Lessons from Pandemics in Jewish History

It may feel like our current crisis is completely unprecedented, but the truth is that we can look to history for evidence of what has happened before and how people have survived pandemics. Jewish and biblical history hold valuable insights into our present situation. 

Examples of Pandemics from the Bible

When King David conducted a census of the population, he ordered the counting of the people directly, instead of counting indirectly by means of half shekels (mahazit ha-shekel). As a result, the Rabbis tell us, a plague took place which killed 70,000 people, with 100 people dying each day.

It was decreed that the plague would be annulled if 100 brachot, or blessings, were recited each day. The Rabbis explain that since 100 people died each day from the plague, the recitation of 100 blessings a day would counteract midah kineged midah, or measure for measure (see Midash Rabba – Numbers 18:17; Tur 46, quoting Rav Netrunoi Gaon).

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Head of King David, ca. 1145. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In another instance, we find the terror of plagues in Leviticus 26:25, which states, “And I will bring the sword upon you… and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you.” In yet another example, Ezekiel 7:15 states, “The sword is without and the pestilence and the famine within,” and, beyond that, the Philistines’ capture of the ark was said to cause a plague of hemorrhoids.

Examples of Rabbinic Responses

What remedies have Rabbis suggested over the ages to defend against epidemics?

The Talmud mentions the efficacy of offering prayers, particularly Tehillim (Psalms). If the situation does not allow large gatherings, then synchronized prayer, done at the same time in private domains, is effective.

This is also the theory behind daf yomi, developed by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. Jews around the world each study a page (daf) of the Talmud, the central text from which Jewish law is derived.

Being in quarantine or self-isolation at this time may give you more time to study, so you might like to keep in mind the elixir of old given by Rabbis for remedying not only physical illness, but also spiritual illness (refuat ha-nefesh ve refuat ha-guf). The Chofetz Chaim urges the study of laws regarding slander and gossip that are believed also to curb the onset of plague and  warns against causing harm psychologically of persons by “meanspeak“, embarassing person in public, and otherwise causing harm to individuals You might also like to learn about ethical principles which can be applied to the internet, as you interact with others in our digital world.

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Image by Darelle from Pixabay

Conclusion

Wiping out this pandemic requires basic respect for life as the ultimate good, respect for human dignity, and great doses of humility, compassion, and above all, care for the sanctify of life.

Ultimately we must recognize that the ways of G-d are beyond human logic. We can look to history to understand how humans have reacted in the past, but only time will tell how we react to our current challenge. Keeping in mind these lessons, we can help others along the way.

This article was contributed by David B. Levy, Chief Librarian at the Lander College for Women

Information in this post was drawn from yeshiva.org.il Wiki pagesThe Black Death by Robert S. Gottfried, and Biblical and Talmudic Medicine by Julius Preuss, translated by Fred Rosner.

Ways To Positively Affect Yourself & Others During COVID-19


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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

While it feels like the whole world has been turned upside down due to the coronavirus, you can still do your best to better yourself and help others during these turbulent times. Through social distancing, diligent hand washing, and adhering to direction given by the CDC and WHO, we can all help to stop the spread of the virus. In addition to distance, hygiene and listening to public health agencies, there are a multitude of things that you can do to positively affect yourself and others during COVID-19.

Continue reading

How I’m Making Working From Home Work For Me

 

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Working from home might seem like a fantastic thing: no commute, no fighting traffic, no struggling to get up early, and no need to switch from your PJs to real clothes. But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Waking Up

Yes, it is exciting that you can sleep in a bit later, but I swear it makes getting up harder. My body is pre-programmed to wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day, but now, I wake up and hit snooze or wake up later and feel groggy as anything. I haven’t been late for my usual start time, but I’ve cut it closer than ever before and logged in at 7:29 a.m. (This is in contrast to my usual habit of arriving at the building at 7:15 a.m.!)

