Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus Update and Shabbat-O-Gram, March 20: Saving a Life, Jewish Law and Disruption

From the Rabbi's Bunker
I was one of nineteen rabbis included in a piece by Forward editor Jodi Rudoren about the challenges of virtual pastoring. See the article here.

Friday Evening Service Instructions:  6 PM

Click on this link -

Before the service, you can download the pages from our prayerbook 

If you prefer to call in and just hear the service:  
Call-in: (646) 558-8656; Meeting ID: 637 524 739

with me and Katie Kaplan....

Topic: Healing and Conversation
Time: Mar 22, 2020 01:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting:

Join by phone: (646) 558-8656, Meeting ID: 530 487 668

Rabbi Jordan Braunig, Director, Initiative for Innovative Community Building at Tufts, drew this simulation of a Zoom meet-up.  He wrote:

Shabbat Shalom!

First and foremost - mazal tov to Katie Kaplan on her selection by our board of trustees this week as our next cantor. Like many here, I've known Katie for the two decades she and Eric have been at TBE.  Her passion for Jewish music is unmatched and I can attest to her impeccable drive to succeed and grow from each experience.  We all saw it during our recent High Holidays, as well as at Purim and the many Shabbat services she has led, for adults and kids.  She is unquestionably more than qualified, and she knows our community very well, so the learning curve will be less pronounced than it would be otherwise.  Most of all, she is a nice, caring, empathetic person - a mensch.  We are truly lucky to have her and i look forward to working with her.

I find Shabbat to be serving an important function during these weeks of crisis and separation. At a time when it is so easy to lose our bearings, Shabbat helps us   to recalibrate, to re-set our minds and spirits, our sense of where we are, what season this is, what week this is, how far we've come and how far we have to go.  

We live our weeks one Shabbat at a time, gliding from Shabbat to Shabbat rather than lurching from crisis to crisis.  Shabbat is that time to take a deep breath.  Yes, spring has begun, but of course, appropriately for this year of dizzying disruption, it might snow on Monday.  Let's not allow that to fool us.  It's March 21.  It's spring.  it will be getting warmer.   The crocuses are already sprouting.  Let's try to live from Shabbat to Shabbat.

This week's portion of Vayakhel continues a theme that dominates the second half of the book of Exodus, describing in vivid detail the construction of the tabernacle (Mishkan) in the wilderness.  The placement of the prohibition of work on Shabbat immediately before the Mishkan passages led the rabbis to draw a connection between.  The Mishna lists 39 basic categories of work (Melacha), based on kinds of work done on the Mishkan, from which are derived many other Shabbat prohibitions.
So this Season of the Virus might be a magical opportunity to disrupt your crazy lives and insert a real Shabbat, one where you don't leave home, where we recalibrate, where we take the time to simply "be."

On the other hand, in some ways it might a less traditional Shabbat for many Jews - because we need to rely on technology more than ever before. 

Pikuach Nefesh...
Breaking Jewish Law to Preserve Life

What is Pikuach Nefesh? Intro to Jewish Principle of Saving a Life

If you take a look at the Vayakhel Parsha Packet, you'll a plethora of rabbinic backing for the notion that you can break Sabbath and other laws in order to save lives. 

The Shabbat laws are derived from this portion, which speaks primarily about the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness, so this is an opportune time to discuss why preserving life takes precedence, not only with regard to Shabbat, but also for the ordinances revolving around needing an in-person minyan to say Kaddish and other major prayers, at a time when congregating in groups of ten or more can be seen as a life-threatening activity.
Leviticus 18:5 states, "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord."
From this injunction to "live by them," the rabbis derived the principle of Pikuach Nefesh, which states that almost any Jewish law can be circumvented if it will save a life. Examples given in the Talmud include Sabbath violations, such as rescuing a child from the sea, breaking down a door about to close on an infant and extinguishing a fire to save a life. In the Mishna, we read (B Yoma 83a) that someone seized with a "life threatening" hunger can break the fast on Yom Kippur.
In 1848, during a cholera epidemic, Rabbi Israel Salanter ordered his community to disregard the fast in order to preserve their health. Famously, he ate in front them (read more about that in the parsha packet). So, from the start, Judaism has always been so flexible as to have a built-in GPS that allows for instant recalculation of religious obligations during times of extreme disruption. Adaptation, seen by most a grudging concession to reality, is for Jews a mitzvah. The  exception to the rule becomes the rule.  

Which is why it has now become OK to say the Mourner's Kaddish with a virtual minyan, as this article states:

(JTA) - The leaders of the Conservative movement's Jewish law committee issued a crisis declaration allowing the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish with a virtual online prayer quorum.

In a statement issued this week, Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Pamela Barmash, the co-chairs of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, said that given the current public health crisis it's permitted to constitute a prayer quorum, or minyan, with individuals connected by videoconference.

"This permission of constituting a minyan solely online, whether for all prayers requiring a minyan or only for Mourner's Kaddish, is limited to this 'sha'at hadehak' (crisis situation), where for weeks at a time, gathering a minyan is not possible without risk to human life," the rabbis wrote.  "This permission is also limited to an area where most of the synagogues have been ordered, or recommended, to close for the crisis."

Guaranteed Minyans are BACK!
We are now in business for Zoom minyans.  Instead of being early in the morning, they will be in mid-afternoon, at 2 or 3 PM, and we will do them on request for those who wish to say Kaddish with a virtual minyan.  So send me your Guaranteed Minyan requests.  New guidance from the Rabbinical Assembly allows us to do the Mourner's Kaddish without a minyan, as long as we can see the faces of ten people in our virtual room.  Zoom allows us to do that.  If this is successful, we could expand it in the future.

Some weekend reading...

The Forward has removed the paywall for its coronovirus coverage.  

These are precarious times, for our health, our economy, our society and our democracy, for America, Israel and the world.  This is the ultimate test of our courage and our kindness, our integrity and our resilience.  Whatever the price we must pay - and physical separation is a huge part of it - we can and will get through this together.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

No comments: