Why Pandemics Happen to Good People

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The question of theodicy, of how or why a just God allows evil in the world, has occupied thinkers for millennia. And as Eliezer Berkowitz noted in his classic work on the subject Faith after the Holocaust, the death of one innocent is as theologically unjustifiable as are the deaths of six million.[1] The Bible understood this too. It only takes one Job to undermine the claim that God is just. But somehow, large numbers of deaths that occur over a very short span of time from natural disasters make the question all the more pressing. It took the deaths of thousands in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 for leading European intellectuals like Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, and Adam Smith to revisit the question of how a decent deity could allow such devastation. “In the five years following the disaster,” wrote the historian Mark Molesky in his popular history of the earthquake, “hundreds of books, articles, letters, treatises, poems, reviews, sermons, and scientific tracts on the subject were published across the continent…Was God solely to blame or had nature or a combination of natural forces played the leading role? And perhaps more importantly: how could a just and all-powerful God have sanctioned the deaths of so many innocent people? The ensuing debate was arguably the most significant of the European Enlightenment.”[2] But these thinkers ignored the same question that should have been raised by walking the streets of Paris, Königsberg, or Edinburgh, where poverty, disease, and the suffering of innocents were on display. In our time, it is the sheer magnitude of deaths from COVID-19 that raised the question of theodicy once again, for Jews across the spectrum of belief and practice.

There have, of course, been previous modern attempts to address the theological questions raised by a sudden epidemic. Chief among these was the terrible AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. Rabbi J. David Bleich, a Professor of Jewish Law and Ethics at Yeshiva University in New York, wrote then that “the question of punishment is one that should not arise with regard to our relationship vis-à-vis individuals who engage in deviant sexual behavior or, for that manner, with regard to our relationship vis à-vis any person who violates any of the commandments of the Torah.”[3] While unequivocally condemning homosexuality as a behavior “that cannot be accepted with equanimity,” Rabbi Bleich wrote that there are also natural consequences of our actions, and that these consequences do not require any theological explanation:

Surely, if a person puts his hand into a fire he should not expect God to work a miracle so that the hand will not be burned. One would have to be an extraordinary individual to merit divine intervention in natural processes in order to escape the necessary effect of a physical cause. This consideration applies to AIDS as well. Exposure to contagion, whether through transfusion or contaminated blood or sexual intercourse with an infected person, is no different from exposure to extreme heat or cold in a sense that the resultant disease is the product of man’s own folly or negligence.[4]

But “even the laws of nature” he continued, “are the product of divine authorship… Although, for the individual victim, AIDS maladies may be natural rather than providential, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon society to examine the present-day AIDS epidemic in order to determine what can be learned from it. From a global perspective, perhaps mankind is being taught a lesson.” Rabbi Bleich might have only suggested it, but the implication is unavoidable: AIDS is God’s way of punishing humanity for homosexual behavior.

Rabbi Bleich also recognized that there were many AIDS victims who had not caught the disease from an act that was “a serious transgression of divine law.”[5] Some were health care providers “who have led an exemplary lifestyle, individuals who have never had contact with controlled substances or engaged in deviant sexual behavior, but who have unfortunately contracted this disease as a result of a needle prick, scalpel wound or exposure of skin lesions to infected body fluids.” How might their suffering be understood? “A response based upon the notion that AIDS victims are simply suffering the just results of their immoral actions,” Rabbi Bleich concluded “is entirely inappropriate and, in many cases, is based on a fundamental error.” The error is not articulated, but we are to suppose it is that of assuming that there is a correlation between illness and sin.

Within the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism there was early support for the victims of the HIV pandemic. Both movements passed resolutions to support patients with disease, and called on their congregants to provide the same comfort and care that they would for any ill person.[6] What was missing in these important declarations was any attempt at a theology of the pandemic, an answer to the question of why the benevolent God of Judaism would allow this to happen.

