You can read/download it here:
And WOW — truly amazing & beneficial insights abound.
It has been simmering in my mind since I read it.
There's a lot to say about it, but it was Rav Schwartz's discussion of masks that hit me between the eyes.
Let's Get Cynical for a Moment
- People aren't wearing effective masks (my understanding is that only the N95 masks really protect others from your germs).
- People do not wear the masks effectively (i.e., there are all sorts of gaps around the mask, the pores are bigger than the coronavirus, etc.).
- People are not using the masks hygienically with regard to themselves or others. (More on that later below.)
- People receive no instruction on removing the masks sterilely and therefore, do not remove them without the risk of infecting themselves & others.
- In general, you cannot trust people to follow hygiene properly. Even hospitals unintentionally infect & sometimes kill their patients via laxness in hygienic practices.
Yes, it's true: Even hospitals accidentally infect & even kill their patients via laxness by hospital staff in hygienic practices.
1 in 31 hospital patients suffer at least one healthcare related infection (CDC).
In Europe, it's 1 in 20 (source).
Another study found that staff at the University of Arizona Medical Center washed their hands 90% of the time.
Even with the problems carrying out that study (people perform better when they know they're watched), I really don't understand why it's not 100%. I soap-wash my hands automatically at home after touching just raw meat or fish, and all sorts of other reasons (without being OCD about it, BTW) — all the more so, if I worked with sick & vulnerable people.
Also, when I volunteered at an American hospital, they emphasized exactly how long to wash hands (for the time it takes to sing Yankee Doodle), exactly how to do so, and emphasizing that wiping hands with clean paper towels removes even more germs after the hand-washing.
And they emphasized how important hand-washing is overall.
So why only 90%, especially after such training & explanation?
Also, as stated above, the data collection is iffy because when people know they're being observed, they perform better.
A study from the Greenville Healthcare System in South Carolina used secret cameras & discovered hand-washing compliance as low as 54%.
Worldwide, only 40% of doctors & nurses wash their hands as they should. (source)
In Australia, 64-84.7% of doctors & nurses wash their hands as they should. (source)
This is despite the availability of hand-cleaning equipment, posted reminders, their training, and their knowledge.
And these are your trained medical professionals.
All the more so, your average non-medical professional will be lax.
Likewise, with masks.
The Problem with Mask Enforcement
And if you look around to see what masks people are wearing, whether they're wearing them effectively, and if you have any idea how much people are reusing masks WITHOUT washing or sunning them to kill germs, then you know that many people are NOT wearing their masks effectively.
And just for knowing, I came across studies in which a minority of surgeons refuse to wear masks during surgery because they felt it endangered the procedure due to feeling faint & not being able to see well (source).
(This study clearly contradicts what many doctors in the media, including the frum media, say.)
Furthermore, I sometimes experience severe breathing shortage & MUST remove the mask, especially after climbing stairs outside.
If I have the wire closed properly over the bridge of my nose, I absolutely cannot breathe enough.
So I don't close the wire. Instead, my vision is impaired.
And that's my major & unexpected problem with the masks: the inability to see properly.
The mask hampers my lower visual perception, which affects crossing the street & other aspects of daily life.
For example, I take my 5-year-old on the bus to school.
To keep track of him, I need to bend my neck all the way down to see him over the mask, which then hampers my peripheral vision of other things or people around me.
You can pooh-pooh it if you want, but managing on a crowded bus with my child, other people's children & strollers (which demand both lower visual perception & side visual perception) has become very stressful because looking straight down at a 90-degree angle prevents me from seeing properly anything to the side (and makes it even harder to breathe, incidentally).
At one point, I even sat down right on the leg of a 7-year-old (who had his leg on the seat to save it for his big brother) because I did not see his leg.
Yes, of course I saw the child and I DID look to see if anyone was sitting next to him!
However, I did not bend my head so that my chin was touching my collarbone, which is what I needed to do to see the actual seat upon which lay the child's leg.
(Fortunately, he was more startled than hurt and very nicely forgave me.)
Mask-free, you can see all around you just by tipping & swiveling your head slightly.
But with a mask covering your nose, you need to make exaggerated motions, which allow you to see only a limited area at a time.
