Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Coronavirus Update, March 19: A Prayer, a Haiku and a New Ruling on Virtual Minyans; Advice: Profound and Practical
From the Rabbi's Bunker
About 30 people and one well-behaved dog (I'm looking at you, Vegas Trell) took part in our first TBE Zoom Conversation on Wednesday. It was a wonderful opportunity to find human companionship, ask questions and share advice. We'll be doing more of them in the days ahead, when we'll combine free-flowing conversation with study, prayer and reflection.
Meanwhile, join Beth Styles and me for a condensed, musical Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday at 6:00 PM. We've decided to do it by Zoom instead of livestream, so you will be able to see other people there (although everyone will be muted except for the service leaders).
If you prefer to call in and just hear the service:
Call-in: (646) 558-8656; Meeting ID: 637 524 739
One of the questions that came up was how in the world are we to prepare for Passover this year? And once we've prepared, how can we have a seder at a time of social distancing. The Zoom Conversation experiment was so successful it got me to thinking about doing a Zoom Seder. The number of participants has no limit. Let me know if you would be interested in creating some kind of virtual Seder experience.
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.
We believe that in the current dire circumstances a more lenient position on constituting a minyan remotely may be acceptable, especially since there has been significant advances in technology. The classic sources (Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 55:13, and others cited by Rabbi Reisner) require that a minyan be located in one physical space. However, Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 55:14 does open the possibility that there may be an exception by joining in to constitute a minyan if one can see the faces of the other participants: "One who is standing behind the synagogue, with a window between that person and the congregation, even if it is several stories up and less than four cubits wide, and who shows his face to them, may combine with them to form a minyan of ten." The possibility of a minyan being constituted by people who are not physically near each other is further expanded by Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein in Hashukei Hemed on Berakhot 21b (p. 135), where he permits constituting a minyan for kaddish yatom (Mourner's Kaddish) where people are scattered in a field but can see each other. Recently Rabbi Haim Ovadia called attention to this source, arguing in favor of constituting a minyan by means of real-time video and audio connection between ten Jews. Therefore, in this crisis situation, we issue this ruling relying on these precedents. In this crisis situation in an area in which civil and/or medical authorities decree that it is unsafe for people to gather in person and recommend or order the closure of houses of worship, it is permitted to constitute a minyan whose constitutive participants (ten adult Jews) are not located in one physical place.
Drone shows an emptied-out Tel Aviv during coronavirus crisis
Special prayers at Western Wall today for relief from the coronavirus (note the social distancing between the people)
The State Department just instructed all Americans abroad to come home right away or stay where they are. To think, a number of us could have been in Cuba right now....
It's terrifying - Knowing we don't know God's will.
What about my plans?
An important reminder:
It is vital that we all take very seriously all the advice of state and national health professionals, most particularly the need to avoid social gatherings. In this situation, more than any we've ever faced, we are all responsible one for the other. Also, it has now been nearly a week since we had events at TBE, and due caution was used then to encourage distancing. Still, if anyone who was at TBE over the past couple of weeks now feels symptomatic, it is very important that Carl Weinberg or I be made aware of that, for the safety of all concerned. There is no embarrassment here - we are all in this together.
From Beth Tzedek in Toronto
Here are Social Distancing Guidelines from the NY Times:
Board of Rabbis Supports Local Kosher Eateries
Please make every effort to support our local kosher and service establishments. They are hurting. Whether for food, dry cleaning, salons, or other stores, buying gift certificates now, for instance, can be a helpful way to help keep cash flowing and give them strength.
Jackie Herman, Bi Cultural Hebrew Academy
Rabbi Moshe and Leah Shemtov, Chabad of Stamford
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Congregation Agudath Sholom
Matt Greenberg, Schoke Jewish Family Service
Marshall Kurland, Stamford JCC
Diane Sloyer, United Jewish Federation of Stamford, New Canaan and Darien
I completely endorse this effort of the Jewish community to support establishments that are kosher, but I want to add that the most important thing we can be doing here is providing meals and gift certificates for those seniors who can't leave their homes. A congregant has suggested that we organize to do that within our own TBE family. Let us know if you would be interested in helping to coordinate those efforts. While the kosher food options are worthy and needy, so are a number of other eating establishments that have often supported us. (eg at our Temple Rock auction). We can not ignore them in their time of need.
D'var Torah for this week's portion of Vayakhel
Susan Schneiderman was going to deliver the D'var Torah this Shabbat (when I was supposed to be in Cuba. Remember that?). Since there will not be a service this Shabbat morning, I've uploaded her full message it here. Here's an excerpt:
The Tabernacle was built as a true Community effort, each member taking pride in its construction for his or her own contribution. Each working six days and resting on the seventh. And with that, a true Faith Community was born in the dessert, coming together to worship a faceless, nameless G-d whose presence could nevertheless be felt because of that Community. Members working together, supporting each other toward accomplishing their common goal. The end result - spiritual health, growth and awakening.
Let us not take our wonderful faith community for granted. Each of us contributes to it based upon our unique abilities, gifts or skills whether it be it through financial contributions, material contributions, volunteerism, or participation. Maintaining the spiritual health of our community is the ultimate goal. We must all keep that in mind, whether we have a physical home or a virtual home.
Are we there yet?
Here are some websites designed to cure the Corona-blues. Thanks to Steve Lander for sharing from his executive director's list:
Disclaimer: Please check out the website link before sharing them with children. Also make sure you have a virus protection program. I have clicked on most of the links but always be safe. We don't need computers crashing now. And...continue to wash your hands and practice social distancing.
500 Free Online Courses From Ivy League Schools That Will Make You Smarter (and Less Stir Crazy) https://flip.it/K.OueL
Peloton is offering its home workout app free for 90 days - here's how to get it - here
30 virtual tours at zoos, a farm, national parks and Mars: click here
Cleveland Inner City Ballet has online ballet lessons for kids: click here
List of Education Companies Offering Free Subscriptions Due to School Closings- here