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Background

Particularly throughout this present omicron wave, people have floated the idea of having childrens' "corona parties". In such a 'party' parents invite previously uninfected children to be in close proximity with a known corona virus carrier in order to infect their child, contract the virus with the eventual goal of developing antibodies. Many people may remember having similar "chicken pox" parties when they were younger! This has changed significantly with the recent development of the Varicella vaccine which protects children against chickenpox.

The future for corona remains unclear. Pharmaceutical companies are developing more generic vaccines for corona viruses which hope to cover potential future variants as well. There is a debate surrounding the differences in efficacy of the current vaccine when comparing the different variants and how it affects different parts of the population. There is also emerging data regarding the role of natural immunity in the debate of strategy to handle the pandemic. In Israel (and other places) the vaccinated as well as the recovered (i.e. people with antibodies) receive green passes. It's hard to see where public policy will go. There are many unknowns.

Despite the unknowns, I am interested in the halachic considerations surrounding the idea of "corona parties".

Question

Are there responsa regarding the halachic acceptability of "chicken pox parties" or similar intentional efforts to pick up a contagion on one's own terms? Are there contemporary responsa specifically about the acceptability of "Corona parties"?

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    Rabbis writing tshuvot on this topic will start by asking doctors what they think. I haven't seen any serious health authority recommending these parties - thus it is fair to assume rabbanim won't recommend them either
    – mbloch
    Feb 1 at 4:13
  • Many doctors and experts didn’t recommend davening with a minyan or learning in a bais medrash, while most rabbonim allowed it.
    – Chatzkel
    Feb 2 at 1:00
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    @Chatzkel That doesn't sound accurate
    – Double AA
    Feb 2 at 14:11
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    I've edited this post a bit to focus on that which is addressable by Judaism expertise - relevant halachic literature. Evaluation and comparison of specific risks on their own merits and first principles requires medical expertise, which MY doesn't deal in. Please edit further if this version isn't close enough to your intent.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 2 at 18:29

2 Answers 2

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Regarding "corona parties", one contemporary Rabbi did indeed rule that it is forbidden to purposely get together to infect oneselves. Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer is quoted in this late 2020 article as follows:

There have been rumors of clandestine Haredi attempts to aim at herd immunity, and of young people trying to get infected to advance this. These rumors are unconfirmed — but it’s clear that some yeshiva students are discussing the possibility of intentional infection for ostensibly pragmatic reasons.

“In my rabbinic capacity I’ve received questions from bohrim over whether it would be permitted to infect themselves for all sorts of reasons,” said Pfeffer, using the word for yeshiva students. “Some said they want to go into the winter, main study time in yeshivas, without concern of coronavirus.” His response was a clear no.

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Introduction:

In the book "Headlines: Halachic Debates of Current Events" the author cites Rav Malkiel Tzvi Tannenbaum of Lomza in Divrei Malkiel 5:35

[...] We thus see that it is permissible to place oneself in a situation of possible danger, as long as there is only a remote risk. Elaboration is needed to explain the limits in this regard [...]

However, if you read the mentioned article, you'll find out that it is not that easy to define what is "a remote risk". Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 9:17) applies this to doctors, who, due to their profession, need to help people and therefore can get in a hazardous situation (p. 276).

So, to this, Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Shiurim, Ketubos 136) explains that when one is able to be careful and he is not (careful), he puts himself and his life at risk (p. 275).

Adapted from "Headlines: Halachic Debates of Current Events"


The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh, chapter 11:4) explains that it is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that might pose a danger to life:

Similarly, it is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters, as Deuteronomy 4:9 states: "Beware for yourself; and guard your soul." If a person leaves a dangerous obstacle and does not remove it, he negates the observance of a positive commandment, and violates the negative commandment: "Do not cause blood to be spilled."

So, if you are trying to get infected, for whatever the reason may be, according to Halacha, this is not allowed. The Torah tells us to "build a roof", e.g. guard your life and health, why would one breaks down the roof in order to "fall down the roof"?

The Sefer Chasidim (Siman 673) writes that if you have a skin-disease, you should not bathe with another person:

לפני עור לא תתן מכשול שלא ירחץ אדם שהוא מוכה שחין עם יהודי אחר אלא א"כ יודיענו שנאמר (ויקרא יט יח) ואהבת לרעך כמוך וכתיב (ויקרא יט טז) ולא תעמוד על דם רעך:

Answering your question

In your question, you ask:

Are there contemporary responsa specifically about the acceptability of "Corona parties"?

There is a great work called "Tzurba M’Rabanan, Special volume: Halachot of the COVID-19 Era" (2020) by Rav Benzion Algazi, see also the website. On page 330 they write:

Since it is known clearly that it harms others, it is obvious that not only is it an absolute prohibition [to be negligent about it] but the rules of damages also apply to it, like all cases of damaging another’s property.

On DinOnline the following story can be found from Rabbi Chaim Palagi:

Rabbi Chaim Palagi (Nishmas Kol Chai, volume 2, Choshen Mishpat chapter 69) was asked by a community regarding a physician who regularly treated infectious patients. The town’s residents were afraid to be infected by him. The community wanted to prevent the doctor from coming to shul to pray with them and asked Rabbi Chayim if it was permissible to do so. Rabbi Chaim instructed that if the doctor wished to pray he must construct barriers around his seat to separate him from his neighbors; he must enter the shul first and leave last (similar to the rules of a tzora’as patient, Negaim, chapter 13:12)

Reference List

Lichtenstein, D. (2017). Headlines 2: Halachic Debates of Current Events. Menucha Publisher.

Algazi, B., & E. (2020). Tzurba M’Rabanan: Special Volume: Halachot of the COVID-19 Era. Mizrachi Press. https://web.colby.edu/coronaguidance/files/2021/11/Tzurba-Halachot-of-the-COVID-19-Era.pdf

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