(Image is of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette in their outdoor sanctuary in 2016. They currently have NO PLANS to have services here or in their building. You may join them online.)
Can we have Jewish religious services out of doors? Several local synagogues have been using Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal’s Jewish values statement to guide their consideration of this. Rabbi Blumenthal is the Executive Director of the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ). Here are his comments.
Pikuah Nefesh | Safeguarding Life This is a bedrock principle of Jewish law and supersedes most other obligations or mitzvot. To that end, we must ensure that any steps towards restoring physical proximity put preserving life first and foremost.
Sakanat Nefeshot | Endangering Life Participants, staff, and clergy should not be in positions where they will be unduly endangering their own lives or the lives of their families due to pressure to restore activities. We must honor the needs of those who lead or participate in our communities when they have individual circumstances requiring the need to reduce risk to themselves or to those with whom they live.
She’at Hadehak | Extraordinary Moment Jewish life has always made adjustments in times of emergency and crisis. We will need to come to terms with the fact that this crisis may 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.
Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazeh | We Are Responsible for One Another It’s our job to look out for the mental and physical health and safety of one another. We are all connected to others outside our community, and our policies and activities affect the broader rate of infection. And we must be sure that we act in ways in which clergy, staff, and participants do not feel discriminated against or unduly disadvantaged based on their health needs.
Pikuah Nefesh, Safeguarding Life, overrides almost every other commandment. Therefore, synagogues are forbidden to endanger their congregants and staff. A Jew can always pray at home. In these difficult times I encourage you all to pray at home and to consider using online prayer services to enhance your Shabbat experience.