Welcome to the weekly newsletter of Igud HaRabbonim, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, in which we share news for and about members, including communal news, announcements, publications, Divrei Torah, press releases and media mentions.
In this newsletter:
• Upcoming Yahrtzeits 18 Av-25 Av
• The Rabbinical Alliance of America Urges Full Participation in the 2020 Census
• Asher Yatzar Chart
• The Rabbinical Alliance of America Calls For Reopening Schools Safely In The New School Year
• Obtaining a Marriage License During Covid-19, A Dialogue with Hon. Michael McSweeney, NYC Clerk & Clerk of The Council
• Rav Dr. Aaron Glatt: Covid Update July 30 & August 1
Please let us know about your family simchos and l"a aveilus, book publications and career changes or milestones, so we can share as chaveirim our life events. Send updates to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis — calls for the Jewish community’s full participation in the 2020 Census. As a community, we must understand the full extent of the unusually difficult current state of affairs which we are experiencing. These are difficult times for our country and we face daunting challenges. The coronavirus pandemic, the pause of economic activity, and the underlying racial inequalities and anti-Semitism have caused great pain and uncertainty. The Jewish community has always played a significant role in local civic and economic life. A complete and accurate population count results in appropriate representation in government and fair distribution of funding for programs and services like healthcare and education, that our community needs and on which it depends.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America is reaching out to you about one easy thing you can do from your home to ensure that your neighborhood recovers from this crisis: Complete the 2020 Census. The more people from your community fill out the census, the more money your neighbors in need will get from the government for hospitals, healthcare, schools, and housing over the next decade. Particularly in light of the current crisis, the Jewish and local communities need these funds more than ever. Additionally, census data serves as the basis for redistricting legislative and congressional seats. An undercount will have serious consequences for your elected representatives.
In these times of fear and frustration, there is no better demonstration of unity and compassion than providing funding for essential services and emergency preparedness. And this is where you come in.
This is an urgent problem. For example, Manhattan self-response rates for Census 2020 are considerably lower than 2010, most likely due to the pandemic and people leaving the city. Rabbis, we need you to send a standalone message to your membership outlining the importance of members of the Jewish community completing the census, for many reasons including the ongoing health crisis and combatting anti-Semitism. Quite simply, each completed census brings money to their neighborhoods, ensures representation in Washington and can be filled out online in less than ten minutes at http://www.my2020census.gov.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, noted that, “Many members of our community have temporarily relocated during the pandemic and the response rate for the census is considerably lower than the 2010 census. One of the best ways we can ensure a complete count is by simply talking to our family, friends, and neighbors directly and encouraging them to participate in the census. It takes less than ten minutes to answer the ten questions the census asks, yet it affects the next ten years of our city’s future and will impact how our city will rebound from this crisis. You can sign up at http://www.nyc.gov/censusfriends to help ‘get out the count’ with your loved ones!”
By encouraging our family, friends, neighbors and congregants to participate in Census 2020 you will be helping to ensure that your community gets the resources and representation it deserves. Please do so. The consequences for not filling out the census can potentially be devastating to our community.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis — calls for the cautious reopening of schools for the new school year, following medical recommendations. Throughout the pandemic, RAA/Igud has called for following the guidance of halachic scholars and leading medical professionals, particularly the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On July 23, 2020, the CDC issued a report titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall” which emphasizes the health benefits of opening schools compared to the risks of keeping them closed. Because local conditions differ, every school must follow local medical and legal guidance in order to maintain the safest possible environment. However, within those limitations, RAA/Igud encourages reopening schools wherever possible.
The CDC describes the social and emotional skills that develop within the school framework. Lengthened quarantines correlate to avoidance behavior, anger and post-stress disorders. Schools provide important mental health services and therapies to children and allow for identification of trauma symptoms by school staff. A safe school environment lowers feelings of anxiety and related tragic behaviors. Schools also provide children nutrition and opportunities for physical activity. Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, testified to Congress on July 23, 2020, “I don’t think I can emphasize it enough, as the director for the Centers for Disease Control, the leading public health agency in the world: it is in the public health interest that these K-12 students get the schools back open for face-to-face learning.”