Furthermore, studies involving surgeons & other healthcare professionals show that wearing masks for prolonged periods cause:
- "significantly different temperatures and humidity in the microclimates of facemasks, which have profound influences on heart rate and thermal stress and subjective perception of discomfort." (source)
- headaches (source)
- rash (ibid)
- impaired cognition (ibid)
In Israel, bus drivers must wear masks, but I noticed that many do not cover their nose, which is smart because bus drivers certainly need their lower visual perception!
So why do I wear a mask?
Why are We Wearing Masks? More Insights & Facts...
- I don't enjoy confrontations with police & the resulting fines.
- Several very big rabbis said to follow these guidelines, and some even used very strong language against those who feel differently. (More on that in a minute.)
- I know a lot of people feel distressed around someone who isn't wearing a mask.
- I can talk to Hashem outside in public without anyone knowing because no one can see my mouth moving.
Now let's look at why many rabbis insist on masks, even to the point of using very strong language (as if the masks really do save lives), despite the facts on the ground.
Consulting with Smart Yet Unaware Professionals: Why So Many of Our Own Insist on Unquestionable Adherence to Questionable Guidelines
That sounds logical & responsible, right?
Many rabbis do not read medical abstracts (like the ones sourced in this post). Instead, they rely on trusted physicians to inform them.
And this sounds like a very reasonable short-cut to acquiring impeccable information, right?
After all, these doctors are shomrei Torah & mitzvot, have likely displayed their integrity by performing chessed for people in the community, and are top-notch professionals in their area.
Again, it's a very logical & responsible short-cut.
But doctors are people too & may be out of touch or lack certain facts or lack sensitivity.
For example, I've read a couple of interviews with frum doctors who act like wearing a mask is no big deal.
"I wear one all the time!" is one phrase that pops out. "For years!"
The ones promoted in the media express discomfort regarding masks (except the problem of glasses steaming up) — despite the evidence presented in the study above, which shows that surgeons clearly experience discomfort & physical symptoms while wearing a mask.
And they aren't moving around much in surgery.
Also, doctors are not typically on their feet outside maneuvering streets, stairs, and buses in the summer heat surrounded by small children, strollers, and shopping bags.
They go from air-conditioned homes to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned work environments and back again.
Inside, they can take elevators instead of stairs while wearing a mask.
And unless they're working the ER at a very busy time, they probably aren't wearing a mask while pressed in a crowd of people (and trying to manage a small child).
Yet according to the above studies, doctors & nurses DO experience discomfort and even problematic HEALTH issues while wearing masks — something these media-promoted doctors either deny or omit.
And even in these controlled environments, a survey of nurses DID complain of breathing & communication difficulties, nausea, and visual challenges (source).
One nurse even withdrew from the study because she could not tolerate wearing the mask after only 30 minutes — and she wasn't on a crowded bus or climbing stairs in the heat.
That right there should pull the rug out from under all the doctors who boast "IIIIIIIIIIII wear the ask aaaaall the time with nooooo problem — so you should too!"
We're all different with different physiology.
Obviously, one nurse could not tolerate the mask for more than 30 minutes while others could manage (uncomfortably) for hours.
To better understand the "we're all different" theme, let's look at the people who care for the elderly, which also entails changing adult diapers.
They do this all day every day.
Does that mean you or I could do that job?
If elderly care-takers said, "Well, I do it all the time, so that means you can too," would that be an appropriate or convincing argument for all of us to take on the task of changing adult diapers?
(And it distresses me to see 7- or 8-year-olds on the bus wearing these masks. They don't look well & it's obviously unhealthy for them. I really question both the compassion & the seichel of the people who decided that such young children must wear these things for so long.)
Furthermore, do doctors really NOT know that people are NOT wearing the proper masks AND not wearing them properly?
Oddly, it seems most doctors do not know this.
Some do know, but many apparently don't.
Do they really not know that the average person is not & will not be hygiene-compliant about masks?
I mean, they know that in their own work environments, the rules of hygiene are not followed nearly as well as they should. So why would they assume than an untrained & less knowledgeable population would do any better?
For example, all those cloth masks (with iffy effectiveness, considering the tiny size of the coronavirus): Do doctors think they are being sanitized properly after EACH use?
They're NOT being sanitized.
They're really not!
Even when told about germs and the whole shebang, a lot of people either refuse or forget to wash or sun their spiffy logo mask after each use. Or even after 20 uses.
