Our Voices (HaKolot Sh'lanu)

COVID-19 and Jewish Ethics

Thanks to Dr. Robert Klein of the CBI Social Action Committee for this post.

It is at once fascinating and horrifying to me that a tiny primitive bit of RNA coated in a protein shell has succeeded in bringing the earth’s dominant species to a standstill. Its trade secret: immunologic novelty, multiple hosts both animal and human, and asymptomatic carriers for propagation. This pathogen inevitably lends itself to plague analogies as we pass through the season of Passover: invisible, unpredictable
and recalcitrant to treatment, picking off the most vulnerable in our midst, although thankfully largely sparing children so far. Humbled now is the pinnacle of evolution, we creatures endowed with a vast array of gray matter, who dominate our environment with impunity, responsible for the extinction of thousands of species. We have even set into motion climate change that is no less catastrophic than before Covid 19 monopolized our attention. The overworked expression of “biblical proportion” is no exaggeration in our current crisis.

Remarkable in this pandemic are the two markedly different demographic groups suffering disproportionately: the poor and the medical providers. The latter are literally risking their lives and their loved ones with whom they come in contact. My beleaguered colleagues in active hospital practice and all the other medical/ancillary folks engaged in supporting our health care deserve every scintilla of gratitude we can muster. Medical personnel are frequently described in battlefield metaphors as front-line troops. But as an Emory physician Dr. Michelle Au recently pointed out, they are actually the last line of defense.

All of society is tasked with keeping us safe by adhering to public health mandates, to prevent this pandemic from escalating beyond the capacity of our caregivers to salvage. Prevention obviates any treatment. If caregivers are willing to expose themselves to danger, I believe we literally owe it to them to obey social distancing, hand hygiene, and sheltering in place. I also think it incumbent upon us all to ceaselessly prevail upon our elected officials to mandate production and equitable dissemination of appropriate protective equipment for medical professionals and all others involved in essential services to our society. I ordered the last three face shields from a woodworking supply company for my anesthesiologist brother working in a Philadelphia VA hospital because his department had run out well before the expected influx had even begun. That is appalling in a nation that can, in bipartisan crescendo, spare no expense when it pertains to stockpiling weapons. let us pray science will supersede the current political theater, and that effective vaccines emerge.

Finally, I turn attention to the poor. Minority mortality rates are inordinate, and they often cannot afford to shelter in place. Not work= not eat. The current restrictions are for me largely an inconvenience, as I have adequate food, shelter, and access to basic necessities. That is by no means a given for many in our community, or even in our congregation. Thankfully the Torah affirms the centrality of justice as a Jewish calling. Rabbi Bradley Artson states We cannot consider ourselves pious Jews without a firm commitment to making the world a more just and righteous place. Tzedakah (righteous behavior) and gemilut hasadim (loving kindness) are among our core principles, and according to rabbis of classical Judaism, are equal in value to all other mitzvot combined.

So I’d like to express my profound gratitude to all at CBI who responded to the Social Action Committee’s request for donations to agencies working with those in need during the current pandemic. Over $2,000 has been donated to Manna, The Mission, Beloved and Jewish Family Services. Some donations are recurring, so there will be a steady stream of revenue. CBI’s collective commitment to Tikkun Olam is nothing short of amazing. The need continues: please consider contributing according to your means.

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Our Voices features the insights and thoughts of  CBI members and guests. Topics include, but are not limited to, personal insights on the weekly Torah portion, thoughts about community, Jewish identity, culture and more. We welcome your thoughts.  If you wish to contribute, please send your blog post to alan@alansilverman.com, along with any pictures you'd like to include. Thanks and we look forward to sharing your thoughts with the CBI community.