March 9, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the Rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Job spoke for all of us when he said, “You see a calamity and are afraid” (Job 6:21).

We all see a calamity unfolding before us and we are all afraid. Some call it an epidemic, others a pandemic. It is a panic-demic.

The travel industry is collapsing, schools and universities are closing, there are ghost towns everywhere, life is in lockdown.

The first instinct of some people is to find a scapegoat. Iran is characteristically blaming it on America. Westerners think Asiatics are the ones who are guilty. What ridiculous prejudices!

Those who prefer Biblical thinking recall that scriptural texts constantly link suffering with sin.

It must be God punishing a sinful generation! That was the approach of Job’s friends: “Is not your wickedness great? Are not your iniquities without end?” (Job 22:5).

That’s God’s policemen speaking – and their thinking is skewed.

Why the virus started is a complicated issue. There are many constellations behind the history of Covid-19. Even climatic factors might be involved since this is all happening in a between-seasons period. We can’t cast blame unless we have the information to back it up and even then we have to recognise that it is not a mere academic issue; real people are suffering real pain. Facile stereotypes won’t make anyone feel better.

What we need is a response.

Here are six things to do:
– The first thing can be framed in Biblical language – “venishmar’tem me’od lenafshotechem”, “Look after your life carefully” (Deut. 4:15). Follow the advice of the experts even if it means not kissing the mezuzah and not shaking hands. If you need to be quarantined, endure it stoically and keep away from crowds, not only at sport matches but maybe even in shule.

– Support and appreciate the medical profession. Not only in the medical research and development areas. They are in every sense a real line of defence against the enemies that assail every human being’s body and mind.

– Don’t put up with fake information that blames the ordinary individual or groups of them even though they have different looks and likes.

– Pray that God’s wisdom will guide those who seek ways to contain and control the transmission of the virus, and that His Providence will protect His world and its inhabitants. Psalm 91 is a good prayer to say.

– Accept a pastoral responsibility for those who are suffering, and their families.

– Mould societies in which love, loyalty, support and helpfulness will be the guiding notes, helping the world towards ethical climate change.


Q. Is it allowed to name a child after a living relative?

A. The Sephardim have no problem with this, but the Ashkenazim do.

Historically the Sephardi usage was probably the more authentic, since the Talmud reports several cases of a son bearing his father’s name, e.g. Abba the son of Abba (B’rachot 18b).

Avoiding the name of a living relative may have some folkloristic implications such as not confusing the Angel of Death who may come after one Abba and instead catch another.

Some German Jewish communities got over the problem by giving a son a second name which was the same as his father’s first name. Thus Samson Raphael Hirsch was Samson the son of Raphael, and Nathan Marcus Adler was Nathan the son of Marcus.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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