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PRE-SHAVUOT MESSAGE 5780

2020-05-31 06:14:06 AM

May31

To My Dear Community,

 

We are all busily preparing for the holiday of Shavuot. As another yom tov arrives, we very much miss the opportunity to gather together as a community for tefillah. While the synagogue will not be holding prayer services this yom tov, this letter provides an update on plans for the resumption of tefillah b'tzibur - public prayer - at Shaarei Shomayim.

 

Our fundamental approach remains consistent. We accept the advice of local medical experts with real-time knowledge of the local situation together with halachic guidance. We will continue to prioritize the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh - saving life - as our guiding principle.

 

As we witness the reopening of our society, we feel both caution and excitement for the opportunity to once again daven together. We understand how important this is for those saying Kaddish, for whom the absence of minyanim during these last few months has been particularly painful. Please know that we are working diligently to re-open safely as soon as possible so that those members of our community, and our community at large, can once again experience the joy and comfort of tefillah b'tzibur.

 

On May 8th, the Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) jointly published a document outlining policy recommendations with respect to the resumption of tefillah b'tzibur. These guidelines are based on leading medical authorities as well as the psak of Rav Herschel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Dovid Cohen and Rav Asher Weiss - leading Torah scholars whose rulings are followed by congregations around the world. Click here to view the original document. While it is certainly worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the entire document, critical for our community at this time is what policy #1 states:

"The resumption of communal prayer and other communal activities should not be considered until - at the very least - the successful and verified safe completion of the local government's first stages of communal reopening, i.e. at least two weeks after the local governments have allowed public gatherings of more than ten persons, and have not seen upticks in disease."

 

This policy was subsequently reaffirmed in a letter published a week ago in which the OU restated that:

"The opinion of our Poskim is that Pikuach Nefesh concerns dictate that the return to communal Davening wait until after the experiment of reopening has been conducted successfully for two weeks, without a rise in disease."

We received information, on Monday, that local government officials had given instructions to local synagogues that they may hold outdoor minyanim in synagogue parking lots with appropriate social distancing requirements. However, to my knowledge at this time, a change in provincial rules prohibiting public gatherings will not - in fact - arrive before Shavuot.

 

Many of us have heard of other synagogues and communities within our city who have arranged for minyanim at this time. While their actions are based on legitimate halachic analysis of the public health risk - my teachers, my colleagues, and I disagree with their conclusions. In our view, those who permit minyanim at this time are embracing leniencies in the laws of pikuach nefesh. To mitigate potential health risks, I have joined with local rabbis in issuing halachic guidelines for the operation of minyanim, to make sure such gatherings do not run afoul of the law and limit health risks. Click here to read those guidelines. 

 

However, to be clear, please note that as rabbi of Shaarei Shomayim, I am paskening on behalf of my community that we must be machmir (strict) on pikuach nefesh. Based on the advice of public health experts who know our specific communal situation and on poskim whose decisions are well-informed and authoritative, I ask that you continue to daven privately without a minyan as we have been doing these last two months. (Please note that this policy has the support of our community's lay leadership.) When our local public health guidelines change to allow such gatherings, we can begin to implement minyanim in accordance with local medical and halachic guidance.

 

Unfortunately, Shavuot will come and go without our being able to daven together and hear the aseret hadibrot read from the Torah. We understand that pikuach nefesh must take precedence, and that we must take every precaution possible to protect our communities from this dangerous and deadly disease.

 

We are certainly encouraged that downward trends in COVID-19 have allowed the relaxing of lockdown policies within our province, and we are of course hopeful that this continues. We pray that the holiday of Shavuot brings our community continued health, safety and strength such that we are able to pray together soon. I miss sharing yom tov with you.

 

Chag Sameach with blessings for health and well-being -

Chaim

Tue, 7 July 2020 15 Tammuz 5780