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Pikuach Nefesh wrongly bans Jewish gatherings in the time of Corona

A senator by the name of Patrick Moynihan said that people are entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. When people think one way but follow another, it is not clear what that opinion is. At least that’s how I feel when Rabbis agonize over allowing gatherings permitted by the law of the land. There was a case where a rabbi petitioned authorities to reinstate gatherings, got what he asked for, then proceeded to impose a ban of his own.

Before I go any further, let me make clear what prompted me to step in where angels may fear to tread. Expertise in pandemics? It would disqualify me, given the bad name experts have acquired through every fault of their own. At a loss for some other topic on which to write? Given the variety of articles, essays and books to my name, I think not. Ah – a zealot. It can’t be when I was never more than part-time orthodox before minyanim were locked out. Then time on your hands? Well, labouring on this work comes at the cost of hunting down a publisher for one manuscript to-go and trying to complete another. So – a busy-body with a bee in his bonnet. True, my bonnet is perpetually full of bees, and community leaders have been grateful for that.

And so to that inner turmoil making rabbinic authorities impose lockouts of minyanim and other gatherings. ‘Allow-don’t allow’ Jews to congregate is a fully human dilemma given the mess we’re in today and the unknowable of what tomorrow might bring. It is lifesaving, we’re told, not to daven together. It is Science with a capital. Not to listen could mean death. Remember Pikuach Nefesh is the mitzvah cancelling nearly all mitzvoth.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky wrote a coherent halakhic tour de force. “Go my nation, come to your rooms: an essay concerning the prohibition at present to assemble minyanim or other gatherings.” It apparently puts the cap on the fearful dilemma and anxiety that grips community leaders. “Clearly and categorically all Jewish gatherings are forbidden because of the inherent danger (to the whole community) in such re-openings. Everything will be made self-evident.”

The prohibition for Jews to gather is indisputable – for the situation he considered.

Well, what situation did he consider? An apolitical one.

A situation where public health experts and policy makers have no agenda, either personal or political.

It’s not that Rabbi Twersky is totally trusting. “Relying on experts,” he says, “is an established fundament of the halakhic process, nonetheless we must (assess their advice) and differentiate expert knowledge from assumptions and educated guesses.”

But what if the situation was not that at all?

What if expert-advisers and policy-makers are agenda-driven?

To borrow a poser from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: What if this is a matter of not understanding the situation? And what happens when you don’t?

While Rabbi Twersky’s arguments based on experts acting in good faith may be unassailable, it seems that Rabbi Sacks would want him to put the assumption of well-meaning experts to the test.

“Of what story (are they) a part?” asks Rabbi Sacks. “In any critical situation we need to ask what is happening.”

Rabbi Sacks poses more conundrums. And he alerts us to the dire consequences of not stopping to inquire further: “Has anyone yet identified the narrative of which (the pandemic) and we are a part? I believe that the story we tell affects the decisions we make. Get it wrong and we can rob an entire generation of their future.”

Did Rabbi Twersky ask the right questions? And did he try answering them before or after applying his own exceptional mind to the matter?

Take the problem of consistency. He writes:

“Even if the calculated risk to a specific individual within any given minyan were negligible we are obligated to consider the resultant danger to the (whole community). The Torah’s concern for life, whereby even a remote (threat) represents an unacceptable risk, is wholly unique.”

If correct for gatherings, the Rabbi must be correct for any and all Jewish activity. He should then prohibit adult Jews below the age of 50 from driving a car. Obligated to consider the “resultant danger to which the community is susceptible” Jews under 50 may pose a risk on the roads. Look at the statistics:

COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios

The death rate is 0.0005 (1 in 2,000) for people under 50 –already with symptoms.

Wait. Nearly all fatal cases had underlying conditions before contracting Covid-19. It means that the chance of succumbing to the virus for a healthy person under 50 and with no symptoms could be halved, as small as 1 in 4,000. Yes, even that is important for Judaism.

But, a healthy adult Jew younger than 50 would be much more likely to kill others in a car accident than to get the virus and die from it. Likely to die in a car accident.

