Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s pesak regarding the cholera epidemic of 5591

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    Avi K

    “I’ve repeatedly issued warnings that one’s behavior must be in accordance with the judgment of the doctors and not violate their instructions”

    He also limited gatherings to fifteen people, shorted tefillot and even supported stationing police officers to enforce the regulations.


    Avi, what’s your source for your last paragraph?

    Reb Eliezer

    There is an interesting Biur Halacha in Hilchas Tisha Beov pertaining to this discussion that needs some explanation:

    ביאור הלכה סימן תקנד סעיף ו
    * דבמקום חולי וכו’ – עיין בספר פתחי עולם דבמקום שאין המחלה של חלערי”א חזקה ח”ו יאכל פחות מככותבת בכדי אכילת פרס וכן בשתיה כמ”ש השיעורי’ בשו”ע סימן תרי”ח (כך יש להורות לשואל בט”ב שבזה לא נעקר התענית לגמרי ורחמנא ליבא בעי) ומי שירצה להתענות במקום שאין המחלה בזעם ח”ו יש ליועצו ולהזהירו שלא ילך מפתח ביתו כל היום ולהכריחו כשיצא ישא סביב לחוטמו ופיו חתיכה קאמפע”ר ומעט עשב מיאט”ע עכ”ל:

    Tisha Beov there is no halacha of eating less than the shiur. They all explain (Shevet Halevi and Tzitz Eliezer) that this is talking about cholera and about people who are not sick but there is a danger that they can become sick were allowed also to eat on Tisha Beov less than the shiur. Those that were sick certainly can eat normally.


    Joseph, the letter is printed in Igeres Sofrim #29. R Akiva Eger was asked his opinion about tefila betzibur during a cholera epidemic. I don’t know where Avi K got “shorted tefilot” from; if he meant “shorter” then on the contrary the letter recommends *longer* tefilos, because he suggests some *additions* to the regular tefilos. But he says minyanim (in that shul) should be limited to 15 men at a time, davening in shifts, each man should be assigned to a minyan and told what time to come, and the government should be asked to station a policeman outside the shul to enforce the 15-man cap. If the government is reluctant to send a policeman they should say that R Akiva requested it, and he is sure that his name will do the trick.

    He also gives other advice, including going out for walks in the fresh air, keeping rooms ventilated, etc.

    I *assume* (but this is only an assumption) that the 15-man limit was based on his personal knowledge of the size of that shul, and that in a bigger venue he might have prescribed a higher cap. My own opinion about the current situation is that shuls should remain open with strict caps on capacity (I would hope there is no need for a policeman), people should sit apart from each other and not walk about, touch points should be disinfected several times a day, and of course anyone who is particularly vulnerable should not be going *anywhere* including shul.


    Cholera is caused by polluted water (usually due to human waste getting into the water supply). It also results in people dying in large numbers. It turns out that most of the doctors’ advice at the time was totally wrong.

    Covid 19 is an infection that spreads between people. Most people have a minor “cold”. It rarely causes death, and is “pikuach nefesh” only for those with serious medical problems to begin with.


    I am looking at the letter now, and will summarize it.

    First, it’s dated 2 Nitzavim 5591, and addressed to Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher, the rav of Pleshen, where the epidemic was happening.

    Tefila betzibur should be done in shifts of approximately 15 men, starting at daybreak, and each person should be told what time to come. The same for mincha.

    After davening, both morning and night, they should say a few chapters of tehilim, and then Kel Rachum Sh’mecha, Aneinu, Mi She’ana, and the Yehi Ratzon after tehillim, and also pray for the king, his family and ministers, and all the country’s residents. Also at each tefila, morning and night, after Parshas Hatamid the whole Ketores should be said betzibur, and then the Ribon that is printed in the Maamodos for Sunday after the Ketores.

    To enforce the 15-man cap ask the police to station a guard. Ask the magistrate and tell him I said so, and if he refuses then write to the government here (in Posen) and you will certainly succeed if you use my name and tell them I gave you all this advice, including to say tehilim and pray for the king.

    Also, collect 6 Polish groszy (known in Hebrew as “gedolim”, because of their size) per person, including unborn babies, and make a Pidyon Nefesh with the money, and send some of it to me so I can also make a Pidyon Nefesh for you, and then distribute the money to the poor.

    Beware of the cold, each person should wear a flannel cloth over the abdomen. Don’t eat bad things, especially cucumbers. Reduce consumption of fruit, fish, and beer. Don’t eat to satiety, and try to eat many small meals. Be careful with hygiene, don’t let any filth lie around the house, change into clean clothes several times a week. Don’t be depressed, don’t go for walks at night, go out for a walk in the fields on sunny afternoons. Open the windows every morning to air out the rooms. Don’t go out with an empty stomach. Eat a few mustard seeds on an empty stomach. Wash your face and hands every morning with oak bark and water. Clean rooms a few times with strong vinegar mixed with rose water (presumably for the smell).

    meir G

    context! the teshuva about cholera was after 15% of pozna died no comparison by a long shot to our situation . the medical knowledge than and their level of communication was primitive . to a yid from that times our world is totally unrecognizable and so the conclusions.


    Just to clarify what Akuperma said, “dying in large numbers” means MILLIONS of people dying.

    Even if the doctors’ advice is wrong, it does not matter. We have an obligation to make hishtadlus. The way we are required to make hishtadlus is by listening to the best medical advice available to us.

    Rarely causes death? In Italy, they are rationing ventilators. Anyone over the age of 60 can not get a ventilator. Anyone over the age of 80 can not get medical treatment at all. Over age 80 they send you home to die. We are trying to avoid a similar situation in New York. Please be part of the solution and not part of the problem.


    Akuperma is right, of course. Inversely to our yeridos hadoros, the scientific world has improved over time. That’s why the rabbonim in those days knew to follow doctors’ advice even then. Now that science has advanced tremendously, the call should be even easier. But, yeridos hadoros …

    Avi K

    Akuperma, the carrier is a potential murderer. Even if he only causes another become ill he has also done an major aveira if it was through his negligence – and remember adam muad l’olam.

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