We appreciate those who have reached out to learn what Beth Emet is doing during these times and thought it would be helpful to share some of the most common questions, along with responses. If you have additional questions, please submit them online.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Movement’s rabbinic organization) offers values that are also guiding our thinking about how to operate our synagogues during the Coronavirus pandemic:
- 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 combated 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.
- 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.