Insights from the Institute: Halachos Pertaining to Covid-19

Kashrus Kurrents, Summer 2020

2020 will be remembered for a long time to come as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. These unusual circumstances have given rise to some unusual halachic questions. It is my fervent hope that everything will have returned to ‘normal’ by the time that you read this, and the lasting legacy will be the chiddushei Torah and piskei halachah that were generated as a result of this event. Below are some examples.

Q: If there are two adjacent houses with decks, with five men on one deck and another five men on the other deck, can they join together to form a minyan?

A: A gathering of ten men is needed in order for their davening to be considered tefilah b’tzibur. Once ten men have joined together to form a minyan, anyone else who is able to see them and participates is considered part of the minyan, and his davening is considered tefilah b’tzibur even if he is not in the room.1 However, it is debatable as to whether or not the ten men forming the minyan need to be in the same room.

The Rashba writes that it is sufficient if some of the ten men are in one room and the rest are in an adjacent room, as long as the two groups can see each other. The Rashba argues that this is analogous to the halachah that two groups of people eating meals in adjacent rooms may join together to form a zimun for Birchas HaMazon as long as they can see each other. Just as three men are able to form a zimun if they eat in adjacent rooms with intent to bentsch together, so too, ten men in adjacent rooms may join together to form a minyan.

Therefore, the Rashba rules that ten people in a house may form a minyan even if nine are in one room and the tenth man is in a different room.2 Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch writes that if there are nine men in a house and a tenth man standing outside who is able to see them through a window, he may join with them to form a minyan.3 However, the Mishnah Berura states that a number of Achronim disagree with these rulings. The Mishnah Berura concludes that one should be lenient only in situations of necessity.4

The Rashba’s comparison between forming a minyan and forming a zimun is predicated on his understanding that three people eating in different rooms can combine to form a zimun. However, some Poskim rule that they may not form a zimun. According to this opinion, a zimun of three people in one room may combine with a zimun of three people in another room to form a combined zimun of six people, but three individuals in three different rooms cannot combine to form a zimun. The Biur Halachah concludes that this is the more compelling position.5

The Achronim point out that there seems to be a contradiction in the Mishnah Berura. On the one hand, the Mishnah Berura leans towards the position that three people in different rooms cannot combine to form a zimun. On the other hand, he paskens that a tenth man outside a shul can combine with nine in the shul to form a minyan, if necessary. If the laws of combining to form a minyan are learned from the laws of combining for zimun, how do we explain this discrepancy? The answer would seem to be that when it comes to a zimun, it is not necessary to rely on the lenient opinions as it is possible for the three people to bentsch separately. However, in order to allow tefilah b’tzibur, at times of need one may rely on the lenient opinion when it comes to forming a minyan.

According to the Mishnah Berura, if necessary, eight people in a shul and two outside could combine to form a minyan. However, the Aruch HaShulchan has a different understanding of this halachah. The Aruch HaShulchan states that the Shulchan Aruch allows combining only one person outside the shul with nine inside but would not accept combining two outside the shul with eight in the shul.6

One further point must be noted. The Shulchan Aruch provides an additional limitation to the ruling that groups eating in different houses can unite to form a zimun. The Shulchan Aruch states that if a public street runs between the two houses, the groups may not combine. The Mishnah Berura quotes the Taz as adding that the same is true if a private path runs between the two houses.7 The Taz compares this to the laws of peah (the corner of a field left unharvested for the poor). The Torah states that a person is obligated to leave peah from his field. If a field is bisected by a public street or private path, the two sides of the street or path are considered to be separate fields and peah must be left from each one separately. The Taz rules that just as two sides of a street or path cannot combine to form one field, so too, people on both sides of a street cannot combine to form one zimun.

As the laws of combining for a minyan are learned from zimun, the Pri Megaddim argues that it would follow that people on two sides of a street or path cannot combine to form a minyan.#88 For this reason, the Teshuvos Minchas Yitzchok states that ten people who form a minyan in an open area need to ensure that they are not separated by a path running between them.9

Let us now turn to the question of two adjacent houses with decks. If there are five men on one deck and another five men on the other deck, can they join together to form a minyan? As noted above, the Mishnah Berura states there is a machlokes as to whether or not people outside a shul can combine with people in a shul to form a minyan. The Mishnah Berura maintains that at times of difficulty one may be lenient. However, he seems to contradict himself in hilchos zimun where he rules stringently. Additionally, the Aruch HaShulchan states that they cannot combine unless nine of the ten men are in one location. Furthermore, the Taz and Pri Megaddim assert that two areas which would not combine for peah cannot combine for a minyan. Two fields separated by a steep hill or pit cannot combine for peah; therefore, two decks could not combine for a minyan either. Due to the considerable doubt as to whether the men on the two decks can combine, Rabbi Heinemann, shlit”a, paskens that they should daven separately and not combine to form a minyan.10

Q: Under what conditions can ten men meet together in a public area to form a minyan?