Jewish living, G-d help us all, is a risky affair. Go to the grocery store or work in a kosher processing plant, or eat out, a Jew holds his life and other lives in his hands. Who knows what risk we run of getting infected here, there and everywhere? The fail-safe way to live halakhically is to not venture out at all. This indeed was the advice given just the other day to the community of South Africa. “You are advised not to leave your house unless you absolutely have to do so.”

Not much of a life for a Jew to lead. Rabbi Twersky sees it differently: “We have no guarantee that knowledge (of how to gather safely in accordance with Torah) will materialize. But the possibility (that it may do) compels us, in the short term, to wait. It is possible to wait. It is not possible to restore even one lost Jewish soul.”

We turn to Rabbi Sacks.

“What is happening? The story we tell affects the decisions we make. Get the story wrong and we can rob an entire generation of their future.”

There’s the rub and the nub of the problem. Uknowingly our rabbinic prohibitionists rely on scare-mongering. To save one single person, a worthy goal they put their trust in a strange formula:.

(Science + Mitzvah) x Fear = good considerate Jew

Two elements in the equation are problematic. More, they act one upon the other to blow the problem up, to make Jewish life into the stuff of novels:

Pseudo science x fear-mongering = a bobbameiser (tall tale)

Obey the science, dear friends. This from community leaders continuing the ban on lawful gatherings. It’s not them but the pandemic experts telling us how to survive our waking hours. Save lives by not attending minyanim.

To ask the question Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks, ‘what is going on?’ is to put us in a spot.

Friedrich von Hayek gave a Nobel Prize speech titled, The Pretence of Knowledge. “There is an unfortunate tendency on the part of those in the expert class to think they know more than is knowable.” Hayek considers it a “fatal conceit.” John Kay of the Financial Times wrote about science:

“The objective of science is not an agreement on a course of action but the pursuit of truth.”

Observe the word ‘science’ not ‘scientists’ who “Think they know more than is knowable.” I mean think about it. Is a plumber plumbing, or a lawyer law, or a doctor medicine? Well then. How can a scientist be science, for G-d sake?

Professor Glenda Gray is a scientist, and has no trouble grasping that science is a different thing, as different as chalk from cheese. As President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council and a member of the government Advisory Committee on Covid-19, Gray went public that lockdown rules imposed by her government, with the help of scientists, were “thumb-sucked and had no scientific basis.”

From the mouth of an expert: lockdown rules prescribed by public health experts are advocacy and not science.

(Some rules are common sense, however: Yes to masks in public, yes to social distancing, washing hands often and avoiding touching your face, staying away from people if you are over 70 or you have background illnesses.)

In human annals there’s never been a virus which led authorities to lockup society and close down economies. There’s no past model to help scientists model Covid-19. What the experts and their models have been able to do is to mother a second pandemic: Stress, the mother of all pandemics. How many more die through stress-related illnesses than from Coronavirus? How many people methodically kill themselves by neglecting health issues while stuck at home?

Medical researchers have calculated how many will die from the stress pandemic. “The COVID-19 Shutdown Will Cost Americans Millions of Years of Life.” Before such studies, when lockdowns were a novelty, I warned of “The forgotten equation” and how it wreaks havoc. Sure enough; the focus on saving a life from the virus to the exclusion of all else caused a catastrophic tidal wave that ripped the world to shreds.

Like any other course of action, lockdown involves a trade-off.

‘Corona lockdown’ as it’s now called, to shift the blame. The virus made us lock you down. You lost your job to Coronavirus. It bankrupted you, we didn’t. Governments and health experts in trying to control the virus caused collateral damage which they failed to simulate in their models before embarking on the unheard-of policy of lockdown and shutdowns.

How odd is that for a scientist to do. Before a vaccine goes into production it gets tested and re-tested. We call this ‘medical science.’ But health experts exempted the lockdown cure from the testing process.

Leave it to real scientists to give us the low down on the lockdown-caused pandemic.

Actuarial calculations make Coronavirus a common cold compared to stress-related death.

65 000 Americans per month may die from being locked down – more than lives lost from the virus. For South Africa the trade-off is 29 lives lost for saving one life from the dreaded disease.

The cure, then, is worse than the disease, and Jews ought to have taken the warning of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to heart.

