Thursday, November 26, 2020

Covid vs. Fervid


Siyum haShas observances—the day everybody finishes the last page of the Talmud at the end of a seven-and-a-half year cycle—at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, 2012. Some religions really are fun, I get that. Via KVPR radio, California.

The Supreme Court's ruling in favor of two applications for "relief" from the threat of Governor Andrew Cuomo, one from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, one from the ultra-orthodox Agudath Israel organization and their Kew Gardens synagogue, that he might at some point go back to issuing restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend religious services in a given area, to 25 people for an "orange zone" and 10 people for a "red zone", even though they allowed the governors of California and Nevada to do the same thing in May and June, and even though it's not actually going to happen

In a letter to the court last Thursday, Barbara D. Underwood, New York’s solicitor general, said that revisions to the color-coded zones effective Friday meant that “none of the diocese’s churches will be affected by the gathering-size limits it seeks to enjoin.” The next day, she told the court that the two synagogues were also no longer subject to the challenged restrictions.

(yes, there's a new justice since June, and she's said to be very big on what they now call "religious freedom") is smelling as good as roast turkey to some of the usual suspects, and has got my proverbial goat:

"She just wants to be invited back," said somebody on the issue of the NPR guest.

One of the things I can't get over is the way rightwingers experience restrictions as punishment because the authorities think they're bad: the Agudath Israel application complained that

Mr. Cuomo had “singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution for an uptick in a societywide pandemic.”

presumably because ultra-Orthodox congregations have indeed been at the center of New York's share of the pandemic, from that first plague in New Rochelle to the 10,000-guest wedding of the Satmar Rebbe's grandson in Williamsburg, which the Satmars agreed to restrict to close relatives in late October, under public pressure, but held in secret anyway, as videos of unmasked Hasidic dancing that surfaced last week revealed. The organizers have been fined $15,000—less than their bill for the smoked fish, as one Twitter friend remarked. I do in fact blame them, I might as well be open about it; it's their fault New York's otherwise extraordinarily successful efforts failed to keep the city's positivity rate under 3% and triggered the school closing (others are blaming Mayor de Blasio and the UFT, for obeying the rules they worked out in weeks of really hard negotiations), and it's their fault my daughter can't come over from Brooklyn and share this goddamned turkey that I now have to roast.

But also at a more general level:

In a concurring opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said Mr. Cuomo had treated secular activities more favorably than religious ones.

“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Gorsuch wrote.

The constant theme is that secular authorities are inverting the moral order, treating religion as evil and obviously evil things (sometimes it's alcohol, sometimes it's street demonstrations) as good. You can't convey to them that it's an objective matter of public safety. A liquor store with a bouncer limiting the number of customers to ten at a time (or fewer—one very small place near me allows just two), masked is simply safer than a church with 50 unmasked people singing hymn and chanting reponsories. An outdoor Black Lives Matter march of mostly young masked people standing three feet apart is safer than an indoor Hasidic wedding with all the men from 13 to 93, unmasked, schlucking vodka and dancing (I don't actually know what the women, in their separate room, are up to). 

You're more likely to fall off a cliff in the sublime grandeur of the Grand Canyon than in a brothel, though the former is a much more morally satisfying place than the latter, because the latter doesn't have any cliffs. Church and synagogue are terrific, for those who are into such things, I have no objection whatever, but they are not designed to prevent coronavirus transmission. Why would they be? It's not normally a big problem. It's just that now is not a normal time.

And Agudath seems to understand this perfectly well, in its actual behavior:

With the pandemic hitting Klal Yisroel with a deadly fury, the Novominsker Rebbe ztz’l penned a final letter to Klal Yisroel, his prescient words reminding us all that the time to strengthen ourselves in unity and dedicate ourselves to an existence of Torah and mitzvos was now. The Novominsker Rebbe’s words have sustained us and inspired us for nearly eight months and today they are the heart and soul of the 2020 Agudah Convention.

The convention, whose theme is “Davka Achshav: The Time is Now,” will be an all-remote event, accessible by phone and livestream. The convention will have prominent gedolim, rabbanim, roshei yeshiva and professionals addressing timely issues in Thursday night and Motzoei Shabbos sessions, with a special dedicated women’s track offering insights from respected leaders and personalities.

This year, the lobby may be empty and the meeting rooms may be dark, but the 2020 convention will inspire like never before.

Why must they grapple ideologically with Cuomo as if it were a survival matter for them, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court? Why would they treat this as an attack? It's their lives the regulations are meant to save.

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