While still in the midst of the COVID pandemic, J. David Bleich wrote about the ways in which Jewish law and custom had been challenged by the disease, and the various approaches taken by rabbinic authorities to solve practical questions. And yet in his lengthy two-part survey of recent halakhic literature, and in stark contrast to his writing in the same journal about the AIDS pandemic thirty years earlier, he did not address any aspect of theodicy. The closest he came was in his opening paragraph. “The untimely loss of rabbinic scholars, religious mentors, communal figures, family members, colleagues and neighbors has been devastatingly painful,” he wrote.[7] And that was it. In over seventy pages of analysis, not a word of theology. There was no analysis of why the good die young, or how a just and benevolent God could allow such devastation. Neither was there anything that addressed this issue on the websites of the Union for Reform Judaism or The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. There were resources of course; “How to Stream Services: A Guide for Jewish Communities,” for example, and there were lots of prayers in English to say, such as the Prayer for Healing in the Era of Coronavirus or A Prayer for Medical Scientists.[8] But the Union for Reform Judaism’s Ask BIG Questions conversation guides did not update an online module titled How do you think about God? It made no mention of the pandemic or the questions that arise when the innocent suffer.[9]

The theological questions raised by a pandemic was addressed early in 2021 in a book of essays by academic and rabbinic contributors edited by Rabbi Erin Leib Smokler of Yeshivat Maharat in New York.[10] Perhaps the most striking feature of this book is that much of it focuses on the question of theodicy, or as Smokler called it, the “theological vertigo” in proximity to the pandemic. It is important therefore to understand how this collection of English essays addressed the thorny question of plague theodicy.

The Talmud in Bava Kamma that deals with behavior during a pandemic describes where to walk and when to remain indoors. Nowhere in the few brief sentences on the matter is there a discussion of the cause of pandemics, or a suggestion that they are a result of sin.[11] This lacuna was the focus of the essay by Rabbi Shaul Magid, a professor of Jewish studies who received several orthodox rabbinic ordinations, although he has since moved away from these roots towards a more egalitarian practice of Judaism. Magid noted that this passage “resists the notion of collapsing plagues into covenantal categories, whereby we can see them as acts of divine intervention to punish evildoers, Jews or non-Jews. Rather…plagues seem to be arbitrary occurrences.” Magid argues that plagues and pandemics are cases of what he calls a “covenantal exception.” This exception is a crucial theological category, for “without the notion of the arbitrary as extra-covenantal, Judaism becomes vulnerable to making all disasters, even those that equally affect non-Jews, the fault of the Jews, which could easily, and understandably, evoke negative reactions. Plague as the exception thus enables Jews to understand natural disasters outside the paradigm of reward and punishment.”[12] To support this suggestion, Magid cites a talmudic passage which serves as an introduction of sorts to the passage in Bava Kamma. In it, the Angel of Death was given permission to kill “Miriam the braider of women’s hair” but instead killed “Miriam the raiser of babies.” Rav Yosef, a Babylonian sage who died in 323 C.E., observes that pandemics do not distinguish between sinners and saints and developed it into a theological tenet: “Once permission is given to the Destroyer to kill, he does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.”[13] Pandemic deaths are arbitrary. Magid notes that unlike the response to famine which includes penance, personal reflection is not mentioned in the Talmud as a reaction to pandemic deaths. The Talmud could have offered “a predictable response that would include both physical avoidance and acts geared towards nullification.”[14] But it was silent.

Magid’s theory of covenantal exception might illuminate the passage in Bava Kamma, but it does not explain numerous other Talmudic references which teach that pandemics are the consequence of community sin or personal religious laxity.[15] Neither does it explain the many rabbis who, over the fifteen hundred years since the closing of the Talmud, have continued to emphasize the same message: pandemics are caused by sin and may be extinguished by repentance.[16] There was no covenantal exception when the Torah described the deaths of twenty-four thousand people in a plague that punished immorality.[17] There was no covenantal exception in the Mishnah when it taught that plagues were the result of sins punishable by death.[18] And there was no covenantal exception made for the epidemic waves of diphtheria, called askara in the Talmud, that was described as the most painful of all deaths and was the punishment for eating foods that are not kosher and for speaking ill of others.[19]

Magid’s approach is lacking because it does not account for these other cases. However, it uncovers a much larger theme. There has never been a single Jewish response to the problem of theodicy. In some locales, in some books and in some eras, a pandemic was understood to be divine retribution for religious offenses of one sort or another. And in other locales, eras, and books, pandemics were understood to be natural disasters that killed those who were entirely innocent of sin. Magid’s theory of covenantal exception can only explain the latter, and even then, it leaves unanswered the question of why pandemics kill the just and the innocent in a world that is supposed to exist under the watchful protection of a benevolent God.