Getting Dressed

While staying in my PJs seemed like such a wonderful option, I decided on casual clothes instead (jeans and a t-shirt), because I wanted to stay in a work frame of mind. Being in my usual work clothes motivates me to stay productive, while I think that if I had stayed in my PJs, I would have wanted to get back in bed and go to sleep.

Commute and “Traffic” Jams

It might seem like I’d have an easy commute — a few steps out of the bedroom, up the stairs, down a hall and into the computer room — that takes what, maybe 3 minutes?

Well, that’s not the case when you have cats.

No one told my cats that I’d be working from home, and it turns out that they have their own ideas about my “walk to work.” First, there was trying to get up the stairs as Bowie, my wonder kitty and ever-present pal, decided it was time for a petting session on the landing of the stairs. It took two or three minutes until his majesty was satisfied enough to let me pass.

At the top of the stairs, I found Romeo, our lovely boy and belly rub king, who also flopped over and demanded pets before he let me pass.  Finally, I was accosted by Auggie the ninja cat as I opened the door to try to get out of the room; she nearly knocked me over.

All-in-all, what I thought would take me just a few, quick steps, took me about five minutes.

Bringing the Library Home

Being able to log onto our chat reference service from home allowed me to provide reference and research support virtually, and to assist our students with their needs, just like I would have if I was in the library with them.  Although I wouldn’t have been able to physically get them a book if they needed one or to grab a physical copy of the latest journal, this luckily didn’t come up in my questions.

I have also been able to work on this blog and to start reviewing books for our collection, some of the tasks I would normally work on library.

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Image by janexieok from Pixabay

All in all, I believe my work from home experience has been a success so far — despite the fluffy traffic jams and a desire to stay in bed. I am thankful that, in this trying time, Touro College is looking out for its students and employees. Level heads will prevail and we will be back to normal before we even know it!

In the meantime, we have collected many resources for students, faculty, and staff to support them during this time:

We are still supporting our community virtually! Please contact us if you need help from home: https://www.tourolib.org/contact

This post was contributed by Heather Hilton, Librarian, Bay Shore

Open Education Week 2020: Open Access

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We are midway through Open Education Week, and today’s post will examine Open Access broadly.

Open can be confusing. With terms like Open Access, Open Education, Open Educational Resources, Open Source, and Open Science among many others, it’s easy to get a bit confused. However, what underpin all ‘Open’ concepts are copyright and the sharing of information.

Perhaps you are wondering what copyright is exactly? Basically, copyright is a set exclusive rights for authors which grant them legal control over who can use their work and in what ways. Licenses are terms which allow authors to transfer or forgo all or some of these rights, like in traditional book deals or article publishing. Creative Commons licenses are perhaps the easiest and most transparent way to license content and ensure a wider audience for your works now and in the future.

Sometimes we forget that we live in a transitionary period between print and digital media technologies. Publishing models from the first scholarly journal onward were tied to print technology and the materials and labor costs involved with advertising, reviewing, typesetting, printing, and distributing scholarly works.

Open Access arose out of the revolutionary potential of networked digital computers. Instead of waiting for their works to appear in print journals, scholars began sharing their papers with each other via email. By the 1990’s, having websites that host these preprints allowed for greater and more organized sharing. Arxiv.org (pronounced ‘archive’) was one of the first of these repositories.

Open Access journals allow for rigorous peer review, sometimes replacing the infrastructure supplied by commercial publishers with their own internet platforms. While there are many economic models for Open Access journals (and repositories), their goal is to provide immediate and free online availability to readers.

Instead of being tied to a Closed Access system of the past, we can embrace ‘Open’ as a means to share high quality scholarship more widely, equitably, quickly, and collaboratively. Open Access is currently helping fight the Coronavirus, and Open Access articles are cited more than their traditional counterparts.

