Krias HaTorah in Coronavirus Era: Rav Mechel Steinmetz Responds to Halachic Queries
By Yochonon Donn
For thousands of years, the beis haknesses, Klal Yisroel’s shuls, have been the refuge for the Yid. Through Roman oppression, Crusader massacres, Spanish inquisition, Cossack marauders and Nazi aggression, the shuls were the shelter and safe haven for Yidden.
What a strange and frightful gezeira this is, when the sanctuary itself becomes a house of death, when the place of tefillah and Torah turns into a cauldron of illness and disease.
The abrupt shuttering of shuls across much of the United States is leading to shailos unheard of a mere two weeks ago.
Rav Mechel Steinmetz, the Skvere dayan of Boro Park and one of the neighborhood’s leading halachic authorities, gave over clear guidance in an interview.
The dayan reviewed this article and approved it.
Klal Yisroel is going through a unique situation, in which entire cities are locked down and shuls closed. What should people do about krias haTorah?
The majority of the poskim rule that krias haTorah is obligatory for a tzibbur, not an individual. And even if a tzibbur wants to be yotzei, the opinion of the Aruch Hachulchan, the Mishmeres Sholom, the first Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinksy is that if there is no Sefer Torah they could take a Chumash and lein from that.
There is an obligation on every beis medrash to lein from the parsha every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos. An individual not davening in a shul does not need to hear it at all. This is the opinion of the majority of the poskim.
On Monday or Thursday, the best thing is if everyone takes a Chumash after Shacharis and leins until Sheini.
On Shabbos, they should lein the entire parsha. But you can be yotzei by being maavir sedra.
Can someone bring a Sefer Torah to his house for krias haTorah?
Only if it’s there for at least three days. Meaning, if he wants to lein from a Sefer Torah on Shabbos, he should make sure to have it in his house by Thursday.
But b’dieved, if it is difficult, even if it was there for only one day he could use the Sefer Torah.
Some people make a mistake and say that you have to have it in the house and use it three times. There is no source for that. It has to be there for three days, not three uses.
All poskim and rabbanim have said that during this time everyone should stay at home and not attempt to make a minyan. What would the dayan say to someone who had always been moser nefesh to daven with a minyan, not going on vacation if that meant he would miss one Maariv with a minyan?
He should try to time his tefillos when there is a minyan davening.
Every place has minyanim. For example, by us in Skver there is a minyan at 7 and 8 in the morning. This takes place when the shul is closed. The Mechaber rules that by davening at the same time as a tzibbur its like davening with a minyan.
I would also note that there have been minyanim taking place in the streets of Boro Park. So from 7 until 10, at least, you could daven and it would be considered the same time as a tzibbur davens.
Another suggestion is for a person to call in to a place where there is a minyan. I wrote a teshuva in my sefer that you are allowed to answer Amen and Amen yehei Shmei rabba over the telephone.
Can a minyan be formed via telephone too?
No. Only if there is an existing minyan. A person who knows of a minyan taking place should call into someone there and hold the phone to answer Amen yehei Shmei rabba. But he can’t say Kaddish over the phone.
What about saying the bracha Me’ein Sholosh on Friday night? Can it be said without a minyan?
Regarding saying Vayechulu and Magen Avos with the brachos, there is a massive machlokes among the poskim. According to the strict halacha, you can only say it if there is a Sefer Torah. But the Yidden who follow the derech of the Arizal or chassidus have the minhag to say it even b’yechidus.
Can someone rub Purell or hand sanitizer on his hands on Shabbos?
Yes. Liquid soaps are permitted. In fact, it is very important to use, even on Shabbos.
If someone is not feeling well on Shabbos in a way they normally would not be concerned, but he or she is nervous because of the coronavirus, are they allowed to call a doctor or Hatzolah?
If he feels nervous because of the situation he may call with a shinui, either by dialing with a fork or something similar. If he feels weak, has a medical condition or has pain in his lungs he may call.
But the truth is that even if someone is diagnosed with the coronavirus he should lay in bed, not go to the doctor or hospital — unless there’s a serious issue, obviously.