Writing in the same volume as Shaul Magid, David Zvi Kalman of the Hartman Institute of North America pointed out that “natural disaster theologies,” in his terms, are at best feeble and at worst deadly. Most moderns will find them “ideologically unwanted and regarded with suspicion.” Instead, he suggests that we should follow the advice of the late British Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, who, responding to the terrible AIDS epidemic of the 1990s wrote that “we should beware of identifying specific forms of grief, suffering, or anxiety with specific moral or any other shortcomings.”[20] To claim that innocents are killed because of the sins of another person, Kalman writes, “is not just impolite, but a diminishment of the deceased’s value as a human being.”[21] Kalman further suggests that human beings have taken over much of the responsibility for natural disasters that Judaism once assigned to God. Where once God was responsible for famines, we now understand that many of these are clearly the fault of poor public policy. And if earthquakes are not caused by humans, we may bear responsibility for some of their devastation by failing to require earthquake-proof buildings or tsunami warning systems. The end result is that natural disasters entangle divine and human responsibility, and the questions raised by theodicy now demand that we ask, “why does God and why do humans allow the good to die?”

Indeed, as we understand more and more about natural disasters, the role of God seems to be rapidly shrinking. For example, we once thought that God brings rain; we now understand that it is low pressure barometric systems whose origins lie in the irregular way in which the sun heats the surface of the earth. The “God of the Gaps” has fewer and fewer scientific spaces in which his intervention is required.[22] But while this acknowledgement of pandemics as a natural and, to a large degree, understandable feature of the world might leave less of a role for God, it does not get him off the hook for the damage wrought and the innocents killed by them. It just pushes the question back one level. We no longer ask why God allows a pandemic to occur; instead, the question becomes “why did God create the kind of world in which pandemics occur and the innocent are killed?” To paraphrase Magid, if God was not a party to the pandemic, how can the covenant survive? And if God was a party to the pandemic, what kind of God can survive?[23]

Two other essays on the theology of pandemics appeared in 2021 in a new journal called Panim. One was written by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a noted scholar who is now affiliated with the Hadar Institute in New York.[24] He began with a discussion of what he believed are two errors that are made when discussing a theology of pandemics. The first is “the claim that the pandemic is God’s punishment to all of us.” Those who suggest this are, in his estimation, “religiously…in a very wrong place.” Rabbi Greenberg emphasized that God created a natural order, and that once created, “it is not subject to manipulation and tricks.” In doing so, he echoes the sentiments of Rav Yosef in the Talmud that we cited earlier; “once permission is given to the Destroyer to kill, he does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.” The second error is a consequence of the natural origins of the pandemic. It is to assume that “because I’m devout, the virus can’t hurt me,” which is nothing other than magical thinking. The correct theological response is a call to action, first by “wearing masks, washing hands, and participating in other behaviors to avoid exposure.” He writes:

This is our way of fighting sickness and fighting on God’s side to fill God’s world with life, but that is not enough by itself. One must turn to the other aspect to help the poor, to look after the elderly, to stay in touch with the isolated, to make a phone call, to run errands for those in need. If we do all this together, we have the power to roll it back, to minimize the harm. And we have seen exactly that in the last few months. Countries that were well-led and carried this out were able to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. And for countries that were poorly led, made the wrong choices, and did not choose life, the spread of the pandemic has been devastating.

But we should be clear that this is not a theological response at all; it does not address the question of theodicy. It may leave us looking after one another—surely a wonderful state of affairs—but still wondering where God went.

A second essay in the same journal by Shlomo Zuckier (which also appeared on the Lehrhaus) is a review of some theological positions regarding the content of prayer during COVID.[25] It focuses on the position of Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, who is a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Gush Etzion in Israel. In an essay that was first written in Hebrew for his students in March 2020, Rabbi Lichtenstein distinguished between two kinds of prayer: prayer from a place of normalcy, and prayer from a place of crisis.[26] Any attempt to maintain a sense of Jewish life as normal during COVID was profoundly misguided: “Familiar routine is a comfort; but when the world order has turned upside down, the objective should not be to seek calm or comfort, but rather to face reality, and understand that our relationship with the world around us has shifted.” As a consequence of this new relationship, Rabbi Lichtenstein called for the recitation of Tahanun during the month of Nissan, even though the prayer, which is a call to God for help during dark and depressing times, is usually omitted for that entire and usually happy month. “The real reason is that there is a compelling religious and emotional need to do so,” he wrote. “If in times like this we don’t cry out to the KBH [Kadosh Barukh Hu, the Holy One, Blessed Be He], then when should we do so?” Rabbi Lichtenstein was not addressing the larger question of how a just God could allow such natural injustice. Instead, he was presenting an argument for the recitation of a specific prayer. In doing so, he was opposed by others (including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Zuckier explains), who ruled that it was more important to maintain a sense of normalcy. As a result, the standard rules remained in place and Tahanun should be skipped. For some, questions about which prayers to recite during COVID may serve as a helpful mechanism to live amidst a pandemic that has now killed upwards of five million people worldwide. But for many others, individuals and communities who are grappling with the religious vertigo that the pandemic has caused, there are no answers here. Indeed, the focus on a debate over Tahanun might only add to their frustration as they seek to answer the question of why bad things happen to good people in a pandemic.

