | Shani Bechhofer | The Blogs

Hosting Illegal Yeshiva in his Basement - Response | Shani Bechhofer | The Blogs

Hosting Illegal Yeshiva in his Basement – Response

A couple weeks back, posted an op-ed by an Orthodox Jewish father explaining why he is risking a fine by hosting a yeshiva in his basement.  The article can be found here:  Comments responding to his post were, to put it mildly, negative and accusatory.  I would like to suggest that we read his account a little more carefully and empathetically.  It provides insight into the pressures and dynamics of the current circumstance in which so many parents find themselves.  It is a very sad article, yet it is good to have it out in the open.  I encourage you to read his article before you read my response.

* * *

It is extremely difficult to raise children, especially during hard times. The author (“Anonymous”) describes experiencing a significant parenting challenge. His response is to accept the offer of a workaround that frees him from having to confront this challenge and that absolves him from the parental responsibility to work at solving it.  Unfortunately, that workaround is both illegal and dangerous.  The school should never have offered him this option.

Rather than judge Anonymous and condemn him as a public health menace, it would be more constructive to analyze the situation that led to his dilemma and to unpack it, with empathy, since he certainly represents thousands of other parents experiencing a similar parenting challenge.   His experience reveals some of the gaps and failures in our communal and educational systems – specifically in supporting and educating parents – that require attention and ought to be addressed.

School-Parent Expectations and Support

Anonymous is not the first person to discover that it is hard to motivate children to daven[1].  Parents and educators struggle with this challenge.  It is the subject of countless parenting seminars, educator conferences, research articles in Jewish education journals, even doctoral dissertations.

In our Orthodox communities, parents are able to mostly offload this responsibility onto schools and camps.  Some of these institutions are more successful than others at tefila[2]  education.  Parents are generally not confronted with our struggles with tefila education.  But once schools closed for the pandemic, many parents like Anonymous had a rude awakening. 

Anonymous tells us that during the months school was closed, his children “had nothing to drive them to get up” on time.  His son “had been neglecting his prayers.”  That is to say, Anonymous expected his 11-year-old son to be motivated and disciplined enough to perform the sort of davening at home – on time – that he was able to do (or that Anonymous imagined he was able to do) at yeshiva.  When his child failed to meet these unrealistic expectations, Anonymous and his wife felt helpless and inadequate.  He contrasts this with the “enormous sense of pride and accomplishment” he had felt back when his son was small and the expectation was “simply repeating a single sentence that he had heard every day since he was born.”

Where did Anonymous acquire these expectations?  How much did the school educate the parents about home davening expectations for one’s children in general? Is it fair to ask teachers to provide realistic guidance and expectations to parents when they, themselves, elicit davening behavior through methods unavailable at home?

This father focused his article on his son, and on davening[3]; but parents have been struggling with various behavioral expectations, both religious and non-religious.   What sort of support did schools provide parents during the months school was closed?  Merely sending home star charts with lists of daily tasks for tracking children’s successes and failures, compliance and non-compliance, is not only woefully insufficient; in many families during the recent shut-downs, it became a source of stress and feelings of inadequacy, a brightly colored rebuke hanging on the refrigerator.

In what ways could the school – and other communal institutions – have tried to help Anonymous to feel proud and accomplished as a parent by providing the requisite skills and guidance? Is the yeshiva inadvertently conveying the message that a full and healthy Judaism isn’t possible for children if they are at home with their parents and not in school?

I ask these rhetorical questions not to criticize but to encourage schools to think about their chinuch[4] partnership with parents in a new way.  But it is not only on schools.  Our communities should be able provide the sort of parenting support and training that goes beyond hiring a speaker to give a 7-part lecture series.  The experience of parents like Anonymous exposes one of the gaps in our communal support[5] for families, upon whom there are so many stresses, even without the extra stress imposed by Covid19. 

“This seven-month layoff has been more than trying for my children,” Anonymous writes.  Based on his article, it has certainly been at least as trying for him and his wife.  Is it possible that the school in the basement exists for their benefit at least as much as for the benefit of their children? 