There is much more to the story, and perhaps this article raised more questions for you than it answered. The Touro College Libraries are here to help you navigate these issues. Checkout our guides on Copyright, Research and Scholarship, Creative Commons, and Open Educational Resources to get started, and contact us for any help you may need!

This post was contributed by Tim Valente, Scholarly Communications Librarian. 

 

 

Open Education Week 2020

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Image source: openeducationweek.org

Happy Open Education Week! At Touro College Libraries, we are celebrating all things open education this week (and the rest of the year too). Follow this blog, and our social media accounts (@tourolibraries), and check out our bulletin board outside of the Midtown Library.

What would you do if you had an extra $175 to spend?

One Touro student saved that much in one semester when her professors used OER, or open educational resources, instead of traditional textbooks. OER, as defined by the Hewlett Foundation, “are high-quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose.” These materials can include test banks, lesson plans, and assignment templates, but most commonly, the term OER is associated with textbooks.

In the definition of OER, free means both free of costs and free when it comes to the application of copyrights. OER are licensed under Creative Commons, or are simply in the public domain, which means they can be distributed, adapted, copied, edited —basically you name it — without legal repercussions.

And, as that student who saved $175 put it, “Open textbooks are helping me drastically cut costs associated with pursuing my undergraduate degree and I am now able to apply these funds towards other things including tuition payments. It makes my life easier since typically at the end of each semester I am left with these books that I will likely never use again that just take up space as they sometimes can’t be resold.”

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Image source: Manfred Steger from Pixabay

Despite such positive student experiences, myths about OER abound:

Myth #1: Open simply means free. Fact: Open means the permission to freely download, edit, and share materials to better serve all students.

Myth #2: All OER are digital. Fact: OER take many formats, including print, digital, audio, and more.

Myth #3: “You get what you pay for.” Fact: OER can be produced to the same quality standards as traditional textbooks.

Myth #4: Copyright for OER is complicated Fact: Open licensing makes OER easy to freely and legally use.

Myth #5: OER are not sustainable. Fact: Models are evolving to support the sustainability and continuous improvement of OER.

Myth #6: Open textbooks lack ancillaries. Fact: Open textbooks often come with ancillaries, and when they do not, existing OER can provide additional support.

Myth #7: My institution is not ready for OER. Fact: Any institution can start with small steps toward OER that make an impact for students.

(Source: “OER Mythbusting” from SPARC)

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Image source: Annett Zobel from Pixabay

Faculty across Touro are already adopting and adapting OER textbooks for their courses.

For example, the psychology department faculty at NYSCAS have adopted OER for their GPSN 110 course, and because of this, over 290 students across more than 12 sections have benefited from free, open textbooks.

Since the Open Touro initiative was established in Fall 2018, the use of OER has saved Touro students over $54,000 collegewide.

You can help increase that number by adopting, adapting, or even authoring your own OER — and librarians are here to help!

If you are interested in reviewing open textbooks available in your field, contact Georgia Westbrook (georgia.westbrook@touro.edu) or Sara Tabaei (sara.tabaei@touro.edu).

Learn more about the Open Touro OER Initiative here: http://libguides.tourolib.org/OER

This post was contributed by Georgia Westbrook, Open Educational Resources & Instruction Librarian.

New Staff Profile: Timothy Valente

Tim Valente
Tim Valente–Scholarly Communications Librarian at Midtown

Where were you born? 

I was born in Rahway, New Jersey.