None of these theological questions appear in another English language response to the COVID pandemic, printed by the ArtScroll Mesorah series. At the end of the fifth volume of his Living Emunah series, Rabbi David Ashear included a section called “Chizuk for the Challenging Covid-19 Crisis,” which began with a short essay by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Rabbi Scherman holds a special place within this publishing house because he served as the general editor of their popular English translation of the Talmud, as well as the Humash and the Siddur. There is no person alive, the rabbi wrote, “who could deny that …man is not in charge of the universe.” It was an unusual opening observation, since it is not clear who precisely was making the claim that “man” was indeed “in charge of the universe.” In any event, Rabbi Scherman suggested that God was sending a message to the modern world: “Do you, arrogant man, really think that you have mastered the universe and that there is no room for Me in your world? I will send you a microscopic virus to infect you with humility! Will you hear My message?”[27]

Rabbi Scherman suggested that the Jewish community was being taught to focus: “Schools and shuls have been closed, and personal contact has been limited by ‘social distancing.’ It may be that we are being shown that, as a community, we have not shown sufficient respect for shuls and for the outstanding privilege of communal tefilah.” This is an example of Jewish religious exceptionalism, where the suggestion is that a worldwide pandemic was part of a divine plan to have Jews show more appreciation for their synagogues. This theme was repeated by Rabbi Ashear, who wrote that the tiny COVID virus had taught a lesson to “China, which supplies the world with inexpensive goods, and Italy, which supplies the world with luxurious merchandise. [Both are] in disarray from this little creation of Hashem.”[28] “Corona,” noted Ashear, can be spelled phonetically in Hebrew as qerah-na meaning “please call out to me.” He called for introspection and submission to the divine plan:

Hashem has brought the entire world to its knees. Our security cannot protect us. Our businesses and finances cannot protect us. With all the advanced technology in the world of 2020, nobody can figure out how to cure it. Only the healthy body created by Hashem has the ability to fight it off, with Hashem’s help. The world around us is being shut down. Will we finally come to the realization that nobody and nothing can help us other than Avinu shebashamayim.[29]

There was only a single theological message that Rabbi Ashear gleaned from the COVID pandemic, and it was to place more trust in God. There was no grappling with the death of the innocent and the randomness of nature. In fact, there appears to be no place for such thought at all. “The same way Hashem tells each blade of grass to grow and calls out to each star by name, He controls every last protein of this virus,” he writes, “and, therefore, we must feel calm and at ease knowing we are in His hands.”[30]

Among the religious Hebrew literature that was published in response to the COVID pandemic there has also been no theological attempt to grapple with the randomness of the deaths, to explain how one might still pray to a God who appears so indifferent to the plight of humanity. Instead, this pandemic was used as pandemics have been in the past: to shore up religious laxity and reaffirm a Jewish way of life. Rabbi David Cohen, who heads the famous Hevron Yeshiva, wrote that the pandemic should trigger self-reflection and introspection. It taught that “there is divine providence and that human actions are futile.”[31] He suggested paying scrupulous attention to reciting one-hundred blessings each day and reciting the shema during morning and evening prayers with extra attention and punctiliousness. The message was repeated by another Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Feinstein. “The reason for this world event, may God protect us, is only for the Jewish people…That they may think about their actions and learn their lesson. So that they should fear and repent…In each of us there should be an arousal to repent, for this is why it has happened, and for no other reason…something like this must lead to fear and trembling before God; look what God has done to his world! It is so that you will see and learn the lesson. Perhaps you will repent. I am not here just addressing you. I am speaking to myself. Perhaps it will bring me [to repent]…”[32]

As a final example we will consider a book published in 2021 by Rabbi Nahman Steinmetz, who lives in Borough Park, New York. He is a dayan of the Skver Hasidim, named after the Ukrainian city of Skvyra from where the first leader of the sect originated. Like other works of the genre, his book addresses the many real-life questions of Jewish practice that arose because of the COVID pandemic. What is important for our purposes is his lengthy essay at the start of the book titled “Save Us on the Day That We Call.”[33] It contains fourteen sections, runs over sixty pages, and astonishingly contains not a single reference to Rabbi Yosef’s talmudic statement that “once permission is given to the Destroyer to kill, he does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.” Instead, it focuses on strengthening faith by understanding how the pandemic demonstrates God’s dominion over the earth:

