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New Jersey Rabbis Shut Down Religious Services
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Coronavirus 2020

New Jersey Rabbis Shut Down Religious Services

Draconian measures are meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus; The Jewish Center, Sixth Street Synagogue in Manhattan suspending services.

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Orthodox rabbinical association in New Jersey’s Bergen County has ordered its affiliated synagogues to close for all religious services and classes beginning Friday.

The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County announced the “difficult decision” Thursday in an email, saying its leaders had met with local government and three area hospitals and agreed the measures were necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus “before their resources are overwhelmed.”

“Please daven at home, individually,” said the council, which represents synagogues in Teaneck, Englewood and other communities with large Orthodox populations.

The council also said there should be no public celebrations, shiva visits should be replaced by phone and video calls, funerals should be restricted to small groups of family members and a minyan of worshippers, and kosher restaurants should not seat customers. Ritual baths, or mikvaot, will remain open, but will bar women under quarantine or who are showing symptoms of illness.

“These measures are adopted as a reflection of our overarching commitment to the sanctity of human life, and we pray that these will be very temporary measures,” the statement read.

Other area rabbinical associations and synagogues are expected to follow suit.

The Jewish Center, a prominent Modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper West Side, has “decided to close our building and suspend all shul functions – including minyanim – until further notice,” after its was determined that someone who attended the synagogue’s Young Leadership minyanim last Shabbat tested positive for coronavirus, the congregation announced today. According to the announcement, “The individual attended the Young Leadership Kabbalat Shabbat on the 5th floor on Friday night, March 5, and was at the March 6th Young Leadership Shabbat morning minyan in the Auditorium on the 1st floor from approximately 11:30am to 1:30pm.”

“This decision does not come lightly,” the synagogue said. “While shuls are meant to be open every day of the year, safeguarding the health of our community is an even higher priority and we must do everything within our power to protect our members and our community. We hope this extraordinary and unprecedented measure will slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives. “

The Sixth Street Community Synagogue in Manhattan announced today that “Effective immediately, all services and classes … are suspended. The building is closed.

“This was not an easy decision to make,” the synagogue stated in an email message to member. “Many of you will consider our choice to be extreme; especially given the many congregations that will surely remain open. We strongly believe that safeguarding health is a Halakhic priority, one that requires us to act boldly to protect our community, our neighborhood, and beyond. We know that this requirement supersedes any requirement of congregational prayer. As pioneers in thoughtful Modern Orthodoxy, it is our great hope that other congregations will follow our lead.

“If you need to get something from the building,” the statement added, “The building will be open tonight (Thursday) from 7-9 PM so that you may individually retrieve your tefillin or other personal items.”

Elsewhere, Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, announced on Wednesday that the philanthropy will “postpone all large-scale events scheduled through April 16, with the hope of rescheduling.

“Our focus right now is on working closely with our partners so they can maintain critical service delivery,” Goldstein said in a message to UJA-Federation supporters and agencies. “We’re making sure that partners who serve seniors and other vulnerable populations have the most up-to-date information available. For this upcoming Shabbat, we’re again arranging for UJA volunteers to deliver 500 kosher meals to individuals and families in need who are still under quarantine in Westchester.”

Dorot decided yesterday to close the onsite program it runs for older adults at its headquarters in Manhattan’s Upper West Side to avoid putting participants at risk of catching the coronavirus, according to Mark Meridy, the organization’s executive director.

“We suspended it following the guidance of the mayor, who said research says that adults over the age of 80 who contract the virus have a much higher incidence of death,” he said. “The average age of a Dorot participant is 82.”

The announcement was made yesterday to participants at a memoir writing class. Meridy said arrangements will be made to conduct these programs on the phone or perhaps online.

“Participants were disappointed but understood why we made the decision,” he said.

The onsite program attracts 350 to 400 participants, many of whom take the bus or Access-A-Ride.

“We needed to take this extraordinary step out of an abundance of caution and to help ensure their safety,” Meridy told The Jewish Week.

Masbia, which provides free kosher meals to hundreds of people each week on a nondenominational basis, has prepared boxes that contain enough food to feed a person for two weeks.

Lincoln Square Synagogue, while staying open for all daily and Shabbat worship minyans, has added online Torah study classes to its educational offerings, while the building is undergoing a thorough disinfection.

Lincoln Square advised its members that Rabbi Dov Singer, an Israeli author who spoke at the synagogue on March 2, has tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, back in Israel, and anyone “who came into contact” with the rabbi should “consult with their local health authorities for further guidance.

Jewish Theological Seminary is offering “podcasts, live online mini-courses, parashah and holiday commentary, recordings of public lectures, and more,” the school announced.

According to the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, the synagogue has suspended all food events, including Kiddush and the Seudah Shelishit third meal on Shabbat.

Abigael’s kosher restaurant in midtown informed customers that it has begun a stepped-up system of sanitizing its dining rooms and other areas, and of “closely monitoring the health of our staff.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition announced that it is postponing this weekend’s annual conference in Las Vegas.

Israel’s National Civic Service Authority has ordered some 2,000 participants in its overseas shaliach program to return to Israel immediately.

And in Israel, the Israel Philharmonic this week livestreamed one of its live concerts from Tel Aviv to homebound people.

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UJA-Federation of New York has compiled resources to help the Jewish community find advice, resources and opportunities for learning during the virus outbreak.

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