He warned about the danger of getting a narrative wrong. It led to disaster in the desert. It is leading to disaster in the wasteland that America, Europe and South Africa have become.

Moses, we are reminded, sent twelve great men to spy out the land. Ten came back with a bad report. The land is good but not conquerable. The inhabitants are giants, the cities impregnable. Joshua and Caleb took a different view. The land is good and G-d is on our side. The two understood the mission.

Moses sent the twelve not to spy but for tourism, to who seek out the good.

It’s what tourists do – go to enjoy beauty, majesty, to be inspired. Tourists don’t waste their time finding out what is bad. “The exclusive use of the Hebrew verb latur – repeated twelve times – is there to tell us that the twelve men were not sent to spy. Only two of them understood this.”

What is the narrative in America – indeed for the whole Diaspora? What has been misunderstood? Jewish communities were implored to trust public health experts.

The experts, with few exceptions, were revealed to be socialist ideologues cloaked in the mantle of science.

They advised authorities to slam the doors of business shut, to put millions out of work, to keep kids out of school.

How are these experts worse than charlatans?

The fact that they hardly blinked at the devastation their lockdowns caused to lives and livelihoods while the expert destroyers continued to get their pay checks.

The culprits went further. They got faithful followers,, even a Nobel laureate in economics, to denounce people who protested lockdowns for putting the ‘stock market ahead of lives.’ As if stress and suicide, neglect of chemotherapy and cardiac testing, alcohol abuse and domestic violence, joblessness and bankruptcy – as if those mean putting the stock market first.

But then, it took George Floyd’s killing to make health experts shed their cloaks of science to uncover their real nature. The virus is really not as bad as all that.

A higher priority is to protest and riot against black Americans killed by white policemen. Black Americans killed by black Americans, a miles bigger statistic, don’t count. Jennifer Nuzzo is a John Hopkins epidemiologist who considers that the danger of “systemic racism” is greater than “the harm of the virus.” It could lead to a spike in virus infections. But what the hell. What indeed.

The public health experts who ruined lives by the billions with their untested lockdown cure, allow gatherings if the cause is right. Other gatherings, for example to pray to God, “should not be confused with a permissive stance on riots for a good cause. No funerals for loved ones. No minyanim. No congregating for causes we may like. Congregate only for the causes experts like. Evil is as evil does.

Sorry, community leaders. Political advocacy is not science and many experts have bigger faults than you and me. A pity they had nothing to lose by giving rotten advice.

They might have considered alternative protocols and spared jobs and bankruptcies by the hundreds of millions. Other protocols need not have made healthy, productive, bored people stay home. For minyanim and other Jewish gatherings the normal disclaimer at gatherings could suffice: the risk for members in the susceptible age and health brackets and the halacha, No one is forcing attendance. Treat an adult Jew like an adult.

“Have we identified the narrative” as Rabbi Sacks warned us to do? How could we not have done when gold standard medical journals Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine gave science the bum-up. They published studies that relied on bogus data, on purpose to humiliate President Trump. And did the narrative not slap us in the face when Lancet wrote an editorial calling on voters to unseat Trump at the coming elections?

The contest is over and done with. Ideology proved too strong for Science.

Having a futuristic moment, a would-be President, Ronald Reagan, said in 1975:

‘If fascism ever comes to America it will come in the name of liberalism”.

That is what is happening. A depraved cult, health experts in the thick of it, kneels to the cause of the day, ‘takes the knee’, topples statue after statue, aims to topple the civilization that Judaism inspired, and dies to topple Israel, meaning both Jacob and the start-up nation.

Says Rabbi Sacks, “Ten of the twelve men looked for the wrong things, came to the wrong conclusion, demoralised the people, destroyed the hope of an entire generation, and will eternally be remembered as responsible for one of the worst failures in Jewish history.”

Original: Steve Apfel – Arutz Sheva

Note: Pikuach nefesh (Hebrew: פיקוח נפש, IPA: [piˈkuaχ ˈnefeʃ], “saving a life”) is the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule. When the life of a specific person is in danger, almost any mitzvah lo ta’aseh (command to not do an action) of the Torah becomes inapplicable.