30 Jun To Mask or Not to Mask? That is the Question
Alan Hirsch, the publisher of the Country Vues and the Jewish Vues Magazine, and Ari Hirsch, the associate publisher both asked me to write this urgent article. They have been receiving a flood of letters, some voicing complaints and others expressing outrage, about the fact that so many of our brethren up in the Catskills are not wearing masks. This is happening even when they go into communal enterprises such as pharmacies, banks and groceries. Even the vendors themselves are sometimes without masks.
I’d like to address this subject, as three independent issues. The first issue concerns the mitzvah of “V’nishmartem me’od lnafshoseichem,” to be exceedingly careful with our health, and “V’lo saamod al dam rei’echa,” not to be negligent when it comes to the health of others. The second issue is the mandate to follow the law of the land, dina d’malchusa dina. Lastly, the third issue – and perhaps the clinching one – is the grave concern we must have for the serious aveira of “V’lo sichalalu es Sheim Kodshi,” Hashem says, you should not desecrate My Holy Name.
Let’s talk first about v’chai bahem. This mitzvah is incumbent on every Jew to endeavor to continue to live in good health. I am fully aware that most people in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Lakewood want to believe that the pandemic is over. They argue ‘We haven’t been social distancing or wearing masks since shortly after Pesach. Look! No one is getting sick and in our communities there are no new hospital admissions.’ So, ‘Why,’ they ask, ‘should we take upon ourselves (and especially upon our children) the great discomfort of wearing masks?’ The answer to this line of reasoning is that, (while I fervently hope they are correct), we see that there has been serious resurgences of the disease in many areas. For instance, Eretz Yisroel – after having opened up, needed to clamp down again. Likewise, Texas, Florida, Alabama, California and other states are being riddled with the disease. Still, you might argue, this is their first go around in those states. Nevertheless, people are coming here from Florida all the time. Westchester County has already experienced new COVID-19 cases due to exposure from Florida travelers. Finally, any studentoftheSpanishfluoutbreaks of 1918 knows that the second wave of that pandemic happened in the fall and was much more deadly that the first wave of the spring/summer of that year.
We know that COVID-19 is a silent serial killer. Painfully, we remember the refrigerated morgues outside Maimonides Hospital. We don’t know if and when, chas v’shalom, it’s poised to strike again. Every infectious disease doctor, without exception has stated that social distancing and wearing masks will significantly decrease the spread of this horrible disease. Even if we want to have a smoker’s attitude regarding our own health, we can’t be cavalier about other peoples health such as that of the elderly, those who are immune compromised, those who are obese, have lung diseases or severe diabetes. At the very least, we need to stamp out the attitude of annoyance toward those who are wearing masks – for they are being considerate of others. Even if it just means that by wearing a mask we are allowing others to feel more comfortable to come out of quarantine, it’s the right thing to do. Also, it is important to recognize that the recent spiking in the South has affected to a great percentage young people – so they are part of this conversation as well. Now, let’s talk about dina d’malchusa dina. The CDC has strongly recommended wearing cloth masks when social distancing is not possible. Storekeepers in New York are allowed to refuse entry to those who are not wearing masks. As Jews, who are expected to be the segula mikol ha’amim, the treasure of the nations, we
of the nations, we
always set an example
of following the rules
where we live. And
what about following
the rules of the shuls
that we daven in? In our
shul, Rabbi Jungreis,
shlit”a, has a clear sign
on the front of the shul:
No mask, No pray. Yet
the majority of those
who come are without
masks. That is very poor
and inconsiderate behavior.
Many people argue, what about the protesters? Were they wearing masks? We never make decisions based on the lowest common denominator. We are not going to loot because there was looting, we are not going to tear down statues because they are being torn down by others.
Now, let’s turn to what I think is the gravest concern: chilul Hashem. We learned this week in the Daf Yomi in Masechtas Shabbos [114b], the posuk says, “Kol m’sanai ahavu maves,” which the Gemora homiletically interprets as Hashem saying, “All those who cause Me to be hated are deserving of death.” This refers to people who behave in a way that causes someone to say, “The Jews…? How disgusting! If this is the way they behave, I don’t want to have anything to do with them or their G-d.”
I was recently in the Catskills and observed that the local residents were wearing masks.
I also saw that they were looking at the Jews who were not wearing masks with a mixture of distress and anger. Distress for what they considered a danger to themselves, and anger for the fact that we are vacationing in their locality and not following their norms and not being considerate of their safety. Let’s face it, they always consider our summer avalanche as an invasion but now they are righteously indignant that we might fill up their hospitals and inflict them with the disease because of our cavalier approach.
If, as a community, we want to be more relaxed in our colonies and our developments, then so be it: Don’t wear masks (though I’m not recommending it). But wearing masks and social distancing when we venture out should be the price that we have to pay for a nice vacation. When we go out amongst others, both among our Jewish brethren who are more fearful for their health and especially among the non-Jews where we have to tread upon the minefields of chilul Hashem, we need to bite the bullet, get ourselves a comfortable mask, and wear it. As for our children, let’s seize the opportunity to teach them the importance of caring about others and the great mitzva of creating a kiddush Hashem.
In the merit of our taking care of our health, the health of others and the reputation of Hashem, may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.