Last week I accomplished what few Jews ever manage to accomplish. I was essentially thrown out of a minyan.
A Jew can do any of the following things without being kicked out of shul. He can cheat on his wife; he can beat his wife; he can molest children; he can be a convicted felon; he can be openly gay and proud of it; he can intermarry; he can defend terrorists; he can violate Shabbos in public; he can talk to others the entire davening; he can talk on his phone during davening; he can spread lies and gossip; he can make malicious remarks about the rabbi; he can mock Judaism and make fun of the Torah.
If a Jew took out an idol during davening and bowed to it, most of the people there would be more amused than outraged. Their first reaction would be to record it on their phones and share it. Then they might try to do kiruv and save his soul. They wouldn’t throw him out.
I managed to do something infinitely worse than all the above.
I uncovered my face.
We were outdoors, of course, because those who make the rules had decided that today it was just too dangerous to daven indoors, unlike the day before. It was a bright, sunny day, I was twenty feet away from the nearest person, and I was minding my own business. But my mouth and nostrils were exposed. There wasn’t even a thin blue shmatta covering them, which would at least give the false pretense of preventing my diseased breath from reaching another human being.
During chazaras hashatz, when it is an especially severe violation to talk, someone approached me and said that if I do not cover my mouth and nose, “you can’t daven with us”.
One might assume that this enforcer was kicking me out because he deemed me a threat to the health and lives of the other participants of the minyan. Maybe he trusted those other experts, the ones who want everyone to be masked all the time, no matter what, because maybe it reduces your chance of giving or receiving some infected air ever so slightly. Surely a ticking time bomb should be asked to leave a minyan, while the aforementioned crimes against God and man could more easily be tolerated.
However, I know for certain that he did not consider my naked face to be a lethal threat, for he did not stand six feet away while laying down the law. He stood right next to me, contrary to health ministry guidelines, and did not exhibit the slightest concern about the air departing my lips and nostrils.
Hence, this wasn’t a matter of science or safety, real or imaginary. It was a matter of principle. At this minyan we all play make-believe, and if you are not willing to play along, you are not welcome. If you beat your wife and children, that is none of our business. If you desecrate the Torah, we will look the other way. But if you won’t cover your mouth and nose with a thin, useless partition, you can’t daven with us.
A couple of weeks ago I published an article called Herd Insanity, in which I argued that much of the Orthodox world has become mentally ill. They are obsessed with minimizing their presumed odds of catching coronavirus above all other considerations. Their behavior is not guided by a careful analysis of relevant Torah or science, or by calm reasoning.
Everything has become a safek pikuach nefesh, seen strictly through the narrow prism of potentially catching the virus. As a result, normal human behavior has become categorically forbidden with one broad stroke of fear. Those who are unwilling to adhere to the most extreme prohibitions on normal human behavior are condemned as murderers.
Again, a Jew can commit virtually any crime against man or God without the reaction being so black and white. But kiss a Torah? Shake a hand? Stand under God’s glorious sky and breathe the fresh air through two exposed nostrils, far from anyone else? You are committing genocide and can’t daven with us.
Many people applauded my article, but others took umbrage with it. One woman wrote a letter to the Jewish Press in which she argued that not shaking hands is a geder so that we don’t come to hug people. This is Torah? This is science? I suppose if people shook hands, then someone went for a hug, it might even lead to mixed dancing.
A rabbi responded with a confusing article in which he threw together a hodgepodge of Torah sources, claimed that every small action such as kissing a Torah or shaking a hand carries a small risk, and argued that eventually all those small risks add up to dangerous odds of getting the virus and dropping dead. He did not explain why we don’t wear hazmat suits to further reduce our risk of infection, or why we don’t walk around with calculators to determine the statistical chance of shortening our lives from any other potential threat aside from this one.
He also made the geder argument, that if we allow handshakes, we will eventually throw out all precautions. In other words, we cannot be safe unless we compel everyone to go to the absolute extreme; this is what the Torah demands of us! Of course this is neither paranoid, nor mentally ill, nor a corruption of the Torah. Some Jews left Egypt before the right time, he concluded, and look what happened to them – they were killed! Same situation! So mask up, avoid other people, don’t touch things unnecessarily, and wait for redemption.
I referred to this as mental illness not to insult people, but to be charitable. Mentally ill people cannot be faulted for their behavior because they cannot think clearly or control themselves. It is a legal defense even for those who commit terrible crimes. It is far preferable for Jews who are urging extreme hysteria and paranoia, who are rushing to take a “vaccine” that is covered in red flags and doesn’t vaccinate you against anything, who are afraid to kiss a Torah or shake a hand or breathe God’s fresh air without a shmatta on both their nostrils, who call people like me murderers, who believe we cannot shake hands lest we hug people, who believe we have to mathematically calculate our odds of getting coronavirus with every small action we take…it is far preferable to consider them mentally ill than to accuse them of deliberately engaging in this behavior with a clear and healthy mind.
I stood far away from others on a beautiful day and unmasked my face. For this crime, unlike virtually any other, I was approached and told “you can’t daven with us”.
I do not fear the coronavirus. I fear what has become of so many of my people. They are destroying themselves and others. They have lost their ability to think clearly and rationally. They are living without a trace of spirituality and faith in God, even while they maintain the exterior trappings of “religious” life. They are filled with fear and anger when they see someone who is minding his own business but not playing make-believe. And they think they are saving lives.
I hope they are mentally ill – not something else – and that God heals them quickly.
I would like to daven with them again.