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice president of RAA/Igud, said, “In addition to the health benefits described by the CDC, Torah education is precious. We transmit our precious mesorah, the religious tradition, through education. The Talmud says that you cannot compare the achievements of a child who starts schooling a year earlier to one who starts a year later. Every year, every semester, every day of Torah education is invaluable. We have to be safe and follow medical recommendations in order to prevent further spread of this dangerous virus. Let us help our children move forward in their Torah, social and emotional education.”
Rabbi Aaron Glatt, MD, RAA/Igud’s Director of Halacha and Medicine Commision, said, “We have to recognize from a social point of view, an economic point of view and a spiritual point of view how important it is for children to attend school. We can learn from the experiences in other countries, including Israel, how to open schools in a safe way so the children can experience school in a way that is as close to normal as possible. We must follow science and published medical studies, together with the wisdom of our leading Torah scholars, to guide us forward. In order to serve our children and our communities effectively, parents must partner with schools by following the guidance given by medical and legal authorities.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt added, “Schools will probably only be allowed to reopen in places where COVID incidence is low. Therefore, people must wear masks now in order to reduce and maintain low levels of COVID so that we can join together in prayer on the High Holidays and our children can return to schools for the new year.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt recommends the website MaskToProtect.org which provides information and resources about masks, including studies and games for children.
How do couples obtain a marriage license in this difficult time of Covid-19? On Monday, July 27, 2020, the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim (RAA/Igud) convened an important roundtable dialogue with the Hon. Michael McSweeney, who serves as the New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council. This special outdoor meeting of the RAA/Igud was hosted by Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman of the Israel Advocacy Committee of the RAA/Igud and organized by Rabbi Dovid Katz, Menahel of the RAA/Igud.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, presidium chairman of the RAA/Igud and Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the RAA/Igud warmly welcomed Hon. Michael McSweeney and thanked him on behalf of the 950 Orthodox Rabbis of the RAA/Igud for taking time from his busy schedule to meet with the RAA/Igud and to discuss the issue of obtaining a marriage license during Covid 19.
Rabbi Mirocznik stated, “We will disseminate the information learned tonight with our rabbinic colleagues and congregants and help guide them through the process of obtaining a marriage license during this time of Covid. As rabbis, we have a responsibility to our congregants to make certain that they can legally marry and build families. We thank Hon. Michael McSweeney for joining us tonight for this important discussion. We thank Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager for hosting the meeting and Rabbi Dovid Katz for organizing the meeting.” Rabbi Mirocznik welcomed Mr. Larry Gordon, publisher and editor of the Five Times Jewish Times, and thanked him for attending the meeting with Michael McSweeney, NYC Clerk and Clerk of the Council.
Mr. McSweeney is a Queens native who has served as City Clerk and Clerk of the Council since 2009. Mr. McSweeney is a dedicated, hard-working public servant who supervises one of the oldest offices in New York City government, with beginnings traceable to the inception of the town of New Amsterdam. One of Mr. McSweeney’s most rewarding and enjoyable tasks is supervising the New York City Bureau of Marriage License, the city’s agency that issues marriage licenses. Sadly, because of Covid-19, the Marriage Bureau offices have temporarily closed. Mr. McSweeney came to advise the Rabbinical Alliance of America how rabbis and marriage officiants can guide couples in obtaining a marriage license during these trying times.
Mr. McSweeney began the discussion by acknowledging how rabbis play an important role in the registration work of the Marriage Bureau. As a result of Covid-19 and the closure of the Marriage Bureau, his marriage license staff works working remotely from home. Mr. McSweeney recounted that he personally went to the offices of the Marriage Bureau to pick up received return marriage licenses covering the periods of March and April 2020 in order to process them. About half of the licenses mailed to the Marriage Bureau from Brooklyn and Staten Island were officiated and signed by a rabbi.
