In normal times, most of us would know by now where we’ll be davening on Rosh Hashanah. But these aren’t normal times. We don’t know, as of this writing, how many people will be allowed in shul, what arrangements will be made for outdoor minyanim, or what can be done to make it possible for everyone to hear shofar.
In such unprecedented times, we’re all being forced to move out of our religious comfort zone in order to do our part to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which isn’t over by a long shot.
It’s in this context that we need to look at the pilgrimage to Uman that Breslover Chassidim and others make on Rosh Hashanah. With all due respect for those who make the trip, often at great sacrifice, this isn’t the year to go.
For starters if, G-d forbid, there is an outbreak of coronavirus after Rosh Hashanah in Uman, the chillul Hashem and the anti-Semitism it will generate will be incalculable. And even if nothing happens, the very arrival of so many outsiders from “red” countries like Israel and elsewhere will generate enmity. And its effects won’t be limited to the Ukraine, which doesn’t need any excuse to hate Jews.
Second, mispallelim put themselves and others in danger when they travel to Uman. There is the trip itself — planes, trains, way stations — which exposes them to possible infection, and two intense days of davening, eating and sleeping in cramped quarters.
Uman brings together chareidi Jews from all over the world, from communities where coronavirus rates have been higher than the norm. When they return to New York or Antwerp or Bnei Brak, they risk bringing home COVID-19 and causing outbreaks in chareidi kehillos everywhere, at a time when flu season is about to begin.
Third, Breslover Chassidim have known times when it was impossible to go to Uman, for instance, under communist rule. Just as then it was understood that Rebbe Nachman was with them wherever they were, interceding on their behalf, so too now, when there is a serious risk of chillul Hashem and pikuach nefesh.
Some might argue that coronavirus doesn’t require canceling the event, but rather imposing restrictions and regulations to eliminate or at least largely reduce the health risk. There are two problems with this. One, there’s much we don’t know about COVID-19, so restrictions aren’t foolproof. Two, it’s impossible to ensure that everyone abides by the rules.
Others argue that the decisions taken by Israel’s corona czar and cabinet are political, not professional. They point to the approval given to huge anti-Bibi demonstrations every week, the opening of restaurants and bars (where people don’t wear masks), and other such venues.
There may be truth to that, but so what? The bottom line is that a third of the COVID-19 patients in Israel are chareidi, so we have to be more interested in containing the virus than anyone else. It would be a Pyrrhic victory to get the government to open shuls as usual and let people go to Uman, if the result was, chalilah, more members of our community getting sick and dying.
For these reasons, this year we all need to stay home.