The current coronavirus outbreak has required self- isolating and quarantining of at-risk and infected persons in many countries across the world. What does the Torah say of quarantining in the case of pandemics?
Leprosy required quarantine and Miriam was sent outside of the boundaries of the Israelite camp when stricken with the symptoms of leprosy for having gossiped about Moses to their brother, Aaron.
Moses was very upset about this and prayed for her to be healed, but God ordered her out of the camp, saying: “If her father had spat in her face, would she not be ashamed for a week? Let her be in quarantine for seven days and she can thereafter return to the camp.”
It is interesting to note that droplets of spit are the vector for coronavirus, and this is the example the Torah correlates in elation to quarantining.
The Torah compares the quarantine to being shamed for having insulted a parent and draws the conclusion that if one were to be ashamed for a week, then surely, they should self-isolate for that period.
Indeed, the Torah period for any case of leprosy is one week and as each week elapses, a priest is to check the patient and decide whether he or she is ready to return to the camp.
It is recognised in the Torah and Prophets that leprosy is a physical illness that can be brought on by spiritual deficiency, such as gossip or arrogance, as in the case of King Uzziah of Judah, who was punished for haughtily assuming a function of priesthood.
However, leprosy can be caught from an untreated person, and it causes immunity to lower in the affected person. Quarantining has the effect of protecting the patient from others, rather than the other way round.
The Torah teaches us how quarantining and self-isolation can protect those most vulnerable and eliminate the spread of such a virus.
◆ Rabbi Ariel Abel CF serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force