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When a Virus Confronts the Sabbath

Posted on February 04, 2020
When a Virus Confronts the Sabbath

The headlines have grabbed global attention for days now: A previously unknown strain of virus in China is infecting thousands and killing hundreds. Part of the family of coronaviruses, called so because of their appearance under a microscope, 2019-nCoV has no vaccine yet. Cases have popped up all over the world as people travel from the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province, where the virus was first discovered.

Concern about the virus is affecting business around the world, including stock markets. There’s anxiety over how far the infection will spread and how many people may die. Many nations are telling citizens not to travel to China. The United States won’t admit non-citizens if they have been in China within 14 days prior to their arrival in America, while U.S. citizens are quarantined upon arrival.

All this is impacting Sabbathkeeping in China, reports indicate. Churches in Wuhan—including those that worship on the Bible Sabbath—have been asked to forgo services to help prevent the virus’ spread. 


Sabbath Challenges in China

The impact is particularly taking its toll on operations of Chabad-Lubavitch, a community of Orthodox Jews with branches around the world and 15 couples in China who serve as rabbinic emissaries. The Chabad centers in China support not only residents but also Jewish tourists and those traveling on business. Especially difficult is the ability to procure kosher food. 

Head emissary Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon states, “With much of the country on travel lockdown, facing dwindling food supplies and being advised to remain at home unless absolutely necessary to venture out, most of the Jewish community will not be attending Shabbat services and meals as usual.”

Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, chief Chabad representative in Beijing, said “People will not come at all, as they usually do. I suspect we will have no more than a minyan [public prayer quorum of men needed for full services].”

While these restrictions are creating difficulties for Sabbathkeepers to practice their faith, they are certainly not stopping people from making the extra effort. For a Jewish mother and her daughter quarantined in California, kosher food was hard to come by. To ensure that they could spend Sabbath with the proper meals, the woman’s husband drove eight hours to deliver food to his family, though he was not even allowed to see them.

While researchers and physicians worldwide are working to find answers for the Wuhan coronavirus, including possible vaccines and the most effective treatments, the number of infections and deaths in China continue to increase. Still, the threat is no deterrent to the Chabad emissaries, who view their duties to their religious community with utmost importance and will not desert their comrades in this fearsome time. “[W]e will be here for anyone who needs us, regardless of what it is—whether for emotional support, kosher food or advice,” promises Freundlich.


What’s the Bottom Line?

The Bible talks about a time when disease epidemics, “pestilences” (Matthew 24:7), will run rampant and masses of people will be affected. If the effects of this new coronavirus are any indication, assembling for worship will likely become more and more difficult during this time. What happens when such gatherings seem like an impossibility? Scriptures foretell that, due to religious oppression, such a day will indeed come (Revelation 13:15). This current outbreak should give Sabbathkeepers pause to consider these questions and how we address new challenges in these last days: Why do we keep the Sabbath? Why do we heed God’s Word?

Here’s some food for thought: Some claim that the human consumption of unclean animals, such as bats, may have been the source of the new coronavirus. Those who follow the Bible’s dietary guidelines in Leviticus 11, however, already know to refrain from eating any unclean animal.

The Bible also gives details on sanitation rules, including issues of quarantine, in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Our governments have implemented these same rules with the coronavirus. Today, we believe these health laws to be not only common sense but also necessary to preserving life.

As for the Sabbath, the fourth of God’s Ten Commandments, it also was made to bless mankind: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath gives us “time for time,” as someone once said—the space in which we can stop our daily toil to worship God, our Creator; to spend time thinking on His merciful love for us; to encourage one another in our Christian walk. These are all good things that help us live better lives, yes, but the Sabbath is so much more than that: It is a central issue in these last days. To find out why, watch this dynamic presentation on “The Mark of the Beast.”

If you would like to learn how to keep the Sabbath wholly—and holy, this two-part message is a good place to begin. There’s also an article on the same topic that makes for enlightening reading.

In this time of high anxiety and fear, learn how you can survive and thrive with God’s Sabbath.

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