US President Trump wants the State Governors to order Christians, Jews, and Muslims to return to our houses of prayer already. If they’re smart, they’d agree. They should say: “The Atheist president wants you to congregate and pray already. I won’t stop you.” Just yes him. Every smart USer knows how to behave. Until the CDC says so, they’ll stay put.
In Israel, politics also has won over health consideration. Although the first wave was considerably often contracted by men in shul and at Purim gatherings, people forget quickly but should wait to return. (The Rabbi most responsible for leading thousands to disobey health officials had the brazenness not only to not apologize but also blame the exit from our Houses of prayer on those who talk on their mobiles in shul.)
Now, these are the current Israeli guidelines for praying inside together:
- Divide every two worshipers by an empty seat between them. (Never mind that’s 80 cm, not 2 m. Two meters between the rows will make most of the synagogue empty but won’t be kept either.)
- You have to bring your own Siddur and Chumash and whatever else you plan to read – no one may use the shul’s
- The shul must be disinfected every night.
- You can’t invite guests. Only the regulars may come in.
- If you’re sick, you can’t go and entry to the synagogue will require checking everyone’s temperature, and on Shabbat with that new thermometer that’s allowed on Shabbat.
- Everyone who goes into a synagogue must be listed, with their ID or phone number. On Shabbat – pre-registration.
- And no one from a high-risk group are allowed in even after the shuls are reopened.
- Only up to 50 people in the building.
- Masks must be worn.
- An appointed person will be tasked with ensuring that the guidelines are followed.
It doesn’t say: don’t kiss the Torah. In my shul, that needs stating. They’d even pick up the cloth of the scroll (that everyone touches) and kiss it.
And it doesn’t say: don’t kiss anything or anybody or shake hands. How many would assume that facemasks are enough protection?
It should also stipulate that a bottle with alcohol gel is inside the shul to use in case you touched something not your own.
It doesn’t say that a sign should be put up stating ‘If you don’t obey health demands, you’re cool or brave but rather stupid and a sucker.’
If the rules were kept (see below), I’d also not go yet. There are so many problems. For instance, people opening windows because they fear that in closed spaces, the virus lingers in the air. I think that means that after gatherings the place should be aired. But during services, the windows should be as if sealed. Rapid airflow of a draft would give the spittle particles a higher velocity so that a two-meter distance wouldn’t suffice.
After Shabbat, I called the Saxton of my shul to ask how it’s going.
People don’t sign up ahead of time. Temperatures aren’t checked. Shabbat Guests participate. Many still use the Prayerbooks and Bibles of the shul. Some don’t have masks on. (We can’t force them.) The Gazzan and Baal Koray certainly don’t wear a mask when they officiate. (The louder one talks or sings, the further not only one’s voice but also one’s spittle carries.) When the aircon is too cold, they open the windows.
On top of this, I’m pretty sure that these Israelis don’t know what is two meters. One-and-a-half is almost two and one is almost one-and-a-half and 80 cm is close to that. They do split up the congregants into 25 each. But I know the size of our shul. Upstairs and downstairs are each about 60 m2. Each person needs an area with a radius of one meter which is 3.1 m2 except people sitting against the wall — they only need half: 1.6 m2, and those in the corner needing 0.8 m2. That means that ideally — but no one is measuring — it could not fit in more than 18 people — if they would stay put because that would leave no space to move! And the 25 reported are not even certain because they are sloppy counters.
I was contemplating going to the service of Pentecost at 4:30 AM but dozens will learn and eat through the night and it will be packed. Maybe next Shabbat, the earliest service, 12 people. Patience is a good thing.
When in doubt, cut it out. I’m 66 and healthy. I have a 5% chance to die from COVID-19 if I have no hidden underlying disease, once infected. If I had a 5% chance of being shot to death for leaving my house, I would not. Besides, 20% have a long and terrible sickbed. I’m curious if there’ll be a second wave, but I’m not putting my body on the line.
On May 27, the Israeli corona unity government loosened restriction to:
- Up to 70 total participants in a single space; up to 100 participants in two separate rooms but within the same complex.
- In prayer houses where chairs are placed, consistent worshipers can sit down, but at least one chair must separate individuals.
- No communal books, literature or other spiritual items; only those appointed can use communal sacred items.
- Good hygiene should be stressed among participants and masks should be worn.
- Someone must be put in charge of ensuring that coronavirus restrictions are maintained.
For me, that’s insufficient. I refuse to be the authorities’ guinea pig.