Suddenly and all at once God sent a tiny thing, smaller than five-hundred nanometers (let us note in order to appreciate this, that there are 1,000,000 nanometers in a millimeter), and it has managed to stop the world and to disrupt daily life to a degree that we could not imagine possible. There is no one to save the people. Even the greatest physicians have acknowledged God and declared his kingship saying “it is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:15). We can now clearly see that there is a ruler over all of creation, and only he is all powerful. The greatest technology is of no help at all…clearly demonstrating that “Unto God belongs kingship, and he rules all the nations” (Psalm 22:29).

The COVID pandemic raised no theological questions for Rabbi Steinmetz. Instead, it provided an opportunity to remind his congregants to pray and say the daily blessings with greater intention.[34] The results are apparently guaranteed: “If we stir ourselves to bless God and to thank him daily for all the good that he has provided for us, then not only…will we not die prematurely, heaven forbid, but we will be granted a lengthy life.”[35] This book is clearly written for the ultra-orthodox Hasidim of Skver and suggests that no one is grappling with the question of the seeming injustice of the world. Perhaps though, Rabbi Steinmetz and others of this genre are more consistent than those for whom the pandemic raised questions of theodicy. As we noted, the death of even a single innocent should raise the same profound question of God’s justice as would the deaths of many millions in a pandemic. The scale of the injustice does not make it harder to address. Since the ultra-Orthodox are at peace with the challenge of theodicy, it is not raised by those who lead them, even though the Talmud itself thought that the question was worth asking.

Questions remain (of course they do) about how a just and benevolent God could allow the devastation we have seen from COVID—but only for an unlucky few. The rest of us are either at peace with the question of theodicy or have never thought about it in the first place. Perhaps it is the under-examined life that makes living easier.[36]

Excerpted from The Eleventh Plague; Jews and Pandemics from the Bible to COVID-19, by Jeremy Brown. To be published by Oxford University Press in the Fall of 2022.

