Shalom to our congregational family,
During these unprecedented times, we wanted to let you know that we will continue to look to scientific data, recommendations from the URJ and the CCAR, and other experts in the field regarding the safety of our members, taking into account what is legally permissible for our county.
As we make these decisions regarding future religious gatherings, please note that we will do so with the following values in mind, taken from a recent CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) set of guidelines:
- Minyan—Jews worship in community—traditionally, in a quorum of no fewer than ten Jewish adults. During this time of social distancing, however, Reform Jewish communities have combatted social isolation and loneliness by assembling virtually for services, prayer, and mutual support. Although far from the ideal of being together in person, we emphasize the continued importance of virtual gatherings as long as is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of our respective communities and citizens. [See CCAR responsum on virtual minyanim here.]
- Pikuach Nefesh—Saving human life is Judaism’s highest mitzvah, superseding even the commandments concerning the observance of Shabbat. According to tradition, it was permissible to interrupt the ancient Temple sacrifices when necessary to save a life. If continuing to shelter in place will help to save lives, then communities should refrain from in-person religious activities or gatherings.
- Aseih l’cha Rav—We read in Pirkei Avot 1:6, “Find yourself a rabbi.” Though often translated as “teacher,” the term “rabbi” in this phrase, in fact, suggests expertise. In our Jewish lives, we rely upon the knowledge and guidance of our rabbis, cantors, and educators. As we confront a public health crisis, though, it is the expertise of public health authorities, specialists in infectious disease, and epidemiologists to which we must look for guidance concerning the best decisions for our communities.
- Mipnei seivah takum—“You shall rise before the aged” (Leviticus 19:32). We celebrate the multi-generational character of communities throughout our Movement, including the synagogue and Jewish professionals of every adult demographic who lead them. We must not take actions within our respective communities that would either stigmatize or compromise the health and well-being of the elderly and individuals with preexisting conditions who are considered most vulnerable to Covid-19.
- Dina d’malchuta dina—“The law of the land is the law” (Shulchan Aruch). The Reform Movement is a fierce protector of religious freedom and the separation of religion and state, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism was instrumental to the adoption of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Under RFRA, neither federal nor state governments may restrict religious freedom unless there is a compelling reason for doing so; preventing the spread of a deadly disease is assuredly such a reason. Reform Jewish institutions and communities have readily and responsibly honored government restrictions on public gatherings throughout this pandemic, despite the resulting limitations on religious activity.
As governmental limitations are relaxed, Reform Jewish communities, professionals, and lay leaders should make decisions regarding the return to in-person gatherings guided by our Jewish values. We must continue to heed the advice and wisdom of experts, and when appropriate, act in accordance with specified re-opening phases, more information on which will be forthcoming, and without unacceptable risk to human life, including the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
To this end, I am excited to announce that a committee is being formed and will begin its work in the next week to put forward policies not only for the opening of the Temple but how the Temple will run in light of this pandemic.
We will continue to keep you informed as we make these important decisions.
Wishing everyone safety and health,
Paul Weber and the Temple Leadership