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Coming Back

08/25/2022 04:47:05 PM


Judaism has always sought a balance between worship at home and in a central location- a balance that was disrupted two years ago, and is shifting back again for our community as we enter 5783. This week’s portion, Re’eh, conveys one of the first recalibrations of that balance. Whereas in the desert, any animal that was to be eaten had to be brought as a sacrifice within the camp, when they entered the land, the Israelites would be able to eat meat wherever they choose. On the other hand, every Israelite would now have to ascend to Jerusalem at least three times a year, and take a tithe of their crops with them to eat there. Our recalibration is a little different- as we take the next step in returning to normal, and restoring our daily minyan the help of the whole congregation will be needed.

With the start of COVID, out of life-protecting necessity, we  began holding Shabbat and weekday worship over zoom. This was a deviation in several ways from previous practice. I was very involved in the deliberations as to under what circumstances these practices would be permitted, and for how long, and have consulted carefully with other colleagues, and our ritual committee, as to whether those permissions now apply.

With respect to counting a minyan, circumstances have changed, and we must change with them. The permission to count a minyan over zoom was predicated on the existence of “Sha’at Hadechak”- a pressing situation or emergency. While for some members of our community, COVID is still a life-and-death concern, most members of our community are now living their lives as if there is no longer an emergency. They are engaging in indoor events, work, dining, and entertainment. I was delighted that last weekend, hundreds came out in person services, BT LAB, and our Back Together bash. I expect hundreds to be present in person at our many High Holiday Services.

However, the sense of emergency coming to an end, it is time for our community to no longer rely on emergency permissions. Starting with Rosh Hashanah, we will only consider a full minyan to be constituted if there are 10 adult Jews in the room, with a possible exception for mourner’s kaddish. We will continue to rely on the permission to offer stream or zoom for all services, since that permission was intended to continue even after COVID, so that people facing health challenges, or at a distance will be able to participate and have a sense of community. Those who need to will continue to be able to watch services on Shabbat and High Holidays, and interact with in-person participants in our weekday service.

This change will be a challenge for our community. I am delighted that over the past two years many have made daily prayer a part of their home practice, and have come to realize what a lifeline prayer is in daily life. I hope that that will continue. Indeed, it is always permissible (and encouraged) to pray on one’s own if a minyan is not available. However, for us to be a prayer community, and not just lone individuals, those of us who are able to attend in person must begin doing so to support each other, especially those who cannot. Some have already taken the responsibility to come once or twice each week as part of their regular routine.

However, more is needed. Starting with this Rosh Hashanah, we will re-institute the system we had before COVID. Each of the families in the congregation will be assigned one week a year when they are asked to attend minyan in person as often as they can. Emails will be going out shortly letting each family know the week when their presence is most needed. We will also be providing opportunities for those who are not familiar with the daily service to learn more.

Our portion notes that there were three times a year when the majority of households were present in the Temple for worship. For the rest of the year, one segment of the people would take responsibility for representing the whole to ensure that worship would continue, without interruption. We now do the same. As a strong and vibrant community, no longer in a state of fear and emergency, we want to make sure that we do not go a single day without having a group come together to represent our congregation in prayer. I hope each of us will play a part in that as we enter the new year. 

I hope to see you soon. For minyan times, click here.

Fri, December 1 2023 18 Kislev 5784