[1] Eliezer Berkowitz, Faith after the Holocaust (New York: Ktav, 1973).
[2] Mark Molesky, This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 322.
[3] J. David Bleich, “AIDS: A Jewish Perspective,” Tradition 26.3 (Spring 1992): 49-80.
[4] Ibid., 55.
[5] Rabbi Bleich’s language, now some thirty years old, might seem anachronistic, but in making this judgment, Rabbi Bleich was not an outlier. About 43% of the Americans surveyed in a 1987 Gallup poll thought that AIDS was a “divine punishment for moral decline.” (“Gallup Poll Shows Rise in Compassion for Victims of AIDS,” The New York Times, Nov 22, 1987 Section 1, 48.)
[6] For details see Gregg Drinkwater, “AIDS Was Our Earthquake: American Jewish Responses to the AIDS Crisis, 1985–92,” Jewish Social Studies 26 (2020): 122-42.
[7] J. David Bleich, “Survey of Recent Halakhic Literature Coronavirus Queries (Part 1),” Tradition 52.4 (Fall 2020): 89-125, and “Survey of Recent Halakhic Literature Coronavirus Queries (Part 2),” Tradition 53.1 (Winter 2021): 97-132. Of course, it could be claimed that this was not the forum for Bleich to discuss theology. His long running articles in Tradition survey halakhic literature, that is, the literature of Jewish law, and not hashkafic literature, the literature of Jewish thought. But had Rabbi Bleich felt the need, he could have taken the opportunity to revisit the question of theodicy in the same manner that he had during the HIV pandemic.
[8] See Liturgy for Concerns Regarding the Coronavirus, produced by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Of course individual rabbis may have addressed the question of God’s justice in their on-line and in-person sermons.
[9] The series is co-created by URJ and Hillel International.
[10] Torah in a Time of Plague: Historical and Contemporary Jewish Responses, ed. Erin Leib Smokler (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2021).
[11] B. Bava Kamma 60b.
[12] Shaul Magid, “Covid-19 and the Theological Challenge of the Arbitrary,” in Torah in a Time of Plague, 12.
[13] B. Bava Kamma 60a.
[14] Magid, “The Theological Challenge,” 16.
[15] And there were other Talmudic sages who remained convinced that there could be no innocent victims before God. According to Rabbi Hanina (B. Hullin 7b) “a person injures his finger on earth only if they declare about him on high that he should be injured.”
[16] See for example Eliyahu Hacohen Haitamri, Shevet Musar [The Rod of Ethics] (Constantinople: Yonah ben Yaakov Mazalazitz, 1712) (Hebrew), 121a, (chapter 36, section 12) where the author writes that a shohet who uses a knife with a blemish will die in a plague. Rabbi Hayyim Palagi (1788-1868) claimed that pandemics were the result of immorality; see Hayyim Palagi, Hukkei Hayyim [Statutes of Life], 2 vols., vol. 2 (Izmir: Hayyim Abraham di Shigora, 1891) (Hebrew), 145b. For Rabbi Hayyim Medini (1834-1904) the sin that brought about a pandemic was that of a married woman not properly covering her hair. See Hayyim Hezekiah Medini, Sedei Hemed Asefat Dinim [Pleasant Fields], vol. Ma’arehet me’ot daled ad zayin (Warsaw: Yosef Zevi Lev, 1903) (Hebrew), 3b (6). Rabbi Pinhas Mikaritz (1726-1791), who was a student of the Baal Shem Tov, believed that pandemics were caused by the sin of lying (Pinhas Shapira Mikaritz, Imrei Pinhas Hashalem [The Complete Teachings of Pinhas] (Bnei Berak: Yehezkel Shraga Frankel, 2003) (Hebrew), 449. There are many more examples of this phenomenon.
[17] Numbers 25:8.
[18] Avot 5:8, 9.
[19] B. Shabbat 33b.
[20] David Zvi Kalman, “The Natural Disaster Theology Dilemma,” in Torah in a Time of Plague, 57.
[21] Ibid., 53.
[22] The “God of the Gaps,” in which God is invoked to explain that which science had not yet been able to, seems to have been first invoked by Nietzsche (1844-1900): “[I]nto every gap they put their delusion, their stopgap, which they called God”; Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (London: Penguin, 1988). But to use God to explain that which our incomplete knowledge cannot is doomed to give the divine an ever-shrinking place. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was murdered by the Nazis in 1945 understood this very well. “For the frontiers of knowledge are inevitably being pushed back further and further,” he wrote in his Letters from Prison, “which means that you only think of God as a stop-gap. He also is being pushed back further and further, and is in more or less continuous retreat. We should find God in what we do know, not in what we don’t know. God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved. See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 311.
[23] Magid, “The Theological Challenge,” 23.
[24] Yitz Greenberg, “Theological Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Panim 1 (September 2021): 1-6.
[25] Shlomo Zuckier, “The Pandemic Theology Dilemma: Preserve Normalcy or Embrace Crisis?” ibid.: 7-19; also published at the Lehrhaus.
[26] Mosheh Lichtenstein, “A Letter About Covid,” the Lehrhaus, May 10, 2021.
[27] David Ashear, Living Emunah: Achieving a Life of Serenity Through Faith, Vol. 5 (Rathway, New Jersey: Mesorah Publications, 2020), 283-285.
[28] Ibid., 293.
[29] Ibid., 288.
[30] Ibid., 299-300. Later he writes, “a person’s allotted years are calculated by Him down to the last second…Whatever happened was exactly what was supposed to happen” (307).
[31] See his essay titled “Plague: the removal of the influence of the Blessed Creator” in Havieni Hedrov, ed. Natan Feldman (Jerusalem: Tzuf, 2020) (Hebrew), 548-550. The fourteenth century code of Jewish law known as the Arba Turim (The Four Rows) explained that during the reign of King David there was a plague that was killing one-hundred people per day. It only ended when the rabbis ruled that a person should say one-hundred blessings each day. See Tur, Orah Hayyim 46.
[32] Feldman, Havieni Hedrov 585.
[33] Nahman Steinmetz. Sefer Ateret Nevonim [Crown of The Wise] (Brooklyn, New York: n.p., 2021) (Hebrew), 9-74. In his introduction (page 5) the author explains that the title is a play on words, referencing the fact that corona means a crown.
[34] Ibid., 19.
[35] Ibid., 22.
[36] See David Shatz, Jewish Thought in Dialogue (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009), 387-412.

Jeremy Brown is the author of New Heavens and a New Earth; The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought (OUP 2013) and Influenza; The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History (Simon and Schuster 2018). He writes on science and medicine in the Talmud at and works at the National Institutes of Health.