Sunday, July 5, 2020 -
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Prophecy (un)fulfilled

As I read Rabbi Sacks’ column this week, a section jumped out at me.

Sacks recounts the story of Jonah, who was told by     G-d to warn the people of Nineveh that if they did not repent they would be destroyed.

The people of Nineveh heeded the prophecy. They were not destroyed. Jonah complains to G-d that he looks like a fool, for the prophecy did not come to fruition.

Fast forward 2,500 years to social distancing measures. Some people complain, “See, fatalities weren’t that high, so we didn’t need all those social distancing measures.”

People fail to realize it is the social distancing measures that kept fatalities low.

Hindsight is 20-20. We know that social distancing is essential to maintaining a low rate of infection. We know how imperative it is to wash our hands regularly and not touch our faces. We know that those at-risk should keep sheltering in place. We know that care homes are particularly vulnerable and that maximum testing resources should be directed there to them.

But did we know all this in mid-March? We did — at least those who cared to follow trends in Asia and then in Europe. 

But most global leadership, with very few exceptions, didn’t pay close attention to the coronavirus. When they woke to the pending crisis they were so far behind that drastic measures — like lockdowns — were required to stop the virus from exponential spread.

Sacks says that prophecy “describes a fearful future in order to persuade the people to avert it.” This, too, could be applied to today’s situation, as it appears that some infectious disease specialists, specifically modelers, took this tack. 

The difference is that their wisdom is not divine; so when the fearful future they described did not, in most cases, come to pass, it sowed doubt and in some cases disregard of the important health and safety steps that we must sustain.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ weekly parsha column, “Covenant & Conversation,” appears in the print IJN.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at

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Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher |

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