Chief Rabbi: 'Asymptomatic coronavirus carrier must fast'

Verified coronavirus carrier suffering symptoms or excessive weakness exempt from fasting. Verified carrier who is asymptomatic must fast.

Mordechai Sones ,

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef
Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef
Kobi Richter/TPS

In preparation for the Tisha B'Av fast that will take place this coming Wednesday night and Thursday, Chief Sefardic Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef issued a number of guidelines and instructions regarding current affairs and the coronavirus.

In a letter written to address many questions that reached the Rishon LeTzion's desk, Rabbi Yosef issued detailed instructions regarding the week in which Tisha B'Av falls and the fast of Tisha B'Av itself.

"Our Sages teach us that in the Three Weeks one must be careful of anything dangerous, because these days are primed for misfortune. And this year, one must be more careful with everything forbidden because of fear of danger," he noted.

Regarding bathing in the week of Tisha B'Av, Rabbi Yosef ordered that it should be made easier to bathe in cold water this year, even for those accustomed to stringency in other years.

Regarding whether coronavirus carriers must fast, Rabbi Yosef wrote: "After consulting with senior doctors in the Health Ministry regarding those required and those exempted from fasting, the following should be done:

  • A verified coronavirus carrier who suffers from symptoms or excessive weakness is exempt from fasting, and may eat only that which is necessary. And since he is ill there is no need to eat in small measured portions, rather one may eat as usual.
  • A verified carrier not suffering any symptoms must fast, unless the doctor tells him to eat so that he does not become ill. In this case one should eat and drink in measured portions like one would on Yom Kippur in similar circumstances. And if a doctor says one is defined as ill, then he should eat and drink as usual.
  • Asymptomatic carriers in isolation must fast.
  • A patient who had suffered severe pneumonia, etc., or who had been sedated and on ventilator and has now recovered, should consult a doctor whether he may fast. And if the doctor says he should eat and drink he should not be stringent with himself.
  • A person who develops coronavirus symptoms in the course of the fast, such as high fever, cough, loss of taste and smell, is defined as ill and is to be exempted from fasting on Tisha B'Av.
  • Those engaged in emergency medicine and coronavirus testing, if by fasting they will be prevented from performing their work, especially if they have to wear special clothes for this purpose in the heat of the day, it should be permitted for them to eat and drink, and it is right that they eat and drink in measured portions.

Regarding washing and anointing on Tisha B'Av, Rabbi Yosef ruled that it is permissible to disinfect hands with soap and water or alcogel, etc., when one's intention is to clean.

Regarding saying Eicha (Lamentations) and Kinnot, the Chief Rabbi said that small minyanim should be formed and Health Ministry guidelines observed. It is possible to say after prayers the Book of Lamentations, and Kaddish yehei shlama rabbah, and the rest of the Kinnot may be said at home, night and day, so as not to be in a group for a long time.

Regarding the other mourning customs of Tisha B'Av: Even those who are exempt from fasting must keep the other laws and mourning customs as every year; Not to wear leather shoes, not to change clothes, not to bathe even in cold water, not to learn Torah dealing in the joyous subjects, and not to be distracted from mourning the exile of the Divine Presence.

Rabbi Yosef's ruling differs from one by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, who yesterday ruled that asymptomatic coronavirus carriers should not fast even if they do not presently feel ill.

Rabbi Yosef ended his letter with a prayer that "the Creator hasten our Righteous Anointed One and build for us our Temple and our glory. And may He send healing to all his people, the house of Israel. And in our days, may Yehudah will be redeemed and Yisrael will dwell in safety, Amen."