Shutdown for all synagogues

Safeguarding lives transcends everything, says Chief Rabbi

ALL synagogues in Britain have been shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: "Our Torah obligation to protect the sanctity of life transcends all other considerations."

The shutdown applies to all shuls under the United Synagogue and Federation of Synagogues - the two main authorities.

Rabbi Mirvis, who heads 120 United Synagogue shuls, declared: "With much pain and with the heaviest of hearts, in consultation with the dayanim of the London Beth Din, I have concluded that we have a halachic imperative to suspend all activity at all of our synagogues until further notice."

The suspension includes on-site and off-site prayer services, education, cultural and social meetings and activities for all ages.

"The dayanim and I will now be praying all weekday, Shabbat and yomtov services by ourselves at home," the Chief Rabbi said.

More than 100 people in the UK have died from the COVID-19 virus so far, according to health officials.

Rabbi Mirvis called on the community to support the bereaved and "pray for the recovery of the sick".

Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, who heads the Federation of Synagogues, also called for compassion and kindness.

But he said: "Weddings should not be postponed."

They shouldm he added, be held with a minimal number of people present and as much as possible outdoors.

"Close contact dancing should not take place," he stated.

Rabbi Zimmerman urged members of the community "to make sure that they are aware of the location of all vulnerable individuals and those who are self-isolating".

He called for teams to be set up which would be in regular contact with these people and to support them with shopping where needed.

Some Orthodox synagogues are live-streaming their services.

The UK's Reform congregations are using digital technology to help keep the faith alive during the crisis.

Many of the movement's 42 synagogues are streaming their Saturday services directly into members' homes.

They believe a minyan can be online rather than in person.

The Reform movement is using online streaming service Zoom to share weekly updates.

The first will take place next Thursday, after which congregants around the UK will be linked up every Wednesday at 8pm.

The digital get-togethers will be used to share ideas, answer questions and disseminate key messages.

With Passover fast approaching, Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is finalising arrangements to live-stream a second night seder from her home.

And as the crisis continues, barmitzvah and cheder classes will only be available online.

Young people will also be encouraged to join WhatsApp groups to keep them updated with events and news designed specifically for them.

For funerals, Reform Judaism is relying on advice from the Jewish Joint Burial Society.

Attendance at funerals should be limited to 40 people - but even that many is discouraged.

Anyone aged over 80 is advised not to attend funerals and all funerals should be restricted to the graveside to help maintain social distance.

Service books will be available if people want to take them themselves - but they will not be handed out.

There will not be tahara - the process of preparing a body for burial - for anyone who has died from coronavirus.

The body will be collected in a bodybag and placed at a hospital in a sealed coffin. The funeral will then take place as soon as is practicable.

The best practice, said the Reform movement, would be to leave the service at the end without speaking to anyone.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner said: "We are committed to counterbalancing physical isolation with social contact.

"Now is the time to think about the people around us who need contacting and care. This is the Jewish way.

"We are putting together a practical and ambitious set of ideas, guidance and innovative activities to help our members and communities through this difficult period."

Liberal Judaism will also take its services online.

A spokesman said: "Services as we have known them previously will not be running. However, as a cutting-edge movement we are able to reach out in different ways.

"Traditional concepts of minyan and interpretations of the restriction of technology on Shabbat are not a concern for us in these circumstances.

"Some rabbis will therefore be streaming Shabbat and festival prayers for their congregants as well as members of our other communities.

"For smaller congregations which do not have the resources to stream, Liberal Judaism is creating a hub centrally where they can watch streams from those Liberal and Reform communities that are offering this.

"We are putting all appropriate liturgy online as well as creating a hub full of support, guidance, information and creative ideas and tools, so that we can continue to support the Jewish journeys of our members and communities no matter."

The Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi community, which has a synagogue in Manchester, has also closed all its synagogues and suspended services and events.

It will broadcast some of its classes and video messages to members, while "preparing a comprehensive action plan to support the most vulnerable in the community" according to chief executive David Arden.


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