A: The Teshuvos Minchos Yitzchok states that ten men in an open area may join together to form a minyan as long as they can see each other and hear the shaliach tzibbur. As noted above, the Minchas Yitzchok adds that ten people who form a minyan in an open area need to ensure that they are not separated by a path running between them.11 Rabbi Heinemann adds that the ten men should gather in one area and not be seperated by a fence which is ten tefachim high unless the fence has a gap or opening that the men on one side can cross to the other side.12

Q: When davening alone, is there any way to make up for the fact that one is missing davening with a minyan?

A. Chazal tell us that tefillos recited when davening with a minyan are received directly by Hashem, whereas tefilos recited without a minyan require angels to transport them. One of the Rishonim, Rabbeinu Yehuda ben Yokor, understands that malochim do not respond to any language other than loshon hakodesh, and therefore questions the efficacy of reciting private tefilos in any other language.13

However, he concludes that tefilos which are said with a great amount of kavana are accepted in any language, because they do not require malochim to transport them. He deduces this from the Midrash which says that when King Menashe wanted to do teshuva the melochim refused to transport his tefilos due to his great wickedness, but Hashem Himself accepted the fervent tefillos of Menashe.14 Apparently, such tefilos do not need malochim to transport them and are accepted directly by Hashem just as are tefilos recited b’tzibur.

There are additional measures that a person can take if he is unable to attend a minyan. Chazal encourage him to synchronize his tefilos with the tzibur and daven at the time of day as the minyan. Chazal also advocate that such a person daven the shacharis Shemoneh Esrei at vasikin (sunrise).15

Q: Is one allowed to walk down the street on Shabbos (in an area without an eruv) wearing a face mask and disposable gloves?

A: A person is not allowed to carry in a public area on Shabbos (unless there is an eruv). However, this prohibition does not apply to clothing worn in a normal manner. At the time of this writing, people are expected to wear a face mask in public; this is now considered to be a standard item of clothing.16 There are a number of additional reasons to permit wearing a face mask and disposable gloves in a public area on Shabbos:

1. The Shulchan Aruch cites two views as to whether gloves may be worn on Shabbos in a public area. The lenient opinion permits this because gloves are an item of clothing intended to warm and protect one’s hands in cold weather. However, the stringent opinion prohibits this due to the concern that a person may remove his gloves in order to gain full use of his fingers, which may result in his carrying the gloves in a public domain. The Mishnah Berura states that it is customary to follow the lenient opinion, but a conscientious person should avoid doing so.17 Arguably, the concern that a person may remove his gloves may not apply to those who feel a need to wear gloves for protection from contagion.18

2. In Talmudic times, shepherds wore specific work clothes. The Shulchan Aruch states that a person who is not a shepherd may also wear these clothes in a public area on Shabbos, because an item worn by some men is considered to be clothing for any man.19 Doctors and nurses routinely wear masks and gloves as part of their work clothes. Therefore, these items may be categorized as clothing for everyone.

3. Additionally, clothes may be worn even when they are not serving their intended purpose. For example, one may wear a winter coat in a public area even on a hot summer day.20 Although gloves that are worn in cold weather look somewhat different from protective gloves, they are both essentially types of the same article of clothing which may be worn even when not needed as protection from cold weather.

4. Although the use of medicine is restricted on Shabbos, a person is permitted to fasten a bandage over a wound. This is because the bandage serves merely to protect the wound and does not heal. The Shulchan Aruch states that a person with such a bandage may not enter a public domain on Shabbos since the bandage is not considered to be an article of clothing. The Mishnah Berura states that the Gr”a permits this and seems to accept this lenient view. Common practice is to wear a bandage in public areas on Shabbos.21 Wearing a face mask for protection in public is seemingly no different. A counterargument would be that a bandage protects the wearer, whereas a mask protects others from the wearer but does not protect him from others. It would seem logical, however, that a mask also provides some measure of protection to the wearer and may, therefore, be worn.
For these reasons, a person is permitted to wear a mask and gloves in a public area on Shabbos. Howerver, Rabbi Heinemann feels that one should be careful to keep the mask over the face and not lower it down to the chin.22

Q: If every keilim mikvah in a city is closed, what should one do when buying a new kitchen utensil?