Remote Learning: Schools and Parents Balancing Risks

Davening was not the only concern Anonymous expressed when contemplating another extended school closing.  Anonymous is not the only parent in New York concerned that his children are falling behind educationally due to school closing or reliance on distance learning during this pandemic.  I assure Anonymous that his children are not the only ones who experienced a pandemic-setback in mood, social skills, and self-regulation as well.  These are indeed serious concerns.

I am not sure what effort his children’s school was making to address these concerns, however, because Anonymous declares that the school rabbis and principals “understand that remote-learning does not work.”  As an educator, I find that statement very troubling, and not least because I have recently heard it elsewhere, bandied about as an axiom.  Remote learning is not ideal as an all-day, long term approach.  Most of us are not that great at it yet.  But there are competent and creative ways to provide effective remote learning, and it is the responsibility of schools to find out about them and prepare themselves to deploy them should it be necessary.  There are technologies that can be used without exposing children to the internet.

Besides, the choice isn’t either 100% remote learning done poorly or stuffing a teacher and 27 kids (above age 10 especially) into an enclosed basement without social distancing or souped-up ventilation.  Masks are good, for sure; but even surgical masks are inadequate protection[6] for this set-up 6.5 hours a day at a time of community spread.  Why did they not at least hold these classes in the back yard, which would reduce risk significantly and be legal, for as long as weather permitted?  There are great personal microphones for teachers, usable with masks.  Why no dividing kids into smaller “pods” to minimize risk?

Let us continue to read carefully, because Anonymous does not seem to have come up with this outrageous plan by himself.  He is thankful to the school for “decid[ing] to set up classrooms in people’s homes,” and for refusing to accept the “edict” of the duly elected governor.

The school has given Anonymous more than a solution to his parenting challenges; they have also provided him a familiar Jewish narrative in which to embed and thus justify his action. We are resisting the evil edict of a Jew-hating tyrant in order to save our children and our religion!  It is easy to slip this on and feel as virtuous as a Maccabi, especially if one is risking substantial financial loss.  This school has unethically placed a michshol[7] before struggling, stressed-out parents.  Will the Board of Directors cover the fine if it is levied? Insurance, legal fees?  Can they absolve him and his wife of guilt feelings if ch”v someone sickens or worse as a result of this stunt? Are they even paying to clean Anonymous’ basement floor? Anonymous doesn’t say; but he is grateful to the school for putting him and his wife in this position.

Meanwhile, the school as an organization has seemingly been too inflexible to rise to the challenge or to productively adapt to changing circumstances.  Why bother to train teachers in new instructional strategies that would make them successful in a situation that school districts across the country are also confronting?  Why bother to work with communal organizations to provide parents with tools and support that would free them of some of their dependency and make them better partners in the chinuch of their children?  Why bother with these when one can simply flout the law (turning otherwise law-abiding parents into calculating, garbage-shlepping scofflaws) and get away with doing exactly what one has always done?

I believe Anonymous truly has been convinced that he is doing what is best for his children’s “spiritual, mental, and physical health.”  No longer is he helpless; now he is “moser nefesh[8]” for his children and his faith.  He is proving to all that, in his words, “our teachings mean more to us than money.”

This mesiras nefesh, however, does not strengthen his family or make them more skillful parents.  It does not push his kehillah[9] to do a better job of stopping the virus’ spread so that schools can open and stay open.  It does not push them to address the stresses of today’s Orthodox families.  It is an escape to a pretend world in which we can imagine ourselves heroic martyrs battling an old, familiar enemy.  It is an indulgence in the fantasy that financial martyrdom is the sufficient and laudable response to whatever problems we face.

As a mechaneches[10] I feel obligated to remind us that there is actually a very real world with very real dangers and challenges, and the Torah places upon us the very real responsibility to face them without flinching and to identify new solutions in accordance with Torah values.  The Neviim[11] were actually very explicit that merely sacrificing huge quantities of expensive property at the Bais Hamikdosh[12] is the easy way out; changing our ways, as individuals and as communities, is the hard work that the Creator values.  To paraphrase them, we ought to be prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable; conducting ourselves with utmost integrity; valuing justice over power; and having the courage to face adversity without turning to the nevi’ei sheker[13] telling us what we wish to hear.  To save lives rather than to risk them.  To take responsibility rather than to shift blame.  To honor our elders rather than put them in danger.  To conduct ourselves honorably rather than draw the ire of public officials upon ourselves.  These are standards to which we should hold ourselves and one another.

