JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In 1910 the people of Brisk in Lithuania faced a cholera epidemic and turned to their leader, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, for advice on how to cope with the epidemic and how they should behave with regard to halacha. Rav Chaim’s advice was immortalized in a newspaper article which was discovered by Rav Shimon Meller who has recently written a two-volume biography of Rav Chaim. Rav Meller showed the article to Rav Chaim’s only living grandson, Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, who was visibly moved.
The article describes how the “plague” of cholera had spread in various places over the last six weeks, but “due to the kindness of Hahsem and the efforts by members of our city it did not cause havoc here like in many other places and even though there are not a few people sick in our city, only a small proportion passed away.”
The article praises the community for establishing a 24-hour emergency service which provided immediate attention and medicine to those who fell sick. The local Bikkur Cholim society had the expertise and knowledge to provide succor and medical aid to “all corners of the city” when the hospital became overloaded with cholera sufferers.
Rav Chaim, who was known for his stringency in preserving lives, ruled that the community should have fresh Cholent made by gentiles on Shabbat rather than putting their own Cholent from before Shabbos, which he obviously felt could become contaminated overnight. He also issued declarations before the fast of 17th of Tamuz that “no person should dare fast on the fast day and no person should leave his house without eating.” Most people followed the rabbi’s ruling.
Rav Chaim also ruled prior to Tisha Be’Av that people should not fast and that those who need to should eat already “at night after Kinos”. People should not fast even if the epidemic had died down, since it could easily break out a second time.
Rav Chaim also prohibited the custom of performing a wedding for orphans in the cemetery in an attempt to stop the plague, and ruled that the couple should get married in the synagogue courtyard as is customary.