Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Why I don’t go to shul yet

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.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry, and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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