The Latest on Minyanim: A Halachic Analysis

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    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

    This week has had a flurry of meetings about how Shuls can eventually re-open safe minyanim.  The OU has authored a very detailed roadmap as to how to go about doing this under consultation with expert doctors.  There was, initially, an idea that Agudath Yisroel was going to join in with the OU on the roadmap – however, there is greater pressure for Agudah to open up minyanim earlier – and they will probably release a roadmap earlier.

    The OU came up with a possible protocol that the shuls should only open up 14 days after the state allows opening.  The Agudah, it is rumored, will probably issue a similar roadmap – but without the 14 day clause.  This will possibly be released before Shabbos.

    If all this is true, then in this matter, it seems that the OU is being machmir on Pikuach Nefesh – while the Agudah is being machmir on matters of ruchniyus (Tefilah b’Tzibbur in this case).  A similar debate occurred between the Vilna Beis Din and Rav Yisroel Salanter regarding eating on Yom Kippur during a Cholera epidemic.

    Both protocols will probably take into account the Governor’s eight precautions about re-opening businesses.

    • Adjust workplace hours and shift design as necessary to reduce density
    • Enact social distancing protocols;
    • Restrict non-essential travel for employees;
    • Require all employees and customers to wear masks if in frequent contact with others;
    • Implement strict cleaning and sanitation standards;
    • Enact a continuous health screening process for individuals to enter;
    • Continue tracing, tracking and reporting
    • Develop liability processes.

    An overwhelming majority of religious doctors surveyed regarding the issue of re-opening are of the opinion that the dangers involved in re-opening is unchartered taerritory, and the 14 day moratorium is what should be adopted.  It is this author’s opinion that the indoor shuls should not open within the 14 days, however, outdoor minyanim may be a different story.

    Some Rabbonim in the Five Towns have sent their membership letters that state the following:

    Rabbonim who decide to allow outdoor Minyanim, will only permit within the following guidelines, to ensure compliance with New York State law and strict adherence to protocols of social distancing.

    1) Each family must remain solely on their own property, and at least 6 feet away from any neighbor. We cannot currently allow Minyanim to form in a single yard, parking lot, or street, even when wearing masks and practicing social distancing [pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order {202.18} prohibiting non-essential gatherings of ten people in one place – whether in a public or private location- and we must avoid anything of questionable legality (though we naturally deem Minyanim most essential in our lives)]. The only way a Minyan could currently be allowed is for each family to remain on their own property (e.g. porch, front, or back yard), and join with others in their immediate vicinity- where participants can see each other without leaving their individual properties. When safe and appropriate, a few individuals may stand in the adjacent street to complete a Minyan– while practicing social distancing. [The Rabbanim will provide Halachik guidelines for requirements for “tzi’ruf” for such Minyanim, as well as various details of Hilchos Tefilla in these circumstances.]

    According to these guidelines, many will be unable to join in a Minyan, as the location of their homes would preclude forming and joining a Minyan without leaving their property. Nevertheless, the above guidelines present the only safe and legal way that Minyanim can currently be allowed.

    2) Only OUTDOOR Minyanim are permitted. Under no circumstances may a Minyan be held indoors, even in the event of rain, and even for a Yahrzeit or other chiyuv. People may not gather on a single property or even on the street to schmooze before or after davening. One may certainly not make a ‘Tikkun’ or Kiddush, even for a Yahrzeit.

    3) Although the wearing of masks is not required by law in such a setting, we nevertheless strongly encourage that masks be worn at all times when outdoors. As always, donning a mask does not allow any laxity in social distancing.

    4) Individuals with underlying health issues, the immuno-compromised, the elderly, or anyone exhibiting COVID-like symptoms, may not participate in a Minyan. Children under Bar Mitzvah should not join.

    5) K’rias HaTorah is only permitted if all a’liyos, leining, hagbah and gelilah are done exclusively by one family on their property. No one may bring siddurim, chumashim, chairs, or similar from one property to another.

    6) Each Minyan should have a designated individual who is responsible to ensure that all guidelines are strictly adhered to. The individual should report regularly to his respective Rav.

    The Rabbonim will b’ezras Hashem continue to reassess and reanalyze this decision on an ongoing basis, in consultation with medical professionals, as new developments unfold. If there is, chas vi’shalom, any evidence of resurgence of new cases or a “second wave,” we will act quickly to take any and all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our community.

    AUTHOR’S CONCLUSIONS:

    It is this author’s view that the 6 feet should be extended to 8 feet and that it is still too early to open up indoor minyanim.  This is based on a survey of over 200 frum doctors.  We must remember that a vast majority of frum families in many neighborhoods have housekeepers of an ethnicity where the death rate is still very high and the curve has not flattened.  We cannot risk death of our close one’s again – we have lost too many people.  It is this author’s view that even two weeks is not sufficient and that only outdoor minyanim with the above protocols should be adopted.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    9 COMMENTS

    1. Yasher koach, again – I think that you are right on the money – here – the outside minyanim yes – and the inside, well it is too soon.. If one person died that is too much.

      • Because its just an opinion, he is not a shul rov and MPH or infectious disease specialist, the guy the counter at the convince store has an opinion too

      • Because it was Rabbi Hoffman who rejected opinions to begin with. He pushed back strongly against any opinion of it didn’t conform to the CDC’s opinions.

    2. I still don’t understand why it’s at all risky to have on a mask & goggles or glasses if one wears them when entering a shule, spray hands with 70% alcohol solution and put on gloves, & stay 6 feet from other worshipers in houses of worship.
      Walk out of shule, take off gloves. Throw in trash. Spray and wipe hands again with Alcohol spray. Get in car or walk home.
      After you come in the house, you could, which makes some sense I suppose, take off shirt and pants and throw in laundry. Then wash hands.
      I don’t understand why doctors didn’t have the sense to issue such a protocol and how there’s any problem with it.
      No one in a place practicing exactly what I laid out can get sick, period.

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