Halacha Date: 22 Av 5780 August 12 2020
Question: If one was sick with the Coronavirus but was not in any life-threatening danger and the illness merely caused one to be bedridden, must one recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing?
Answer: In the previous Halacha we explained that there are four types of people that must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing: Sea travelers upon safely docking, individuals travelling through the desert upon reaching an inhabited settlement, a sick person who has recovered, and an incarcerated person who was released. A way to remember these four types is with the verse וכל החיי"ם יודוך סלה. This is an acronym for CH’avush, Y’am, Y’isurim, M’idbar. Chavush refers to one who was imprisoned and then freed, Yam refers to sea travellers who have docked safely, Yisurim refers to the suffering experienced by a person who was ill and now healed, and Midbar refers to those travelling through the desert who have reached an inhabited place.
Regarding the obligation of one who was sick and then healed to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, the Ramban writes in his Sefer Torat Ha’Adam: “Regarding the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for a sick person who has recovered, this does not apply specifically to a person with a life-threatening illness; rather, as long as one was bedridden, one must praise Hashem with the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, for anyone who has been bedridden is considered to have been seated on the prosecutor’s bench awaiting judgment and needs a great defense in order to be saved. Hashem in His great mercy provided this person with the necessary defense through the Mitzvot and good deeds that he has performed.”
The Rashba and other Rishonim write similarly. The Meiri quotes the opinions that write that only one who recovers from a life-threatening illness recites the “Ha’Gomel” blessing and then writes, “I do not agree with this; rather anyone who was bedridden and then arose [from his illness] must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for he is considered to have been judged on the prosecutor’s bench.”
Halachically speaking, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 219, Section 8) rules, as follows: “For any illness, even one which is not life-threatening, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, for as long as one was bedridden and since recovered, one is considered to have been seated on the prosecutor’s bench awaiting judgment.” The Rama there notes, however, “Some say that one only recites the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for a life-threatening illness, such as an internal injury, and this is the Ashkenazi custom.” Nevertheless, some say that even according to the Ashkenazi custom, if one’s illness caused one to be confined to bed, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing.
The widespread custom among the Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews is to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for any illness, even non-life-threatening, so long as one was bedridden as a result of the illness.
Thus, halachically speaking, if one fell ill as a result of COVID-19 to the extent that one became bedridden, when one recovers, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing when one recovers. Nevertheless, even if one tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies but one did not suffer from any of the common symptoms, one may not recite the blessing, for our Sages did not enact the blessing to be recited under such circumstances. Nevertheless, it is appropriate for one to offer thanks to Hashem by reciting several chapters of Tehillim and the like.