Mr. McSweeney remarked that, on April 18, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that marriages should not be stopped because government offices are closed. As a result, Mr. McSweeney collaborated with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson to find a technological solution. Mr. McSweeney’s office, with the help of the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) developed Project Cupid, a virtual online platform. With the use of a smartphone, tablet or laptop, a person can go online, see a clerk, show identification online and apply for a marriage license. The online platform allows the marriage license applicant to electronically sign an affidavit and file the marriage license application.
Mr. McSweeney acknowledged that despite the successful new system, the Marriage Bureau is struggling to meet the demand for marriage licenses. Prior to Covid-19, the bureau was able to accommodate 300 couples on any given day in August, the busiest month for marriage licenses. Mr. McSweeney speculated that August might be the busiest month because many Jews refrain from marrying for three weeks in July. Usually, the Marriage Bureau issues approximately 8,000 marriage licenses a year. Covid-19 has slowed the process because people still need to make an appointment for online registration.
Despite these challenges, the Marriage Bureau is able to offer marriage licenses in a remote and safe way so that everyone can feel comfortable applying. The Marriage Bureau asks that people who apply make sure to keep their appointment, thereby allowing the bureau to help everyone who wants to get married.
City Clerk McSweeney said, “We have established guidelines to allow for marriage officiants to officiate virtually. Although it may not address the religious definition and requirements of a marriage to which a rabbi is bound, it does allow a couple to obtain a civil marriage. As City Clerk you have my commitment that we are dealing with a work in progress and we will continue to strive to help all who want a marriage license obtain one. I am honored to call the Rabbinical Alliance of America an important partner in this venture.”
Names In Pictures
Picture (1) A group picture taken with New York City Clerk & Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney. Top row standing left to right, Rabbi Dovid Katz, Menahel, RAA/Igud; Rabbi Chesky Blau; Rabbi Moish Schmerler, director, RAA/Igud; Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; Larry Gordon, Publisher and Editor, Five Towns Jewish Times; New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney; and Rabbi Meir Melnick
Bottom row seated, Rabbi Aharon Kahan; Rabbi Zvi Mandel; Rabbi Yoel Ehrenreich; Rabbi Yaakov Klass; presidium chairman, RAA/Igud; and Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman Israel Advocacy Commission, RAA/Igud
Picture (2) Names Left to Right, Rabbi Yaakov Klass; presidium chairman, RAA/Igud; New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney; Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; Rabbi Dovid Katz, Menahel, RAA/Igud; and Rabbi Aharon Kahan
Picture (3) Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; welcoming and greeting New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney
Picture (4) Names Left to Right, Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; Larry Gordon, Publisher and Editor, Five Towns Jewish Times; and Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman Israel Advocacy Commission, RAA/Igud
Picture (5) New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney presenting an update to the Rabbis on the status of obtaining a marriage license in the time of Covid
Picture (6) Group photos of the Rabbis having a round table discussion with New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney on the topic of obtaining a marriage license in the time of Covid
Picture (7) Rabbi Yaakov Klass; presidium chairman, RAA/Igud; welcoming and greeting New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney
Below is an update on the Covid situation from Rav Dr. Aaron Glatt, RAA/Igud’s Director of Halacha and Medicine Commision, dated July 30, 2020 (the situation changes day to day). He will provide a live update on Motzei Shabbos, August 2 at 9:45pm NY time
COVID-19 Update July 30, 2020
Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD
Unfortunately, Moshiach did not come (yet!) and I am writing another COVID-19 update.
While there is always a lot of new information, I will send out updates less frequently unless there are significant local or medical changes. I will continue for now our 9:45 PM motzei Shabbos Zoom talk addressing common questions, and I will also devote some time this week to discussing the many questions I am asked regarding shalom bayis issues caused by COVID-19 that might be applicable to all.
What is new epidemiologically speaking?
