Other Side of the Bench by David Seidemann


When I was growing up, being sick had certain perks in my childhood home. We didn’t have to go to school, we got to sleep in our parents’ room with those beautiful purple sheets, meals were served in bed on a silver tray, and often Dad would bring a little present home with him at the end of the day.

While the reward system was enticing enough to encourage its abuse, my seven siblings and I rarely, if ever, called in sick unless we really were sick. I do recall one time, however, when the allure of the purple sheets, and the breakfast in bed, and the toy at the end of the day were so inviting that I walked to the corner, turned around, came home, and reported my illness to my mother. My mother was as wise as they come, and, finding no evidence of illness, dispatched me to school.

I paid a price when I returned that day from school. I don’t remember exactly what the punishment was, but I do remember my mother saying something to the effect of, “This is what should happen to you, but it seems like you will learn your lesson if this lesser form of punishment is meted out.”

In but a few weeks we will stand in our tents or our shuls. With each passing day it seems as if the landscape is changing and that the lull we experienced is fading. Schools and shuls are reporting more cases, and the culprit seems to be simchas — weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the like.

I am stunned by those who throw statistics around about the lower rate of serious complications. No one should have to suffer even from minor symptoms, because we just don’t know enough about this disease to calculate the long-term effects on the body of even a minor bout. If you want to smoke or drink excessively or drive without a seatbelt and endanger your own life, that is your choice. But once you drink and operate a motor vehicle on the same road as others, you forfeit your choice. You are endangering others. You have no right. You deserve no mercy, no purple sheets, no breakfast in bed, no present at the end of the day.

You might be young, healthy, and asymptomatic, and yet you might be sealing a death sentence for the person you are talking to by your refusal to put on a mask. Your callous disregard for your neighbors, mocking those who show up at your simcha with a mask, as happened last week in Brooklyn, is egotistical and selfish. You deserve no purple sheets, no breakfast in bed, no present at the end of the day. You deserve scorn, at the very least.

Do you really need the attention, the spotlight, the bragging rights of making a wedding for 500 people if even one becomes ill or worse? Would you make a wedding for 500 people, serve 499 of them kosher food, and endanger the soul of even one guest by serving him treif?

Of course you wouldn’t. But you have no problem exposing people to a virus or even to the potential of contracting the virus. Bad enough that you could not rise to the occasion and make a smaller wedding. Bad enough that you chose not to mask up. But to ridicule the guests who wore a mask and ask them to remove the mask?

Lighter punishments or ramifications for indiscretions are appropriate when, as my mother said, it is clear that the lesson is learned through the administration of less severe consequences. When the lesson is not learned, harsher responses are necessary.

Schools, shuls, and catering halls that do not comply voluntarily must be forced to comply. The writing is on the wall. Local yeshivas have sent out letters regarding the consequences of attending even outdoor celebrations. I predict that more restrictive rules will soon be instituted regarding our indoor synagogue services. The disease has not become more intense, but people have become more lax and cavalier.

I get it. People are frustrated. People want to return to the way it was. There are supposed statistics that do support a relaxing of restrictions. Despite those arguments and statistics, the reality of the uptick cannot be denied.

You have every right to follow your science, your statistics, your comparisons from COVID-19 to the seasonal flu. You have every right to drive drunk in your driveway. You have no right to drive drunk on a roadway occupied by others. That is true even if the statistics say that the chances of being killed by a drunk driver are negligible. Matters of life and death are not measured by statistics but by concern for another person’s desire to live a healthy life independent of your desire to live as you see fit.

When you reduce concern for others to an analysis of statistics, you deserve no purple sheets, no breakfast in bed, no present at the end of the day.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or ds@lawofficesm.com.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here