Anonymous, by the way, is not the first father to commit an illegal and highly irresponsible action when an opportunity arises to do what he perceives to be in the best interest of his children.  The school unethically used its perceived moral authority to convince him to ignore his conscience.  His choice can be understood, but not justified, and certainly not emulated.  This is all very, very not okay.

[1] Pray (Yiddish)

[2] Prayer

[3] This focus is itself worth exploring.

[4] Education

[5] Imagine if the model of chosson or kallah classes were adapted as parent classes for couples blessed with their first child.  What an additional blessing if it became the norm for first time parents to learn from a non-judgmental teacher about basic principles like a child’s need for attachment, love, security, and structure, especially if that person were available over the years to coach and support them.

[6] Plexiglass does not replace social distancing and is ineffective against aerosolized droplets.

[7] Stumbling block

[8] Self-sacrifice

[9] Community

[10] Jewish educator

[11] Prophets

[12] Temple

[13] False prophets

Dr. Shani Bechhofer is an independent Jewish education consultant and researcher in Monsey, NY. In addition to working with schools on strategic leadership, training and coaching principals, evaluating agency and foundation programs, and researching the Bais Yaakov movement, she is a local community advocate for good government and intercultural dialogue in Ramapo, NY.

Does the Belief that God has Emotions Render One a Heretic?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2 Episode 10- Message to the Agudah: Conflating "Yeshivish" in the U.S with Charedi in Eretz Yisroel is a mistake

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2 Episode 10- Message to the Agudah: Conflating "Yeshivish" in the U.S with Charedi in Eretz Yisroel is a mistake

In a signing ceremony in Yerushalayim two weeks ago of the World Zionist Organization,a coalition that included the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Touro College, Bnei Akiva, AMIT, the RCA, the National Council of Young Israel and Torah Mitzion resulted in Yaakov Hagoel, being named the organization's first religious Jew to serve as the Chairman of the Executive. The agreement signed distributed control over Zionist institutions and departments to a wide range of Jewish organizations and factions, from Orthodox to Reform and from Right to Left.

This prompted Agudath Israel to issue a "Statement on Charedi Principles" explaining why they did not join and claiming that those who did were acquiescing to

the dogmatic statements that were part of the The Jerusalem Program's foundations of Zionism which are:

"Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people,

it brought about the establishment of the State of Israel,and a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel is the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.

The State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, is central in the life of our nation.

Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli society is a goal we must work for.

Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people,

needs to be inculcated to our children as something to constantly strive for.

Eretz Yisroel's destiny is rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.

We will ensure the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language;

Despite being geographically spread throughout the world,we will nurture mutual Jewish responsibility, defend the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, and

represent the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggle against all manifestations of anti-Semitism.

We will do all in our power to further the

settling of the country as an expression of practical Zionism."

The Agudah deems these ideas,which give such prominence to statehood as a rejection of Torah as the major factor that defines our people and in essence condemned persons identifying as Charedi for joining the group.

Rabbi Bechhofer takes exception with the conflation of Charedi and the Bnei Torah of America.

Rabbi Kivelevitz feels that the chance to bond with one voice in a time of world crisis should be a benefit that trumps any suggestion that there has been an abdication of principle as the platform is secondary to the benefits to Torah institutions that will ensue.

Kivelevitz and Bechhofer both believe that issues in Eretz Yisroel need to be put on the back burner when so much tumult exists in America which Agudah can address together with other Orthodox mosdos.

Rabbi Kivelevitz offers thoughts on the passing of Rav Dovid Feinstein Zt"l and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,Z"l

while Rabbi Bechhofer criticizes those who davened fervently for Donald Trump's  re-election,and Rabbi Kivelevitz urges all Jewish organizations to warmly congratulate Joe Biden on his victory.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Kristallnacht in Bechhofen, Before and After


The Nazis had actually planned to preserve it as a museum on account of its famed interior. The Gauleiter responsible for its destruction was jailed.

