How Halacha Changes: The COVID Cases

COVID acts as a pressure cooker. Social changes that typically unfold over decades have been compressed into just a few weeks’ time. The impact on halakhah has been no exception, as COVID has wrought changes to the rhythm of synagogue life, prayer, and mikvah, as well as holiday practices ranging from Purim and Passover in the early months, right through the High Holidays. These responses offer a series of test cases to study when and how halakhah responds to social pressure and change. The session will examine different halakhic responses to the COVID crises, that range from understanding that halakhah requires more cautious behavior than mandated by state law, to denying that any behavioral modifications are required. Finally, we discuss what these decisions may foretell about halakhic receptivity to state authority and change wrought by other social factors, and mine the COVID rulings to assess how halakhic authority is created, disseminated and enforced across a range of observant communities.

Covid Commentary, Text Study


Chaim Saiman

Villanova University

Professor of law