A: A new utensil which requires tevilah may be immersed in a river or stream which flows year-round or an ocean or sea.23 However, one should not tovel keilim in a small stream if there has recently been significant rainfall such that the majority of the water present may be rainwater rather than stream water.24

A person may be faced with a situation where this option is not available. For example, on Shabbos it is prohibited to perform tevilas keilim. The Shulchan Aruch states that in this case, one should give the utensil to a non-Jew as a gift and subsequently borrow it back from him. The utensil may then be used without tevilah because it is no longer owned by a Jew. However, the Taz maintains that this is not a long-term solution as, over time, it will be forgotten that the utensil belongs to a non-Jew.25

In a situation where a person will not have access to any mikvah or water source for the long-term, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, suggests that if there is no other recourse he may renounce ownership of new utensils by declaring in the presence of three men that he is making the utensils hefker.26 The men should be adult shomrei mitzvos that are not related to him or each other. If he cannot do this in person, he may do so by declaring this over the phone to three men who recognize his voice.27 When he has access to a mikvah he should reacquire the utensil and tovel it, reciting a brochah if applicable.28

Alternatively, before acquiring the utensil from a non-Jew he should have in mind not to assume ownership of it. When he subsequently has access to a mikvah he should reacquire ownership and tovel it, reciting a bracha if applicable.

Q: How far away can a person stand from the baal koreh when receiving an aliyah to the Torah?

A: The Shulchan Aruch states that a person who receives an aliyah to the Torah must read along with the baal koreh and should not be given an aliyah if he is unable to do so. For this reason, the Shulchan Aruch paskens that a blind person should not receive an aliyah. However, the Rema paskens that one may give an aliyah to a person who is not knowledgeable enough to read along with the baal koreh, and a blind person may also receive an aliyah even though he is unable to read along.29

Some Poskim have suggested that a person may receive an aliyah even if he is required to stand some distance away from the baal koreh due to health concerns. Even though he will be unable to see the letters of the sefer Torah and read along with the baal koreh, he is no worse than a blind person who may receive an aliyah, according to the Rema.30 However, this is not necessarily the case.

The Biur Halachah explains that the Rema believes it became customary to give an aliyah to an unknowledgeable or blind person in order to save him the indignity of never receiving an aliyah. However, the primary halachic ruling is that a person must read along with the baal koreh; if a person is able to do so and does not, his brochah is considered a brochah l’vatala.31

Furthermore, it would seem that even a blind person receiving an aliyah must stand next to the sefer Torah. Even though he is unable to read, he must demonstrate that he is getting an aliyah. It is not sufficient for him to merely recite the brochah from his seat. Rabbi Heinemann, shlit”a, paskens that a person should not receive an aliyah unless he is able to stand close enough to the sefer Torah to be able to read the words along with the baal koreh.32

