The Rashba and Corona
תקנות הקהל - The power of community legislation for the common good
Corona Virus introduced chaos and uncertainty to the lives of (nearly) the entire population of the world. We see that unlike previous international crises, it is not world leaders collectively that are called to deal with the crisis but each country with its own. Rather than joining forces, each government comes up with ways of battling the virus that are suitable to its own facilities, civilian cooperation and obedience.
In Israel we’re witnessing a gradual consent to adhere by the government and Ministry of Health regulations. So gradual that some shuls closed down at the beginning of the week while others maintain their minyan on a daily basis. Some people close themselves almost hermetically at home while others take a stroll outside with or without the children. Hundreds of thousands of families are suffering financial uncertainty and there is a steady rise in home violence. It is true that some of the instructions are left vague and open to individual or communal interpretation but the message is loud and clear – we, as a closely knit social organ, are trying to avoid further contagion.
So what does Halakha have to say as far as adhering to the state’s rules? We are not dealing with the accepted laws of a country but with temporary regulations that at times conflict with elements that are the very fabric of our religious lives and identity. Do we participate in Simchat Mitzva like a Brit or a (very) small wedding? Do we daven in a minyan? Do we go on visiting the sick and elderly? What about comforting people who are sitting Shiva or cooking for them? All these are just a small example of issues that are troubling and confusing many in the community at present.
The Beraita in Baba Batra 8b sets out the authoritative power of each community’s permanent and temporary laws and regulations: “But it is permitted for the residents of the city to use money that has been collected for the charity fund to purchase food for the charity platter to feed the poor; and similarly they may use food that had been collected for the charity platter for the charity fund. In general, it is permitted for them to change the purpose toward which charity will be used to whatever they want, in accordance with the needs of the community.
Similarly, it is permitted for the residents of the city to set the measures used in that city, the prices set for products sold there, and the wages paid to its workers, and to fine people for violating their specifications.” In other words the appointed authority has the power to legislate all that’s necessary for the welfare and economical running of the city.
The Rashba (Barcelona 1235 – 1310) in a Teshuva (Volume A Siman 1206) discusses further the limits of authoritative power given in the hands of the community. When asked whether a community can annul the marriage of anyone marrying in front of less than 10 people (while Jewish law requires only two witnesses), the Rashba emphasizes that it is clear from the Beraita (above mentioned) that the community has the power to legislate and enforce its regulations on the public, just as the Beit Din has the power to forfeit any individual’s possessions for the benefit of the majority (as evident from Yevamot 89b and Gittin 36b). The Rashba brings the consent of his Rabbi, the Ramban, to this Halakhic conclusion.
At times of Pikuach Nefesh like today when the graphs of contagion and unfortunately, death, continue to rise steadily, it is critical that the public follows the government’s restrictive regulations. Just as we say “Desecrate one Shabbat on his behalf so he will observe many Shabbatot “(Yoma 85b), we must cease from all public religious activities, large or small, so that no more lives are taken and entire families’ livelihood are restored.