Many pictures and much information at 

Follow up on Point/Counterpoint: To Mask Or Not To Mask - The Jewish Press - | Shani Bechhofer PhD

A comment to my post of my wife's article at  received the following comment:

I believe the root of the disagreement lies in a basic premise which could be summarized in the following question: "Does the vast majority of people wearing masks save hundreds of thousands of lives?"

I think Dr. Bechhofer would say yes and Rabbi. Green would say no. And based on their understanding of the affectiveness of masks they draw their conclusions.

So I believe if agreement is to be reached a meta analysis of the current research should be done.

Also to Rabbi Green it's my understanding that woman including Jewish women in the times of the Tanach may have covered their faces examples such as Tamar and Rochel moshe also wearing a mask after returning of har Sinai. And the masks worn to prevent the spread of desease have nothing to do with avoda zara and have a specific stated purpose (whether affective or not). But I think the bottom line is if wearing masks truly does save hundreds of thousands of lives I think you'd agree that would overrides any of your other halachic and hashkafic considerations you raised.

To Dr. Bechhofer I also have some comments. I do wonder how accurate the 200,000 death number is. Firstly it includes those with comorbidities such as cancer. So the question is did Covid cause the death or was it something else in each case? Also early on there wasn't testing and my understanding is that people showing any symptoms were often said to have died of Covid when they may have had the flu or something else. Further more I've heard that hospitals get money for cases or deaths from covid which may also skew the numbers. Also early on there ws little known a out how to treat it and therefore anymore may have died than would die going forward. Also early on there were reports of patience be neglected and not fed adequately because staff were sacred to get the virus. So these are all things that I think have to be looked at. Further more we must also not only consider the cost of not doing anything but also the cost of our actions. For example what are the consequences of having everyone wear masks socially, on education on child development, people's frustration, our rights and freedoms. And the same for the affects of lockdowns on mental health, suicide, domestic violence, social isolation, job loss, business closures, economy etc.

This is my wife's response:

To Anonymous: I was explicitly asked not to address or present arguments about the science in the Jewish Press column, so I tried to present arguments of another nature – based on hashkofas haTorah.

In response to your first suggestion,

  • I actually do NOT think the arguments I presented depend on a positive answer to that question ("Does the vast majority of people wearing masks save hundreds of thousands of lives?"). Your suggestion to focus on that empirical question – which by definition cannot be definitively answered - is actually a diversion from the points I made.

  • In addition, I would NOT answer “yes” to that question because I don’t know for sure the number of people who would be saved by people wearing masks.

Here are examples of arguments I made that have nothing to do with the question of whether masks save hundreds of thousands of lives:

  • It’s the law. To follow the law does not require agreeing with the factual basis of the law. You might believe that income tax is a horrible idea that should be abolished. But you will still pay your income tax, because it’s the law. You would not educate children that they should flout the law whenever they disagree with it. OK, this argument does not depend on the answer to your question.

  • We are in galus. From Navi – from the Gemara – we are taught that our imperative is to act in a manner that does not bring upon us the ire and suspicion of our fellow countrymen. If they live near us, or have to interact with us in public spaces, and we are not following what 71% of them think is our basic social obligation to keep them safe – it is not anti-semitism for them to feel threatened and resentful. We are visible even when we don’t make fools of ourselves seeking publicity. This argument also does not depend on the answer to your question.

  • (I think this might not have made it into the article) Wear your mask to save a shopkeeper or restaurant owner from having to pay a fine because they did not enforce the local regulations. This also does not depend on the answer to your question.

  • Wearing a mask communicates to everyone that it is worth your inconvenience to try to protect the lives of older and vulnerable people. Refusing to wear a mask demonstrates to 71% or so of Americans that you do not think the lives of our zekeinim and cholim matter all that much. This does not depend on the answer to your question.

Now you don’t have to agree with all of these – just one is enough, if it’s convincing.

For argument’s sake though, let’s take a look at your empirical question, in case none of the former reasons is convincing.

