Ask the Rabbi, Part 21

(This is the fourth year that I am answering questions in the Jewish Press forum entitled “Is It Proper?” All the rabbinic responses and more can be read at

Is it Proper for a person with a bad cold (or virus) to daven with a minyan?

In the current environment, it is prudent and politically correct to stay away from shul when one is ill.

But let’s get real! Would a person with a cold not go to work or would teachers or children who have colds avoid school? Would a person not board a plane for a long-planned vacation if he has a cold? That would be asking too much. Rather than have a decree that applies universally, we must return to a life in which people demonstrate personal responsibility for their decisions. The main factor here is: might other people be realistically harmed by your presence? If so, then the person should refrain from going to shul.

Colds and viruses have varying degrees of contagion. If one goes to shul with mild conditions, then it is proper to sit apart, not talk to anyone up close (generally, good advice in shul), not shake hands with others and leave before the conclusion. Any illness which is contagious requires isolation. It is worth noting that not harming other people is a greater zechut for the niftar or nifteret than is reciting Kaddish. The former is a Torah obligation while the latter is a custom.

So go but act responsibly.

That being said, I did not attend shul this year on Shabbat Chanukah because I was suffering from the flu. Davening alone was a greater Kiyum Hamitzvah than thrusting myself and my germs into a crowded shul. It was the first time, I believe, that I ever missed a Shabbat davening because of illness, a pr. It wasn’t easy but it was the right thing to do. And my wife insisted.

What is the proper thing to do when seeing someone who is mesurav l’din at a simcha, Jewish communal event, or some other place where you can’t just leave?

The response is shaped by two important caveats. First, the Bet Din in question has to be authorized, reliable, legitimate and properly constituted. There are such Batei Din. And there are others that unfortunately are not legitimate, and make pronouncements without following proper procedures and sometimes even lack jurisdiction. In any particular case, one should ask his/her Mara D’atra. Second, it is assumed that the seruv includes the harchakot of Rabbanu Tam that demands that we ostracize this miscreant. 

If these two criteria are satisfied, then the miscreant should not be invited to such events and should be shunned by the community. It doesn’t mean that the witness has to make a scene, ruin the simchah, or call attention to the presence of the mesurav. But if their paths cross a good Jew should solemnly say to the miscreant “you should respond to the Bet Din. That is what a faithful Jew does in this situation and being responsive to a Bet Din is more important that attending a simchah or an organizational meeting.”

The nature of the case also matters. Often, people sue in Bet Din when they realize that they could not prevail in a secular court because of insufficient credible evidence or reluctance to adduce that evidence in secular court (where they, wrongly, try all their other cases). This happens when money is the issue and those cases naturally arouse skepticism. But when the issue is a husband who wrongfully refuses to give his wife a Get or a wife who wrongfully refuses to receive a Get from her husband – both having been directed by a legitimate Bet Din to comply – we should be wary of any pleasant, social interactions with the wrongdoers. 

What’s the ideal and most appropriate format for kiddush–standing around, sitting at tables; lots of hot food, a few cold items?

First principles first. A kiddush is an occasion for the members to socialize after shul, which renders the kiddush redundant if the members were r”l socializing during shul. Ideally, it is opportunity to catch up on the week’s news, chat with friends, and discuss the wisdom and insight of the Rabbi’s drashah.

Anything beyond that is secondary and tertiary. Standing or seated will be determined by crowd size and event space. The quantity, quality and variety of the menu will be determined by the affluence or expectations of the participants. Certainly, the kiddush should not render the main meal of the day (at home) superfluous, perhaps even an achilah gassah (gluttonous consumption). One must take care not to overeat or certainly not overdrink at a kiddush so as to make the second se’udah of Shabbat an enjoyable one.

If the kiddush functions as the main meal for some people then it is critical that rolls be served and that the diners sit and not stand around. “Kiddush must be recited at the place of the meal” and so this kiddush then serves a dual purpose. It is probably wise to serve some hot dishes as there is an obligation to consume hot food on Shabbat and not everyone is careful about that. It is probably unwise to turn the kiddush into a lavish smorgasbord, which then pressures current and future sponsors to shell out significant sums of money to please the palates of their friends and neighbors. And we would do well to minimize the quantity of unhealthy foods that are often staples at a Shabbat kiddush.

I must add that I do miss the elaborate Mens’ Club kiddushim at my former pulpit. Consider this a well-deserved shout out!



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