After weeks of sharp increases in the United States, there were some signs that COVID-19 cases were plateauing, albeit at a higher daily rate than a month ago. Seven-day daily averages of new confirmed cases were the lowest it has been in the U.S. in the past 2 weeks.
Three more states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico were added to the tri-state quarantine list, bringing the list to almost all the states in the country except those in the Northeast corridor above NY. The CDC warned it may already be too late to really control spread in the US, but clearly efforts have been effective to a certain extent in preventing some spread.
What have we learned from camps?
Camps have been open for a month now, and the information is partially good, although I am involved with one situation where one institution has not been dealing appropriately with potential widespread illness in their camp. Certainly, there have been cases identified in a number of camps, and some have closed in part or ended early, but Boruch Hashem we have not seen large outbreaks in adults associated with camps. This bodes well for school openings in my opinion, although a report in JAMA Pediatrics discussed below has somewhat dampened my optimism.
Does the Chazzan still need to be masked? What about the Ba’alei Kriah?
Unfortunately, based upon the current incidence in the US, even though our local numbers are still low, I do not feel comfortable recommending any changes in our davening. We still have new cases every day coming in to local hospitals. There are still 40-60 new cases in Nassau County daily, with the numbers in NYC also significant. The chazzan and ba’alei kriah are singing loudly and are potentially “contagious” beyond 6 feet (see below). Following our poskim, I remain extra cautious at this time.
A novel paper published in the Journal of Internal Medicine reiterated that universal public masking during the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most important pillars of disease control. However, most Interestingly, they proposed a new theory why masks are vital. Based on their preliminary modeling, they showed masking reduced the COVID-19 viral inoculum to which a mask-wearer was exposed, leading to milder (or asymptomatic) infection instead of more contagious symptomatic ones.
This “inoculum” theory argues for a major protective effect for the mask wearer à preservation of life and less transmission as society re-opens. This link between masking and lower viral inoculum, resulting in less contagious asymptomatic infection is yet another great reason to mask.
Furthermore, the NY Times had an excellent op-ed piece from a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. She presented an excellent review of why social distancing really is important, demonstrating that it keeps us out of the most concentrated parts of other people’s respiratory plumes. So, stay away from one another by one or two meters at least – though farther is safer. And, she exhorted, wear a mask. Masks block aerosols released by the wearer, and masks protect the wearer from breathing in aerosols around them.
Any more exciting news regarding vaccines?
Yes, several phase three vaccine trials did start this week! I know some individuals reading this have already enrolled in such trials, and there will be more opportunities soon to come for those interested, including hopefully at Mount Sinai South Nassau as well as other academic centers in the NYC region.
Any proven published cases of individual getting COVID-19 a second time?
Still nothing. It remains very reassuring, that with tens of millions of COVID-19 cases worldwide, there are still zero published cases, and even unproven reports of reinfection remain quite rare.
What did he say last motzei Shabbos about wood alcohol and hand sanitizers?
Sorry again for the confusion. Here is the link for the FDA statement: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitizers-methanol. The FDA warned consumers and health care providers that the agency has seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but that have tested positive for methanol contamination. Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested. That wasn’t so hard to say, was it?
What’s with the hydroxychloroquine video on the Supreme Court steps?
Medscape tried to get information on the doctors involved in this video. They could not come up with any information showing that they actually treated COVID-19 patients, as some did not even have medical licenses or active medical careers or were not internists.
The American College of Physicians the largest and most respected internal medicine society in the world, published the following statement in the Annals of internal Medicine: Three large, randomized controlled trials with strong study designs ceased enrollment for the hydroxychloroquine versus control comparison early due to lack of efficacy in preliminary analyses. In addition, the 2 literature updates produced no evidence to alter these conclusions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently revoked its emergency use authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 due to potential significant harms and lack of benefits.
What new information was published this week?
1) The JournalScience Advancespublished a novel paper as to why patients with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell. One would have thought the virus was attacking sensory neurons, the cells involved in smell. However, researchers at Harvard Medical School showed the virus is incapable of doing this. Instead, certain “support” cells are injured, with the good news being they can more quickly regenerate and heal than sensory cells. As a result, the authors stated that most patients regained their sense of smell in several weeks.
