Nine Orthodox congregations in the Boston area are telling members they are shutting their buildings at 3 p.m. - and are urging congregants not to form minyans in people's homes, since that would defeat the goal of trying to keep people apart through social distancing.
In a joint letter, the rabbis of the congregations write that one of the most important principals of Jewish law is to "guard your lives:"
We have a fundamental religious duty to protect our own health and safety, as well as that of others. This mandate overrides every other mitzvat aseh (affirmative Torah and Rabbinic obligations). Keeping safe and not causing harm are Biblical Mitzvot of the highest proportions, while praying with the congregation and hearing the [reading of the Torah] is only a Rabbinic Mitzvah.
The rabbis say that temple leaders should continue to pray at the times the would normally do in synagogue, just as home, which is what the rabbis will do. They add that male members should not join minyans at congregations that remain open - or try to pull together a home minyan.
This will undermine our communal effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
In the event of a funeral, God forbid, we may ask, depending on the circumstances at the time, that attendance be restricted to a small group of family members and a minyan. We will employ technology to share [remembrances] and honor the deceased and comfort the mourners. As such, shivah visits should be conducted by telephone or video calls.
Ceremonial baths for women remain open, but women who are feeling ill will not be allowed in.
The rabbis continue:
The halakhic and human dimensions of this present hour require us to separate physically, but also challenge us to bridge the "social distance" in other ways. We are called upon by our mesorah (Jewish tradition) to create social connections through small and large acts of chesed (caring and kindness). Each sub-community should make lists of people to call and check-in on, especially people who live alone or are at risk. Every physical step away from another human being must be replaced by a virtual step forward in terms of friendly connection and emotional support via the blessings of technology.
The synagogues whose rabbis signed the letter: Young Israel of Sharon;, Adams Street Synagogue, Newton; Congregation Etz Chaim, Sharon; Young Israel of Brookline; Maimonides Kehillah, Brookline; Chabad of Newton Centre; Cong. Shaarei Tefillah, Newton; Cong. Beth El-Atereth Israel, Newton; Cong. Kadimah-Toras Moshe, Brighton.
Signatories as of Erev Shabbat, Friday, March 13, 10 AM
Young Israel of Brookline
62 Green Street
Brookline, MA 02446
E: [email protected]