  1. I have no specific proof of how many lives would be saved if masks were worn by the general population. I do not think a Torah hashkofa differentiates between saving hundreds of thousands of lives, or hundreds of lives, or dozens of lives. We are not talking about shutting down schools or the economy here, we are talking about wearing masks on a temporary basis – an inconvenience to be sure, but not an actual sacrifice. Would you dump poison into the water supply if nobody could absolutely prove to you the number of people who would die as a result? Maybe it will kill thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or nobody, maybe it will be filtered out, maybe it will just cause people to suffer but they won’t die, maybe maybe maybe. Why not just go shlep that poison to the proper disposal location?

  2. There is an estimate out of IHME that something like 100,000 lives would have been saved already had we been masking as a society since March or so. They have projections of the number of American lives that could be saved in the next couple of months under various conditions – 80% mask wearing, 85% mask wearing, masks + social distancing, etc etc. Their projections are certainly sobering. But they would be the first to say that their projections will change based on changing circumstances affecting the variables. I am not familiar with their model - the calculations that form the basis of their numbers, which factors they take into account and how those variables interact and are dealt with statistically - and I’m not an epidemiologist anyway, so I am not in a position to judge their methodology; but thus far they have been pretty accurate – if anything, their predictive numbers have tended to come in a little low.

  3. Try rephrasing the question thus: Might the vast majority of people wearing masks save hundreds of thousands of lives? If there is evidence pointing to a positive answer – even if the evidence is not yet conclusive – it would be rather stone cold, it seems to me, to refuse the temporary inconvenience.

  4. Now let’s get something out of the way. When I read the comments on the websites of some of the anti-masker influencers, I eventually get to the place where someone challenges the germ theory of disease. Lots of people start to then chime in with various “proofs” that germs do not, in fact, cause sickness, and that the whole thing is a conspiracy. If someone subscribes to this belief, obviously he does not think masks prevent the spread of Covid19 or anything else. He will find the entire basis of what I and almost everybody else writes to be illogical. I can’t help that person. I advise that when you come across advocates against masks, double check whether or not they or their followers also question the germ theory of disease.

  5. You suggest a meta analysis of current research. Do you mean research on individual effects (whether a mask does or does not cause fewer respiratory drops with virus to get into the air) or population-level effects of a policy? You can analyze research on population effects between counties, states, or even countries with and without mask mandates; but I don’t think there is any research on places where nobody wore masks during an epidemic.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that for over 100 years, masks have been a standard tool of public health. When there is a harmful virus that is caught by exhalation and inhalation – of which there have been many over the years – masks are used as one of the standard, unquestioned techniques to contain the spread of the virus. During the 1918 Spanish Flu, masks were mandated. For SARS, MERS, etc. - masks.

  1. When it comes to strategies for containment, masks are only one element; but they are in our individual control and the costs are really very few. It happens that the respiratory transmission epidemics in our lifetime mostly took place in Asian countries, and Americans have not had the experience of walking around with masks. If you look at pictures, you will see that even before Covid19, many residents in Asian countries walked around all the time with masks. They protect themselves from viruses and also from pollution. They are used to it. If masks killed people, impaired their cognition, made them catch more viruses or any of the other wild ideas out there, the world would have figured that out by now.

  2. There are now studies modeling the plumes of respiration that are produced by breathing, talking, singing, coughing, sneezing; determining the percentage that are droplets and fall to the ground (and how far away), and the percentage that are aerosolized and float in the air (for how long and at what distance). These studies use physics and engineering to study the effects of indoor physical distance between people, ventilation systems and rates of air replacement, number of people in the indoor space, and masks; also the effects outdoors, how fast the aerosolized particles disperse depending on temperature, humidity, and wind. Other scientists are looking at average amount of this virus in various sizes of exhaled particles at different ages and stages of infection, with and without various sorts of masks; while others have to study how much virus must be inhaled in order for it to lead to a mild or a severe case. All of this will help companies and schools to adapt indoor spaces and develop outdoor protocols that can support health while everything is opened up. These studies are being undertaken quickly and are not all that complicated. And of course there are multiple scientists working on a vaccine. Why can’t we agree to wear masks until these studies are completed so we can more rationally discuss whether or not we are saving hundreds of thousands of lives?

