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).

headofkingdavid
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.

read-3566317_1920
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


slogans-801774_1920

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

 

image of woman working on a laptop at a desk
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.

plant and book on table with window in the background
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