As part of its important role in servicing rabbis and Jewish communities throughout North America and the world, the Rabbinical Council of America, publisher of TRADITION, convened a special conference call with Rav Hershel Schachter for the organization’s member rabbis on March 16, 2020. During the call Rav Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, fielded questions on an array of topics concerning halakha in a time of coronavirus—from pre-Pesach preparations, to communal prayer, to mikva observance, and more. Listeners will recognize and appreciate Rav Schachter’s renowned erudition, and his deep concern for the supreme importance of protecting human life and health as a central value in Judaism’s moral and legal tradition.
The conference call was meant to serve as a resource for communal rabbis who are facing unprecedented challenges in leading their synagogues and pastoring their flocks, and we thank the RCA for sharing it with readers of TRADITION and listeners of the podcast. Obviously each individual should consult with his or her own halakhic authority concerning specific questions. The conversation was convened and moderated by Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive director of the Rabbinical Council of America (www.rabbis.org).
UPDATE: Please note, after the conference call the following facts were clarified:
Mikve – Rav Schachter said that a woman who, due to travel restrictions or other limitations, is unable to go to the mikve at night, may immerse on Day 8 during the daytime.
Aveilut – A close relative who is prevented from attending a burial but will participate in the kevura via video or telephone begins avelut of shiva with setimat ha-golel (the conclusion of burial).
Bittul Hametz – On the call, Rav Schachter was asked about relying on bittul of hametz ingredients before Pesach for food products that may not be available due to shortages, but suggested we consult the Orthodox Union to ascertain facts because some hametz ingredients may not be battel due to noten ta’am or davar ha-ma’amid. In conversation with Rav Menachem Genack of the OU we were told me that he is assured by suppliers that there will be sufficient kosher for Passover food. If, closer to the holiday, there is a crisis, the OU will issue guidelines.
Shmura Matza – We asked Rav Schachter about fulfilling the obligation of eating matza on Pesach night with regular (non-shmura matza). He responded that although such matza lacks the desired status of “shmira mi-sha’at ketzira” (from the moment of reaping), one does nevertheless fulfill the mitzva if they were baked with the intent of “le-shem matzot mitzva.” R. Genack confirmed that this is indeed the case for all machine matzot baked with OU supervision. [Rav Schachter stipulated that this leniency applies only be-sha’at hadhak, in difficult and extraordinary circumstances, such as those we find ourselves in during Covid-19.]