In the face of sha'at had'hak, an extraordinary time of crisis, we turn to the core Jewish values that guide us as a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community. As we've repeated again and again over the course of the past few weeks, one of those values, pikuah nefesh, the preservation of life, is a bedrock principle of Jewish law, superseding most other obligations or mitzvot.
The time has come to acknowledge that many elements of our current state of being may continue for quite some time, including our ability to congregate en masse. Even as the city reopens and we are once again able to invite congregants into our building, some physical distancing measures will likely remain in place and many of the most vulnerable members of our community will have to stay away for the sake of pikuah nefesh.
As the Rabbinical Assembly recently wrote, and we affirm:
We need to come to terms with the fact that this crisis may very well last for well over a year, and that we will need to continue to change our expectations and operations. We will need continued flexibility in Jewish practice informed by our commitment to authentic modes of interpretation of our tradition.
Such flexibility, including and especially with regard to Shabbat, holy days and the High Holy Days, will allow us to continue to fulfill our mission to inspire and enable a meaningful Jewish life and to ensure the continued sustainability of our kehillah.
One of most valuable aspects of Shabbat and Yom Tov observance is refraining from certain types of technology, to differentiate the sacred from the concerns of everyday life. Yet in this time of crisis, those are often the same technologies that we rely on to bring us together as a community.
That is why, after consultation with a variety of sources including our spiritual leadership team, lay leadership, the Rabbinical Assembly and the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), and after balancing the many arguments for and against my decision, I have come to this p'sak din, this religious decision for Beth Tzedec during this time of crisis.
Beginning in the evening of May 28, as we welcome Shavuot, we will offer live virtual Shabbat and Yom Tov services via an appropriate technology, within the following framework:
- When possible, we will have a minyan of ten Jewish adults in the room in which the service is being broadcast.
- We will engage non-Jewish personnel to troubleshoot and manage the technology during Shabbat and holy days. Members of the spiritual leadership team will not be responsible for manipulating the technology in any way over Shabbat or holy days.
- We will pursue excellence in presentation and production sensitive to our observance practices to offer authentic and engaging religious experiences.
- We will make readily available prayer books and other supplemental materials.
- We will strive to incorporate relational moments into our services.
- We will create materials for those members who would still prefer to pray at home without the use of technology to do so in meaningful ways.
- We will create opportunities for the congregation to ask questions, discuss and comment on their perspectives and feelings regarding this matter. The first such meeting will be held Thursday, May 21 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Join us on Zoom with this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81990659827
But we do know that to continue to protect pikuah nefesh, the preservation of life, while strengthening our kehillah and creating opportunities for community, care and shlaymoot, well-being, it is necessary to create this space, even virtually, for our members to come together on the most important days of the Hebrew calendar.
We hope to see you this Shavuot.
Rabbi Steven Wernick