“Tell your rabbis, tell your rabbis…” said the soft and sincere voice to me.
It was about a week before last Rosh Hashanah, and I was just leaving the office of my internist after a review visit just before the new year. After a thorough physical exam, the doctor asked me directly, “And how are you coping emotionally and psychologically with the shutdown of your community?” “It’s very hard and very draining, but I am sustained by knowing that I am trying to protect my friends and they are trying to protect me,” I replied, further explaining that unfortunately I knew people who had died from COVID-19, and people who had recovered—but often with severe incapacitation.
That’s when she said: “Tell your rabbis that they saved hundreds if not thousands of lives beyond their communities.” I knew that she was non-Jewish, but the practice of which she was a part had huge numbers of Jewish patients, so I erroneously assumed that she was referring to our local non-Orthodox co-religionists. So I began by explaining that beyond the very significant numbers of local non-Orthodox Jews who came to respect and express gratitude for the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC) and their swift and clear action, some communities in Israel where we had former members and children had their rabbis influenced by the RCBC, and they acted to take similar action. I even told her that the Bible indicates that what happens in Israel influences those of us who live outside it; this time we in Bergen County merited to influence Jewish communities in Israel.
She smiled and said very clearly, “That’s not what I meant!” She further explained that she has a patient who is a very prominent Protestant minister in the region. Shortly after the RCBC acted, he called her for advice on a personal matter. He had become quite worried about the spread of the virus and wanted to know what measures she thought would improve the safety of his members regarding his institution’s services and other activities. She told him that she recommended that he do what the Orthodox Jewish community had done, and shut everything down. After recovering from his surprise, he asked her what exactly the Orthodox Jews did. She told him and he said thank you.
The next day she got another call from him. He had set up a conference call with his colleagues in a ministerial conference, and after much discussion they agreed to follow, to the extent applicable, the RCBC’s rulings and shut down their institutions.
That was when she said again to a somewhat stunned me, “Tell your rabbis that they saved hundreds if not thousands of lives beyond their communities. I am very grateful to them.” She also noted that the RCBC acted before any governmental or any other significant private body acted.
Then she smiled pleasantly, looked directly at me, and said clearly but somewhat haltingly, “Shana Tova.” I told her thank you, assured her that her accent was good, and inwardly thanked God for allowing me to live in Bergen County as a Jewish community.
On reflection, this was an exquisite example of how by following God’s law to save lives, a halachic imperative to which Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, legendary grandfather of the Rav, Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, whose influence continues to nurture us, was extraordinarily devoted, we not only saved lives among our congregations and their families, had a major positive influence on benefiting our Jewish but non-Orthodox neighbors, moved several Israeli communities to follow us, and made a tremendous kiddush Hashem with the impact we had on non-Jews as well. To repeat and emphasize, the RCBC acted (and we followed them) before any governmental or other private body did. We were following halacha, God’s law, and not the law of the land. This was no doubt even more true of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, whose devotion to pikuach nefesh flowed from his deep and unwavering commitment to halacha and not any municipal laws or local governmental regulations.
(Not to say that we should not obey local laws and governmental regulations, but their standards in matters of health are the minimum floor, while halacha should be expected to be more stringent.)
Now four special thank yous.
First and foremost to our rabbis and their families, who have led and sustained us through this crisis. Sorry it took so long to thank you, but I only recently thought of using The Jewish Link to reach all of you. Even if you do not read this issue, as the Talmud says, “your friend has a friend [who will carry the news to you].” So I can be confident that my internist’s sincere and profound thanks will reach you.
Next to the Link, which has provided not only ways for us to maintain our relationships with each other, but a fair and balanced forum for all sectors of the community to express themselves and think through these matters carefully and thoughtfully.
Third, to my internist, whose care and devotion to her patients is beyond compare, but whose solicitude for broader issues of health is breathtaking.
Acharon, acharon chaviv, to my fellow Orthodox Jews of Bergen County. You created and sustain the soil from which the inspired leadership of the RCBC could grow to protect us all.
Rabbi Chaim Frazer is a long time resident of Teaneck and member of Cong. Beth Aaron. He enjoys Daf Yomi and philosophy. He he is best known as the father of three wonderful children, father in law of three marvelous children in law, and grandfather of 10 totally phenomenal grandchildren.