Christians aren’t the only coronavirus fanatics. Don’t forget about us Jews.

Sure, televangelist Jim Bakker is being sued for selling miracle cures, a Florida megachurch pastor was arrested for holding huge services after being ordered to stop, and Jerry Falwell Jr. reopened Liberty University while everyone else was sheltering in place (and despite the Lord’s grace, a dozen students test positive days later).

But if Christians are making headlines, then at least one Jew is writing them.

Steve Roth is a retired Orthodox rabbi from New Jersey who lives in Boynton Beach, Florida. That’s the city I covered when I was hired as a Sun Sentinel reporter exactly 20 years ago. In fact, the Sun Sentinel – once a Top 50 daily newspaper, but who knows anymore – has long given Roth a biweekly column in the Jewish Journal, which it owns.

I’m sure you see where this is going. His latest column is innocuously titled, A Pesach we’ll never forget. (Pesach is Hebrew for Passover, which is happening  right now.) I know I’ll never forget it.

Roth writes that COVID-19 is God’s retribution for the world’s immorality. Here are the last 10 sentences of the column…

For those of us who are Orthodox (and its various off-shoots), we believe that there is no question that these events taking place are clearly the “hand” of G-d sending a message to the world telling us to get back to the straight and narrow.

We have veered too far to the left, and it is time for the pendulum to get back to center. In the last 50 years, we have witnessed immorality gone overboard. Behaviors that were unheard of, or spoken of behind closed doors is now in the open, and considered the norm. For those who call the Orthodox “irrational” for our blind faith in G-d, there is no rational explanation to the disease that has enveloped us. Science is baffled. How did it really start? Why is it attacking some people and not others? How is it moving across continents at such a rapid pace? For me, it is the Hand of G-d, and lessons to be learned.

…and that’s how a writer ends strong.

I’m a regular reader of the Jewish Journal, even though I haven’t done anything Jewish since my bar mitzvah. So when I saw this, I nearly gefaln aoyf meyn tuchus (Yiddish for fell on my ass).

Passover is about asking The Four Questions, so I emailed three of my own to Rabbi Roth…

  1. Since you say we’ve “veered too far to the left,” does this mean COVID-19 will only kill leftists? Are Orthodox Jews immune?
  2. When you ask, “How is it moving across continents at such a rapid pace?” do you mean its rapidity can only be explained by the hand of G-d and not science?
  3. What other diseases are messages from G-d? AIDS? Hepatitis? Alcoholism? Depression?

I haven’t heard back. I’m not going to complain to the Sun Sentinel, because I don’t want the paper tweeting a stilted social media apology, I don’t want Rabbi Roth forced to apologize for his religious beliefs, and I certainly don’t want his column killed. That’s not the point. This is…

All religions, at their most orthodox, are  dangerous.

Rabbi Roth believes “the hand of G-d” will slap dead anyone who supports gay marriage, Bernie Sanders, pork sliders, and G-d knows what else. If there exists a Muslim Mirror, Buddhist Bugle, or Hindu Herald, I’m sure you’ll find a coronavirus column just like his.

Which is fine by me. As a journalist, I never want to shoot the messenger. But someday I hope we can strangle this message: “God will kill innocent people so I can feel morally superior.”


A day after posting this, Rabbi Roth replied…

Our Talmud teaches us that when G-d allows the Angel of Death free rein, he does not discriminate between good and evil. Sadly, many Orthodox Jews have succumbed to this terrible virus, including some very great Rabbis. I personally lost more than just a few friends to this pandemic.

He added, “G-d is not the denial of science. Science is also a messenger of G-d. I choose to accept this as the hand of G-d. If you feel more comfortable accepting at science, so be it.” But to my question about AIDS and other diseases being a punishment from God, he simply said, “Yes.”