In recent weeks, world attention has turned to the new Coronavirus. People have been evacuated from China, while travellers recently returned and cruise ships are being forcibly quarantined. What does the Torah say about new pandemics?
After the Nile was turned to blood, the Egyptian Pharaoh thought he had weathered the worst of it.
Unfortunately for him, Moses’ God was not going to back down. The Torah relates that the plague of frogs was unprecedented: “Moses declared: ‘Never in the history of Egypt have your ancestors seen a plague like this one!’ And with that, Moses turned and left Pharaoh.”
In the lifetime of the prophet Joel, a plague of locusts hit the holy land.
Joel foretold of its arrival and that it would be more catastrophic than the plague that had hit Egypt.
Whether by prophecy or social media, having some warning of what is coming is hugely helpful, as at least one can prepare.
The Hebrew word for plague is magefa from which is derived nagif, the modern word for “virus”.
Once warned of what is caught, Judaism teaches that one has a responsibility to take all precautions necessary, including quarantine, to prevent others from being infected.
Chinese quarantines imposed on Wuhan and later on cruise ships and borders have a Biblical precedent in the leper colony situated outside the residential zones of the Israelite desert camp 3,500 years ago.
Although it is conceded that leprosy itself cannot be caught, it is just as likely that quarantine was required to protect the lepers themselves, who would have suffered lower immunity during their infection.
We pray for the complete recovery of all those ill with Coronavirus and that the infection is stopped permanently in its tracks and eliminated.
- Rabbi Ariel Abel CF serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force