2) As I mentioned last week, a large high school COVID-19 outbreak in Jerusalem occurred upon school reopening. Data on this was published this week in Eurosurveillance.
Testing of the complete school revealed 153 students (13.2%) and 25 staff members (16.6%) were COVID-19 positive. Overall, some 260 persons were infected (students, staff members, relatives and friends). Classes in the affected school were more crowded than the average elsewhere.
They concluded that classmates and teachers should be considered close contacts (particularly in crowded classes), as should students in groups mixing several classes, extra-curricular activities and school buses. This will obviously be something to be considered as we reopen our Yeshivas and schools.
3) An Israeli study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at all vaccines (57) that were FDA-approved between January 1996 and December 2015. This comprehensive review of 20 years’ worth of data found that U.S. vaccines were remarkably safe, thanks in part to a robust ongoing safety surveillance program post marketing. Over this 20-year period, only one vaccine had to be recalled, and unexpected complications were mostly of limited clinical significance. Bodes well for COVID-19…
4) Why do some COVID-19 patients transmit virus, while others don’t?
A JAMA editorial provided new insights into this important question based upon several published papers. The secondary attack rate for COVID-19 is actually low. Case series that have evaluated close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients reported only about 5% of contacts become infected. However, even this low attack rate is not spread evenly but varies depending on the duration and intensity of contact. The risk is highest among household members, with transmission rates between 10% – 40%. Close but less sustained contact such as sharing a meal is associated with a secondary attack rate of about 7%, whereas passing interactions among people shopping is associated with a secondary attack rate of 0.6%. Very reassuring to people who have a transient exposure to an unmasked person near them in an office, train or other setting for a brief period of time.
5) Mothers infected with COVID-19 are unlikely to pass disease to newborns when proper precautions are taken according to The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. They reported no cases of viral transmission among 120 babies born to 116 mothers with COVID-19, even though they shared a room and the mothers nursed these babies. All neonates were tested at 24 hours of life and none were positive for COVID-19. Almost all had a repeat COVID-19 test at 5–7 days of life – and all were negative. And 88% were also tested at 14 days of life and none were positive then either. No baby had any symptoms of COVID-19. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that after months of national and international experience with newborns born to mothers who tested positive, no published report has identified an infant who has died during the initial birth hospitalization as a direct result of COVID-19 infection. Therefore, they officially now recommend that mothers with COVID-19 may room-in with their newborn infants according to usual center practice, and continue to endorse moms to breastfeed their babies, even if infants could get COVID-19 while breastfeeding. Very reassuring…
6) Two more published studies demonstrated that treatment with steroids or immune inhibitors was beneficial. The Journal of Hospital Medicine found patients with high inflammation levels treated with steroids had a 75% reduction in risk of going on mechanical ventilation or dying. And JAMA open Network showed that Interleukin 7 (IL-7) can be safely administered to critically ill patients reversing a pathologic hallmark of COVID-19 infection. They concluded that IL-7 alone or in combination with other therapies warrants serious consideration for treating COVID-19.
7) And speaking of therapy, convalescent plasma therapy is finally – possibly – going to obtain emergency authorization use FDA approval next week. While the evidence fully supporting this is still scant, positive published data are forthcoming.
8) In my experience COVID-19 has been one of the most complex viruses we have ever had to deal with, considering the many conflicting scientific reports published. So, I will conclude this update with more conflicting scientific news regarding COVID-19 in young children. JAMA Pediatrics reported on 145 patients with mild to moderate illness within 1 week of symptom onset: 46 children younger than 5 years; 51 children 5 to 17; and 48 adults aged 18 to 65 years. They showed that older children and adults had similar levels of viral nucleic acid, but the children younger than 5 years had significantly greater COVID-19 nucleic acid detected in their noses. What does this mean re transmission? Unknown, but certainly more to come…