Where else have you lived?
I was raised and lived in Central New Jersey, including Woodbridge Township and New Brunswick. Currently, I live in Woodside, New York.
What languages do you speak?
English, although I’ve studied Italian and still am conversational (need much more practice).
What fields have you studied and/or degrees have you earned?
Master of Information (Library and Information Science), BA in History. I’m interested in social history, history from below, and history of the book.
What is the part of your job that you enjoy the most?
I enjoy promoting open access; to research, to education, to textbooks and other materials. Library instruction is also very rewarding in that I can see an immediate tangible impact of my work.
What do you think will be the most challenging part of your job?
The perception that open access material is inherently lower quality than traditionally published material. It’s natural to be suspicious of something that is free. However, despite some bad actors (e.g. predatory journals), open-access materials have an immensely positive impact, allowing for greater readership and more citations.
I’m inspired by the work of libraries and non-profits to make knowledge freely and universally available; Wikipedia, Internet Archive, Directory of Open Access Journals, and HathiTrust are some of my favorites.
Your ideal vacation?  
Cabin, lake, canoe, fishing rod.
Any hobbies?  
I love to cook and also play the drums.
Favorite food?
Soup. Chicken to lentil to Tom Yum and everything in between.

Tell us one thing about yourself that most of us probably don’t know.

For a time I wanted to become a chef. Perhaps that will still happen in the future.

New Staff Profile: Georgia Westbrook

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Georgia Westbrook, OER and Instruction Librarian

Where were you born?

I was born and raised in the Southern Tier region of New York, which is about three hours from New York City by car.

Where else have you lived?

I haven’t lived anywhere else, so I am very excited to move to the city and to try someplace new!

What languages do you speak?

I am only fluent in English, but I dabbled in French and Latin during high school and undergrad, and I hope to pick up French again soon.

What fields have you studied and/or degrees have you earned?

I have a bachelor’s degree in art history and a master’s degree in library and information science.

 What is the part of your job that you enjoy the most?

I most enjoy helping faculty and students find and use free and affordable course resources because it means that students are more engaged and more likely to stay in, and succeed in their classes. Knowing that the work I do can have such a significant impact is so rewarding.

What do you think will be the most challenging part of your job?

I think the most challenging part of the job will be getting in the classroom and teaching whole classes about library resources. I have worked with students one-on-one at the reference desk during graduate school, so I am excited to translate that experience — plus what I learn as I work more in this role — to this new responsibility.

Your ideal vacation?

My ideal vacation is a week on the beach with lots of sleeping, swimming, and reading books.  

Any hobbies?  

Like most other librarians, I love to read, and I enjoy cooking and baking, too.

Favorite food?

This changes all the time, but right now, my favorite food is key lime pie.

Tell us one thing about yourself that most of us probably don’t know.

I can drive a stick shift.

 

Dear Veterans: We thank you for your Service

Since the dawn of humanity in all parts of the world soldiers have been continuously  serving their country. The reasons for their service vary across the lands around the world.

Plenty of veterans gave their lives in battle throughout time. And it is known there will be lives lost on both sides of any battle. Most of them were young and had not lived out a full life.  The impact was devastating for their families. It comes back to had they lived, what would have been?

At the Veteran’s Day Ceremony at Touro Bay Shore, a veteran once said there is not a book, movie or picture that could convey the experience of the battlefield. That alone is reason to give thanks. For the veterans to live through and walk away from this experience is not easy.  We are thankful!

If you follow a family line, how many veterans are there?  If the line starts with a veteran that lived, what would their story be?  Here is a picture of my husband’s great grandfather, Ernst Wagner. He was a civil war veteran. Following are all the battles he was part of and survived. Continue reading

New Library Staff Profile: Michael Kahn

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Michael Kahn–Librarian at BP 53

Where were you born? I was born in Brooklyn, New York and have lived there most of my life there.

Where else have you lived? As part of my yeshiva studies, I lived in Jerusalem, Israel and Lakewood, New Jersey.

What languages do you speak? While I am a native English speaker I also can converse in Yiddish and can read and understand Hebrew. Continue reading

Happy Labor Day

Or Happy Phenomenal Labor Day!

I recently listened to several audiobooks in the car during my travels to work. Their theme was New York History. With the upcoming Labor Day, I have to say that New York has a very long history of “Labor.” In every book I listened to, I couldn’t get over the creative forward-thinking. All carried out with labor. Continue reading