Coronavirus and Halacha

Rav Aryeh Levin zt”l is famous for the following incident: When his wife had pain in her foot, Rav Aryeh brought his wife to the doctor and he said, “Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting us.” It is interesting to note that Rav Aryeh said, “Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting us.” However, he did not take a knife and physically cause pain to himself.

He empathized with her, however, he did not do anything to cause himself to be sick. Rav Aryeh felt her pain, however, to allow himself to be infected by his wife’s condition (if indeed she was contagious) would certainly be against normative halacha which mandates all of us to guard our health.

We are no help to others if we become a burden on others – if we allow ourselves unnecessarily to become infected from others – we are violating halacha. We must be empathetic to those who are sick, however, we must be careful not to become sick.

Here are some halachikally acceptable ways to stay healthy even on Shabbos:

  • Disclaimer: As with all halachik issues there are various opinions and I never tell anyone that I am the final arbiter. You may and should consult with your personal halachik authority.
  • For those who wish to know my opinions, I present them below:

Washing Hands on Shabbos

  1. Everyone must make sure to use liquid soap and wash their hands thoroughly over Shabbos when needed.

During the week we must also do so, however, on Shabbos one should use liquid soap available in any Kosher grocery.

If you don’t have any on hand, go buy some now and make sure to wash your hands on Shabbos.

  1. Cold water washing is as effective (according to many healthcare professionals) as hot water.

Hand Sanitizers

  1. The complete topic of memareach (spreading a cream) is way beyond the scope of this essay. Therefore, I will cut to the chase and give you my bottom line:
  2. One must use hand sanitizers on Shabbos if you cannot get to a sink to wash your hands.
  3. I rely on the opinion of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l as quoted by his loyal student Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth (Hebrew: יהושע ישעיה נויברט‎ הרב) in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah which states: Hand sanitizers are permitted on Shabbos as long as you rub the sanitizer well until it is completely absorbed in the skin.
  4. Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth was one of the primary students of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and the author of a two-volume Hebrew language treatise, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah — translated into English as Shemirath Shabbath: A Practical Guide to the Observance of Shabbath — a compendium of the laws of Shabbos which is viewed by many as an authoritative work regarding these laws.
  5. In chapter 33, paragraph 12, footnote 64, Rav Neuwirth quotes Rav Auerbach who states that as long as you rub in the hand sanitizer until it is totally absorbed in the skin and it is completely invisible to the eye, there is no prohibition of memareach and it is permitted.
  6. Therefore, hand-sanitizers should be used on Shabbos and one should carry them to Shul.

We also must be careful not to cause others to become sick from us:

  1. Scientists say that the Coronavirus is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces.
  2. Therefore, if you have a cold you must make sure not to sneeze or cough on others.
  3. What is the halachik category of one who transmits sickness via their mucus or saliva?
  4. The Gemara in Bava Kamma (3b) records: “A case where his phlegm and spittle cause damage as they were moving through the air after the person expectorated, that is damage caused by his direct action and there is no room to distinguish between the damage that it caused and any other damage caused by one’s direct action.” (Emphasis added by me)
  5. Therefore based on the Talmudic principle: “The legal status of a person is always that of one forewarned, and he is liable for any damage that he causes, both when he is awake and when he is asleep,” one is legally liable for causing damage to another person through their mucus, phlegm and saliva (see Rashi ad loc. who mentions mucus as well as saliva).
  6. This means we are always responsible for our actions, even when we are sleeping.

This is referred to as “Adam Muad L’Olam.”

  1. Based on the above-mentioned Gemara, the Rambam codifies the following law:

“There is no difference whether a person injures a colleague with his hand, injures him by throwing a stone or shooting an arrow, opens a current of water on a person or on utensils and damages him or them, or spits or sneezes and causes damage with his spittle or mucus while it is being propelled by his power. All of these are considered derivatives of damage that a person causes, and he is liable for all of them, as if he had caused the damage with his hands.”

 (Mishne Torah of Rambam – Hilchos Chovel U’Mazik 6:10.)

  1. The Rambam’s opinion is accepted as the normative Halacha by the Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 384:1).
  2. Therefore, if you infect someone (even by accident and without intent) by sneezing on them or coughing on them, you are considered an “Adam HaMazik,” a person who has caused damage.
  3. As such, you are liable for your damage as if you did the damage with your hands.
  4. Based on the above ruling, it is clear according to the Shulchan Aruch that you must cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.
  5. If you do infect someone, even unintentionally, you are still held liable.
  6. Therefore, people who are sick and are sneezing and coughing should clarify with a competent medical expert if they can infect others.
  7. If the answer is yes, the person has an obligation – equal to any other halachik obligation- to take steps to avoid causing damage to others.
  8. Therefore, if you are sick, please stay home.
  9. You will save yourself the possibility of being a destructive person (Adam HaMazik).

As a precaution to all (myself and you) I will refrain from shaking hands this Shabbos as I don’t want to be the cause of possibly spreading germs since many people shake my hand and I shake others….

Let us not forget to Daven to Hashem that this virus as well as all other diseases be obliterated from the world, soon and speedily in our days.

There is no reason to panic. There is reason to ensure our health.

Remember: “government officials and medical experts, in their warnings about the epidemic, have also sounded a note of reassurance: Though the virus can be deadly, the vast majority of those infected so far have only mild symptoms and make full recoveries.”


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