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Sharing one of the most difficult decisions I had to make as a Shul Rav

My dear friends, members of Kehillat Ahavat Tzion,

With a broken heart and tears in my eyes, I would like to share with you one of the most difficult decisions, if not the most difficult, I have had to make in my time as Rav of the community, namely temporarily suspending all the regular minyanim in shul until Hashem has mercy on us and removes all sickness and evil decrees.

Over the last 24 hours, our rational and emotional thoughts have been in conflict with each other.

On the one hand, more and more people are contracting the Coronavirus and the dangers are growing; on the other hand, the Health Ministry has permitted gatherings of 10 people (even 20 in large rooms with enough space). Furthermore, as we know, tefilla betzibur never goes unanswered: 

"ומי כה' אלוקינו בכל קראנו אליו" (Devarim 4,7)

"  אין הקב"ה מואס בתפילתם של רבים " (Berachot 8.)

And yet, I ask myself: how is it - especially in a time when we our tefillot are so vital and we need the gates of Heaven to be opened - that right now we could break our direct connection with Hashem, disperse the community and suspend the minyanim? How is that possible?

And then I was reminded of my uncle, a senior doctor and mohel, who was always very careful to wait a full week after the baby had recovered from sickness before performing the brit mila (following the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch), even in cases when the doctors said that there was no medical reason to delay the brit so long.

When people said to him that he was delaying and giving up too easily on the requirement to have a brit on the eighth day, and thus missing out on the mitzvah of “on the eighth day”, he would reply to them by quoting  what Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner (author of the Shevet Halevi) had said to him: “I am not being lenient in the mitzva of brit mila, I am being stringent in pikuach nefesh.”

In my humble opinion, this is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves today: anyone who reads between the lines of the directives from the Ministry of Health and understands a bit about the situation can understand that from a health standpoint there is a danger even in gatherings of less than 10 people and the correct way to halt the spread of the virus is to prevent gatherings of any size. The reason why the government is not doing this is probably out of wider considerations connected to concerns about causing panic among the general population and the serious damage to the economy that would result from a complete shutdown.

Therefore, taking into consideration the fact that there are likely to be many carriers of the virus who are asymptomatic and that tefilla betzibur is not an outright obligation from a halachic point of view, I have decided to suspend all minyanim in the shul and I ask every one of you not to endanger yourselves by attending minyanim which could chas veshalom put you in danger. This is not in any way about belittling the importance of tefilla betzibur, rather it is about being stringent about pikuach nefesh.

If in regard to desecrating Shabbat for a sick person Chazal said “Desecrate for him one Shabbat in order that he may keep many Shabbatot”, how much more so that we should suspend some minyanim so that we will be able to “daven in many minyanim” in the future.

My dear friends, it is important to remember that according to many rishonim, precisely in times of trouble the obligation to pray is mideoraita. Therefore, despite all the pain of cancelling the minyanim, we must be extra careful to ensure that our tefilla does not weaken, rather it should become stronger and more meaningful. We must not miss out on any tefilla, our private tefilla should be meaningful with extra kavana, a special tefilla with real feeling, on our own or together with our children and families.

Our tefilla will be in our homes,but our eyes and hearts should be directed towards the shul and the Holy of Holies.

Yours in pain and tears,

Menachem Copperman

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