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The Whole Spiel

What Jews Do When Tradition Tells Us to Come Together, But Doctors Tell Us to Stay Apart

April 13, 2020

All around the globe, people of all traditions and walks of life are being advised to change their everyday routines to limit the spread of Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. Schools and offices are closing, festivals are being postponed, and doctors, political leaders, and even religious leaders are telling everyone to stay in their own homes. 

Screenshot of the Synagogue Closure Notice on the Adas Israel Website

So what do Jews do when many aspects of our tradition emphasize and require being together (with an occasional quota on said gatherings) but this new crisis closes synagogues everywhere and requires us to be home alone or only with our immediate families? To start, many synagogues, whether or not they have closed their doors, are livestreaming daily and shabbat services for those who are staying home but still want to pray. At my synagogue, Adas Israel, the religious school is sending out paper resources to kids of all ages so they can learn during the pandemic; the religious school is also conducting some classes over video chat. The preschool attached to my synagogue is also providing resources for the students (through their parents) both via video chat and pdf. 

Screenshot of the “Coronavirus COVID-19 Preparedness and Guidance for the Jewish Community in Greater Washington” page on the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s website

Other than prayer and school, synagogues in the area are using Hesed (kindness) and Social Action Committees to help those who are most at risk and are least able to leave their homes, such as the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions. These committees make calls to the vulnerable to ask them what they need during the outbreak and do their best to provide. 

This all plays into the idea of pikuach hanefesh, the Jewish ideal that allows us to break tradition and halacha in order to preserve our own health. For instance, normally making a minyan over video chat or broadcasting shabbat services are not allowed by Jewish law. However, when the health of the people would be jeopardized by attending services in person (such as in the case of a global pandemic) the laws can be bent or broken to ensure that everyone stays healthy.  

As Judaism and all it entails plays a huge part in my everyday life, these connections are crucial and amazing to see happen. It emphasizes the importance of coming closer as a community in times of crisis. It really makes one think that a religion and tradition with such an emphasis on togetherness can never truly be torn apart.