# Does the COVID19 epidemic in NYC qualify as “Dever B'ir - a Plague in the City”?

Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 576) defines dever r"l or pestilence as an epidemic killing 3 people in 3 days (not 3 people in 4 days; not 3 people in 2 days) for a city of 500 working age men. How is this calculated practically? Does New York City (or other affected areas, Italy, Bnei Brak, etc.) meet these parameters?

• If someone can word my question better feel free – Naftali Tzvi Apr 6 '20 at 2:21
• Can you add more detail to this question so that it can have an objective answer? Are you asking about today? Last month? In a year from now? Ever? – Alex Apr 6 '20 at 3:29
• Does this answer your question? Do communities set public fast days for hurricanes or other natural disasters? – Heshy Apr 6 '20 at 10:53
• @Heshy I would not consider this an answer to the question. That is a question about community fasting nowadays for a natural disaster. This is a question about the definition of dever. The implication would be is coronavirus considered dever. – sabbahillel Apr 6 '20 at 13:03

The 3 people gets scaled up by the size of the working-age population, as Shulchan Aruch there (ultimately from the Gemara, Taanis 21a) says.

So let's take New York City as an example. The figures at https://www.baruch.cuny.edu/nycdata/population-geography/pop-demography.htm (for 2016) give a total male population a little above 4 million. Let's suppose that the working-age male population is defined as between ages 15 and 64; then that yields about 2.8 million. Let's round it down to 2 million. So that would mean that there would have to be 4,000 dead of COVID-19, for each of 3 days in succession, for it to be considered dever (2,000,000 ÷ 500). Boruch Hashem, things aren't anywhere near that bad.

Conceivably, I suppose, there might be smaller towns in Italy or China or wherever that are hard-hit enough for it to count as dever, but in the larger cities, probably not.

• I think it should be 4,000 per day. Other considerations- NYC all one Ir? Do we count non Jewish population? (Likely yes, since we fast for a plague among non Jews as well (Shulchan Aruch there)) – Naftali Tzvi Apr 6 '20 at 17:07
• @NaftaliTzvi Thanks for correcting my misunderstanding of the halachah. About your other two questions - don't know, though likely yes to both (on your third one, for the consideration you mentioned; on the second, because they are after all one big economic zone, and people regularly travel between them for work and other purposes). – Meir Apr 6 '20 at 17:51
• @Meir The Shulchan Aruch discusses a case where there is a plague in a place with frequent travel to the city. That is cause for a fast in the city but I don't think it says the populations are counted together. – Naftali Tzvi Apr 6 '20 at 22:48
• @NaftaliTzvi Granted. But there it mentions שיירות הולכות, that the two areas are connected just by caravan travel, which involves just a few individuals. Arguably, when you have hundreds of thousands or millions of people traveling between different parts of the city, then that would be something else altogether. It is true, though, that for purposes of gittin each borough is counted as a separate city (though there that can be attributed to the fact that each one has its own postal designation and block of zip codes), so you're right, maybe that would be the case here too. – Meir Apr 7 '20 at 3:23
• I agree that NYC is possibly more than "shayarot" but to my understanding just a few individuals would not satisfy shayarot metzuyot as commonly used in Talmud. It refers to a (relatively) high volume of travel. – Naftali Tzvi Apr 7 '20 at 3:28

Because Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 576) defines dever r"l or pestilence as an epidemic killing 3 people in 3 days (not 3 people in 4 days; not 3 people in 2 days) for a city of 500 working age men. New York City (or other affected areas, Italy, Bnei Brak, etc.) meet these parameters.

However, not sure if the Gemara meant "a city of 500 working age men" to mean, that they're currently working during the so called "dever", or that the city contains 500 working age men literally.

• See the other answer; you missed a major point in that Shulchan Aruch. – DonielF Apr 6 '20 at 16:31
• @DonielF which was? – Moshe Apr 7 '20 at 7:33
• It’s scaled up by how big the city is. Three per three days only holds for a city with 500 in the working class. In a city of 2 million working citizens like NYC (grossly underestimated by the other answer on purpose), one per day is scaled up to 4,000 per day, which BH is not the case. – DonielF Apr 7 '20 at 15:55