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Praying Alone Fast Becoming the New Normal
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Coronavirus 2020

Praying Alone Fast Becoming the New Normal

Charedi Orthodox join calls to enforce ‘social distancing.’

Signs at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ, indicate that the synagogue is closed for services.(Jewish Week)
Signs at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ, indicate that the synagogue is closed for services.(Jewish Week)

Rabbinic leaders in Greater New York and other communities agree that prayer is a fitting response to the current coronavirus pandemic — but they recommend that you pray alone.

Agudath Israel of America, the charedi Orthodox umbrella organization, sent out an advisory over the weekend warning against private prayer services in communities where synagogues have been closed due to the virus.

“Now is the time to intensify [prayer and Torah study], not diminish it,” read the message. “Where shuls have closed, people should not unsafely congregate in house minyanim, as this will defeat the purpose” of avoiding crowds.

Similarly, the centrist Orthodox Union’s “Guidance for Shuls and Communities” stated “shuls should hold multiple minyanim” – prayer quorums of 10 or more members — in order to “avoid large crowds and ensure significant spacing between individuals.”

Praying with a quorum of 10 individuals is central to Jewish practice, and is required for the recital of certain prayers.

The new guidelines come over a weekend that saw New York City schools close down until at least April 20, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing the closure of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said gatherings of more than 50 people would be banned in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The National Park Service on Monday closed the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island because of the coronavirus.

The measures are meant to slow the spread of the virus and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state grew from 212 on March 11, to 729 on Sunday, March 15. Most of the cases are in the New York City metropolitan area.

Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side posted its current policies, which include “no one over the age of 70 may attend [any synagogue event], for any reason,” and worshippers “will be asked to disperse immediately” after services. “If necessary, we will limit the numbers at the Minyanim.”

The Jewish community of Passaic-Clifton, N.J., has formed a Community Task Force, composed of rabbinic leaders and health professionals, to address challenges presented by the disease. The task force (pccovidupdates.com) is issuing guidelines, which include a suggestion that people who do their prayers at home (the community’s prayer services are cancelled for the time being) “continue to daven”  at accustomed times” and private services “should not take place inside or outside of homes.”

“Children should not be getting together in groups to play,” the Passaic-Clifton notice advises, “as this impedes the aim of social distancing.”

The Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition distributed a message that “all persons entering Shul buildings must wash with soap and water before davening or learning in” the study hall.

In Israel, while some right-wing yeshivas have continued to study as usual, in crowded settings (with some groups limited to 10 students), despite a government shutdown order. Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau was photographed Sunday in an outdoors minyan, with at least six feet of space between each worshipper.

In North America, closures and postponements are hitting small businesses as well as Jewish nonprofits that depend on revenue from events and fundraisers.

On Friday, a group of some of the largest Jewish philanthropies and family foundations put out a notice to grantees saying how they are prepared to help during the duration of the crisis. The possibilities include grants for “new approaches to mission-driven work,” interest-free loans and other forms of “technical non-financial assistance.”

The philanthropies are also prepared to relax grant reporting requirements, site visits and other commitments to funders.

The participating philanthropies included the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Crown Family Philanthropies, the Jewish Funders Network, The Paul E. Singer Foundation and The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

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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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