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The Real Test

Rav Chaim was asked a specific question about a specific scenario, and gave specific guidance in response. It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to remove that crucial context when reporting his response

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esterday, a slew of media headlines — including both mainstream media and at least one frum outlet — quoted Rav Chaim Kanievsky as having instructed yeshivah bochurim to avoid testing for COVID-19.

Unsurprisingly, the supposed instruction provoked the angst and ire of Israel’s coronavirus commissioner Ronni Gamzu, and provided fodder for those who see chareidim as irresponsible spreaders of a potentially deadly disease.

However, upon further research and after speaking to the relevant parties, it emerges that the quote was stripped entirely of all context.

Rav Chaim was asked a specific question about a specific scenario, and gave specific guidance in response. The instruction was not meant as a blanket policy. It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to remove that crucial context when reporting his response.

In Israel, all bochurim returning to yeshivah gedolah or beis medrash programs entered what is called a “capsule” at the beginning of the zman, approximately two weeks ago. Most were tested for COVID-19 upon entry. Then, for the next two weeks, the bochurim were required to maintain strict quarantine in small groups, with zero exposure to anyone outside the yeshivah.

(It should be noted that such yeshivos will continue to function as “capsules” until the close of Yom Kippur, with bochurim prohibited from returning home or interacting with the general population. The only major difference between the first two weeks and the remainder of the zman is that once two weeks have passed without any incidence of the virus, the yeshivos will no longer be required to keep the bochurim in small, isolated groups 24/7.)

As the two weeks of initial quarantine drew to a close, the leaders of the Israeli yeshivos asked Rav Chaim whether they should retest the bochurim.

It was in response to this specific question that Rav Chaim said not to test.

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abbi Nechemya Malinowitz, chairman of the Iggud Bnei Hayeshivos / Yeshiva and Seminary Coalition, confirms the same from his own experience. Several figures affiliated with yeshivos geared to American bochurim asked Rabbi Malinowitz to arrange for retesting of their bochurim, and when he addressed the question to Rav Chaim, he was told that retesting after a two-week quarantine is unnecessary in the absence of symptoms.

From a medical perspective, this is in keeping with the general instructions for the Israeli population; after exposure to a coronavirus carrier, or entering the country from abroad, Israelis are required to undergo isolation for 14 days. At the close of those 14 days, if they remain asymptomatic, the quarantine period ends automatically, with no testing required. The same policy holds true for those arriving from abroad.

Rav Chaim’s response was fully in keeping with those directives. It was not directed toward younger, high-school bochurim who return home every day and are exposed to family, relatives, and neighbors. It was not meant as a general policy for the entire yeshivah population.

The manner and tone in which this story was reported drips of disrespect for our talmidei chachamim. Among the secular media outlets, that’s regrettable but hardly surprising. But when even our frum outlets follow the same script and publish the same misleading stories, it leaves us wondering how they can possibly claim to serve as a forum for those whose every action is shaped by Torah and the talmidei chachamim who are its living embodiment.

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