(Yuck, I know.)
The same is true for those standard-issue blue-white masks.
People repeatedly re-use them without cleaning them.
Back to the doctors: I do not think these doctors are KNOWINGLY dishonest.
But for whatever reason, they seem completely unaware of the facts on the ground.
And so, with good intentions combined with a serious a lack of awareness, they advise their rabbis in the way that they do.
And if you're wondering why I'm listening to the rabbis who are listening to these doctors whom I consider out of touch, it's because it's min haShamayim that these doctors are saying what they do & that these rabbis are listening to davka these doctors.
As you'll see below, Hashem could provide them with a different message if He wanted.
And indeed, some rabbanim receive a different message.
For example, a caring reader sent me a link to a psak from the Shaarei Shalom Beit Din in Beit Shemesh signed by Rav Pinchas Shapira and Rav Yisroel Meir Veil. Therein, they mentioned "numerous testimonies" brought before them, which show that wearing a face mask "is not at all necessary from a medical standpoint; it's hevel v'tohu (meaningless)." (source)
And at this point, you are probably legitimately wondering what this all has to do with Rav Schwartz's latest PDF...
Rav Schwartz Speaks the Truth about Masks
Yet Rav Schwartz immediately answers...no.
For most of the non-mask-wearers, it has nothing to do with one's spiritual level.
The non-compliant people are simply aware of OTHER medical opinions.
That's what the rav says.
Also, he acknowledges: "...health experts disagree" — exactly!
Rav Schwartz is one of the very few I've heard acknowledge this.
(Please also note that this PDF came out before the psak din and some questions were dealt with as much as a month or 2 ago, going on the information available back then.)
I've no idea how Rav Schwartz knows that health experts disagree, whether he consulted with the right people or acquired the abstracts of key studies.
Either way, he clearly has access to accurate information.
Then the rav emphasizes the importance of not distressing others. It's true.
Some people who are understandably very distressed when people do not wear masks around them.
(Even though, as described above, people are both not wearing effective masks & not using them hygienically.)
It's important to be considerate of people's feelings. Rav Miller explained this at length in his dvar Torah regarding ona'at devarim.
And as explained above, Rav Schwartz acknowledges that "wearing a mask is both helpful and detrimental."
He knows! He knows!
He also adds (underline mine):
"If a person is careful when it comes to hygiene and he makes sure to keep changing the mask for a new one, then wearing a mask is very helpful, especially in a quarantined section."
He further notes that the real issue of a mask is to avoid infecting others (something not understood by many people initially), and that we must not be holy or clever on the cheshbon of others.
It's true that in a group situation, wearing a fresh non-valve N95 mask PROPERLY will make the environment safer for others.
(Most people either won't or can't, but if they would & could, then it's true.)
The emphasis being on OTHERS, since as demonstrated above, wearing a mask harms the wearer, especially while going about daily life.
(And as shown above, it also harms small children when adults can't see where they're sitting, and plop themselves down on the leg of an innocent child.)
Everything the rav said showed real awareness of facts on the ground (like how people are re-using masks and not being careful with hygiene).
On page 110, Rav Schwartz notes the importance of paying attention to experts' guidelines and following them on a halachic level.
Real experts are people who actually know what they are talking about.
Rav Schwartz also does not advise following government rules blindly.
For example, on page 111, Rav Schwartz replies to such a question by saying, "We would need to clarify how much of a risk of danger there is, and accordingly we can then know how we should act halachically."
What I really appreciate and benefit so much from Rav Schwartz is his focus on deliberation and consideration.
There is no knee-jerk response here. There's no fear.
Somehow, he has made himself aware of the actual facts.
And halacha is premier.
Furthermore, on page 16, Rav Schwartz provides an intriguing spiritual insight into the decree of wearing masks (which though imposed on us by authorities of questionable character, it originates from Above):
- The mask reminds us of the Sin of the Golden Calf (the basis of which still affects us today & needs to be rectified).
- By covering the mouth & the nose, the mask hints at the state of This World being covered over in preparation for revelation of the Next World.
Also, the PDF shows how the people associated with Rav Schwartz ask such good questions, questions that are on all our minds, and questions that show genuine awareness of "facts on the ground."
And there are so many pertinent points to learn from Rav Schwartz, plus points for doing teshuvah.
A big yashar koach to Bilvavi.