  1. I’d like to say one more thing. If a person l”a needs to call Hatzola on Shabbos, we do not expect the person on the other end of the call to say: How old are you? Do you have pre-existing conditions? Are you definitely going to die? I have to decide whether it’s worth being mechalel Shabbos for you. No, in our religion we value life and health so greatly that we are even mechalel Shabbos – and I’m not sure we remember any more that this is a very serious major deal – for the chance of saving one person’s health or life. Now we are acting as if wearing a mask is worse than being mechalel Shabbos! Hayitochen??

  1. You ask other fair questions about the validity of various numbers being cited. I can’t answer all of this right now or I will never get this response to you! Questioning public health numbers is not off limits; and sometimes it is proper; but sometimes it is a misunderstanding. I have seen no evidence that systematic overreporting the number of deaths attributed to Covid19 is a serious concern. Obviously there are usually multiple contributing factors when a person passes away r”l, but there are rules governing the way hospital records and death certificates codify causes of death. Complications from virus X is a perfectly legitimate cause of death even though those complications were exacerbated by a person’s pre-existing condition. (That is not called a comorbidity, btw.) If the virus hastens the death of a person with cancer, for example, via any sort of complication like pneumonia or heart or kidney damage, the virus is the cause of death. The person wasn’t able to live long enough to see whether or not s/he could have beaten the cancer. Would you make a similar argument if someone with cancer were shot and killed? Well, he would have died anyway?!

  2. If a hospital fudged the numbers in order to get additional funding (and I’m not clear why hospitals would be rewarded for coronavirus deaths), this is fraud. Let someone investigate and find an instance of this. And let the hospital suffer the consequences. Just speculating that fraud might happen, or could happen, is not an argument that it did happen. (You should be aware that Holocaust deniers use arguments like this which cannot be proven true or false.)

  3. Why do you need an exact number of deaths? I’m just wondering. Even if the truly exact number is under or over the reported cases, haven’t we lost enough people, including gedolim, to make us realize it is deadly and to motivate us to make sure not to spread it?

  4. As for social consequences of mask wearing or impacts on child development or rights and freedoms – each requires a separate response. Too briefly: I am pretty sure that a child who loses a parent r”l to this disease will have a worse childhood than a child who lives in a masking world for a year or two. Kids are actually quite resilient, and it is often the parents who are freaking out over masks at schools who are creating the anxiety. Rights and freedoms – yes, this was the argument against seat belt laws and drunk driving laws and bans on indoor smoking and child car seat laws and countless others. Do you also cite this when in a hospital visiting a person in the ICU – forcing me to wear a mask and wash my hands impinges on my rights? What about responsibilities? Isn’t that supposed to be the difference between a secular and a Torah approach to morality? Also - What about the rights of other people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that you may be infringing upon by refusing to keep your respiratory droplets to yourself? There are emergency situations, like a fire in a crowded building or a pandemic, that limit our individual rights to endanger others.

I hope this answers some of your questions. Clearly more thorough responses to some of them are necessary.

Kol tuv,

S Bechhofer

Monday, November 02, 2020

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2 Episode 9-Counterpoints:As we Learn to Mask-We need to unlearn our fear of death

Rischa D'Araisa-Season 2 Episode 9-

Counterpoints:As we Learn to Mask-We need to unlearn our fear of death

The Rabbis deal with navigating the fear of death during the Pandemic, and in general in life.

Rabbi Bechhofer quotes Rav Yisroel Salanter's sage words (actually echoing Socrates) to the Alter of Novardok, while Rabbi Kivelevitz extols the nobility of the many persons he has known who have faced their mortality in exemplary fashion.

They then call in Rabbi Bechhofer's wife, Shani, to discuss her article in the Jewish Press advocating strongly for mask wearing. She uses Rischa's forum to expand on some points and to respond to the arguments of Rabbi Michoel Green who sees the Mask Mandates as part of "An Anti-Jewish assault."

Kivelevitz ridicules most of the spurious contentions Green offers, with Rebbetzin Bechhofer paying him a few backhanded compliments for ingenuity.