We have made the difficult decision to cancel tefillah at Mercaz this week. Through the course of the day we have seen other shuls around the country cancel services and programming, including some in Seattle.
As of yesterday, all schools in our county are either closed or closing soon. We take to heart the statement by the OU released today. I have included it below.
Thank you to our community members who have weighed in with their opinions. Thank you to those who prepared leyning and davening for this week. This is not an easy time, these are not easy decisions. We remain a community committed to growth and care and encourage you to reach out to any of our leadership.
Rabbi Avi is available at 917-519-9452
Guidance for Shuls and Communities
We recognize the great need for practical guidance for shuls and communities with regard to the continuing situation surrounding COVID-19. With the guidance of our Poskim, HaRav Hershel Schachter שליט״א and HaRav Mordechai Willig שליט״א, we share the guidelines below. Please keep in mind that the situation is evolving at a rapid pace and these guidelines have been drafted with the information and recommendations that we have as of now.
As always, shuls and communities must strictly follow the guidelines provided by local and national authorities, including the CDC and local health departments.
Due to the unique social patterns of many of our communities, where we share daily Tefillah and Shiurim, children’s schools and frequent festive events, we may be exceptionally prone to communal transmission. As such it may be appropriate for us to adopt an even stricter standard than the authorities require.
The medical advice we have received and wish to share is as follows:
In communities where there are confirmed cases, it would be prudent to severely limit all public gatherings, and to close shuls.
In communities where there are not as yet confirmed cases, significant restrictions should be placed on how shuls gather. In addition to the known restrictions on attendance for people displaying symptoms of any kind, as well as individuals considered at greater risk, shuls should hold multiple minyanim to avoid large crowds and ensure significant spacing between individuals.
The above guidance is the minimal standard. The communal rabbi and leadership may assess the situation and wish to exercise greater caution and close the shuls.
In communities where schools have been closed by local government – whether or not there are existing confirmed cases – children must not get together in homes, parks, or other venues. In these communities shuls should be closed as well. Not closing the shuls will render the school closures essentially meaningless in limiting communal transmission.
We are not addressing particulars and shuls may want to look to these examples for texts that have been utilized by communities across North America: Bergen County, Boston & Lower Merion.
The measures that this pandemic have forced us to take are exceptionally painful. We are concerned for the threat to our health, and we are deeply pained by the absence of Torah and Tefillah from so many of our shuls. We encourage everyone to redouble their efforts in these areas, and to seize this challenge as an opportunity to create in our own homes a presence of meaningful Tefillah and shared Torah study.
We pray together that we soon see an end to this crisis.
The Leadership of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America
We are all grappling now with the coronavirus. Even for the vast majority of us who are not sick or infected, our life has been significantly altered, and between quarantines, shul closings, school closings, and social distancing, many people are feeling alone and isolated. It is a time when our natural instinct is to protect ourselves and our family – and that is, indeed, our primary moral and halakhic responsibility. At the same time, it is imperative on us to remember that we are a community. Whether davening in a shul with a minyan, or davening by oneself at home, we say every brakha in the plural – we are always connected to the larger community and thinking of their needs as well as ours.
This is the time to pick up the phone – or better yet, to get on Zoom - and reach out to people who are in isolation or staying at home out of caution, to offer to go shopping or run errands for someone, to lend an extra laptop, computer, or tablet to people who don’t have enough for the whole family. This is the time to keep the wellbeing of individuals, of the community and of the world in your thoughts and prayers and let those translate into action. Perhaps my colleague, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, says it best: “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how me might be of help to that other, should the need arise.”
In the book of Shemot, B’nei Yisrael time and again come together and demonstrate achdut as a people. Whether standing at Mt. Sinai – “like one person with one heart” – or building the Mishkan, or even when they are sinning and making of the Golden Calf, they join together as one. Purim tells a different story. The people are spread out - “scattered throughout the nations” – with different languages and different customs. This is reflected in the practices of Purim – it is the only holiday which is celebrated on multiple days – the 14th and the 15th – and the Rabbis added to this the 11th, 12th, and 13th. And the megillah itself can be written and read in different languages. And yet, despite this, Purim is a day of great unity. It was, for the Rabbis, the acceptance of the Torah all over again, coming from the free will people, with all the people acting as one. And it is a day where we foster unity and we extend ourselves to others – sending food to our friends, giving gifts to the poor. Purim teaches us that even when separated and isolated, we can still come together as one. It is on us to reflect on how we can best stay connected and be of assistance even during these trying times.
My best wishes and tefillot for all of our wellbeing,
Rabbi Dov Linzer
President, Norman and Tova Bulow Rosh HaYeshiva