  1. עי’ בשו”ע או”ח סי’ נה סעי’ כ וערוך השלחן שם סעי’ כג. [ומש”כ המ”ב שם ס”ק נח בשם הרדב”ז שאין לצטרף ב’ חדרים שיש להם פתחים נפרדים, זה מיירי כשאין רואין זה את כזה כמש”כ המ”ב שם ס”ק נד, ואין צריך שיראה את כולם אלא די אם יראה מקצתם כמש”כ המ”ב שם ס”ק נב]
  1. שו”ת הרשב”א ח”א סי’ צו
  1. שו”ע סי’ נה סעי’ יד, ומקורו בספר ארחות חיים כמש”כ בב”י.
  1. עי’ במ”ב שם ס”ק נב ושעה”צ שם ס”ק נג, ובמ”ב ס”ק נז הסיק שבמקום הדחק אפשר שיש להקל.
  1. עי’ בביה”ל סי’ קצה סעי’ א שכן פסקו הרשב”ש וגר”א, וכתב הביה”ל “ובאמת יותר מסתבר כדבריהם”, עיי”ש הטעם
  1. ערוך השלחן סי’ נה סעי’ כ, ועיי”ש שחידש עוד שמי שעומד בעזרת נשים גרע טפי ממי שעומד בחוץ כיון שהוא בחדר אחר ולכן אינו מצטרף לעשרה, אמנם דבריו צ”ע ממש”כ השרב”א הנ”ל
  1. שו”ע סי’ קצה סעי’ א ומ”ב שם ס”ק ז .
  1. פמ”ג סי’ נה א”א ס”ק יב
  1. שו”ת מנחת יצחק ח”ב סי’ מד
  1. שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינעמאן שליט”א. ועי’ מש”כ בזה הרה”ג ר’ אשר וייס שליט”א במנחת אשר (לקט שיעורים ותשובות אגרות ומאמרים הנוגעים למגפת הקורונה) מהדורה תניינא סי’ כה, נמצא באתר . ובתשובת הרה”ג ר’ משה שטרנבוך שליט”א נמצא באתר
  1. שו”ת מנחת יצחק ח”ב סי’ מד
  1. שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינעמאן שליט”א
  1. פירוש התפלות והברכות לר’ יהודה ב”ר יקר עמ’ כ, הועתק בשו”ת תמים דעים להראב”ד סי’ קפד. ורע”א בגליון הש”ס שבת שם ציין לדברי התמים דעים הללו, וגם האליה רבה סו”ס קא הביא את דבריו
  1. דברים רבה ב,כ דברים רבה ב,כ
  1. עי’ שו”ע סי’ צ סעי’ ט וסי’ נח סע’ א וביה”ל שם ד”ה ומצוה .
  1. שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינעמאן שליט”א בשם הגר”ח קנייבסקי שליט”א, וכ”ה באתר .
  1. שו”ע סי’ שא סעי’ לז ומ”ב שם .
  1. כ”כ במנחת אשר הנ”ל סי’ יג .
  1. מ”ב שם ס”ק עב .
  1. שו”ת אג”מ או”ח ח”ג סי’ א. ועי’ בשש”כ פי”ח הערה יט שהגרש”ז אויערבאך זצ”ל הסתפק בזה שאולי שייך כאן החשש שילעיגו עליו ויסירנו, אמנם נראה שאין זה שייך כאן .
  1. שו”ע סי’ שא סעי’ כב ומ”ב שם ס”ק עז .
  1. שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינאמן שליט”א, ועי’ במנחת אשר שם מש”כ בסוה”ס .
  1. עי’ בב”י יו”ד סי’ רא בשם הר”ן שנהר של מים המכזבין בלא טענה אפילו לעתים רחוקות פסולה, ועי’ בחזו”א יו”ד מקואות תנינא סי’ ג ס”ק ו שהסיק שראוי להחמיר בדאורייתא כדעת הר”ן .
  1. עי’ בב”י שם ושו”ע ורמ”א שם סעי’ ב. והלחם ושמלה שם (לחם ס”ק יט וס”ק כה) כתב שאין להקל לטבול כלים בנהרות אא”כ אין מקוה כשרה והנהר קטן מאוד שלעולם אינו מתמעט משיעור זה .
    אמנם הדרכי תשובה שם ס”ק כב הביא מהכנה”ג שמותר לטבול כלים בנהרות ולא חיישינן שמא ירבו הנוטפין על הזוחלין
  1. שו”ע או”ח סי’ שכג סעי’ ז וט”ז שם הובא במ”ב שם ס”ק לה .
  1. אויערבאך זצ”ל כתב בשו”ת מנחת שלמה ח”ב סי’ סו אות טז (מהדורה ישנה) “אפשר שבשעת הדחק יכולים גם בשבת להפקיר ולכוין שמשתמש כל השבת בשל הפקר”. ס .
    אמנם אפשר שגם הוא לא התיר אלא לאותו שבת, וכמש”כ הט”ז הנ”ל. ועי’ במנחת אשר הנ”ל סי’ לז שכתב שבשעת הדחק כשא”א להקנות לגוי ואין פתרון אחר יכול לסמוך על ההפקר, והביא שבספר ארחות רבנו כתב שגם בעל הקה”י והחזו”א נתנו עצה להפקיר הכלי, ומ”מ הסיק המנחת אשר “כל שאפשר להימנע מלהשתמש בכלים חדשים נכון טפי”.ס
  1. כ”ז שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינעמאן שליט”א. ועי’ בשו”ע חו”מ סי’ רעג סעי’ ז וברמ”א או”ח סי’ רמו סעי’ ג שיש להפקיר לפני ג’ בני אדם, ועי’ בסמ”ע בחו”מ שם ס”ק י שהוא כדי שאחד יזכה ושנים יעידו .
    וע”ע ברמ”א חו”מ שם וסמ”ע שם ס”ק יא וגר”א שם, ועי’ ג”כ מש”כ בזה במחנה אפרים הל’ זכיה מהפקר סי’ א
  1. שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינעמאן שליט”א, ועי’ מש”כ בזה בשו”ת משנה הלכות ח”ה סי’ קי .
  1. שו”ע ורמ”א או”ח סי’ קלט סעי’ ב וסעי’ ג ומ”ב שם ס”ק יב וס”ק יג .
  1. עי’ במנחת אשר הנ”ל סי’ לא ובתשובת ר’ משה שטרנבוך הנ”ל .
  1. עי’ בביה”ל סי’ קמא סעי’ ב ד”ה לבטלה ובשעה”צ סי’ קלט ס”ק ו .
  1. שמעתי ממו”ר ר’ היינעמאן שליט”א .