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Statement from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association on Communal Gatherings during COVID-19 Pandemic

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Reconstructing Judaism joins the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association in the following statement.

March 26, 2020
1 Nisan 5780

At this time of global pandemic and the urgent need to stop the spread of Coronavirus, we Jews find ourselves caught between a number of dearly held values.  We have the desire and significant precedent of coming together in times of crisis, especially to celebrate holidays and observe family milestones, and we also understand the need to separate and physically distance ourselves from one another for the sake of the health and wellbeing of all of us.

Based on our understanding of the science and the advice of experts, we, rabbis of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, strongly come down on the side of pikuach nefesh – preserving lives – as many as possible regardless of age, demographic, vulnerability, or other markers of distinction and identity. 

Therefore, we are issuing these guidelines in preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday and in awareness of the likelihood of continued concern over disease spread at this time.

Passover Gatherings

We urge all communities, congregations, Jewish community centers, and other organizations to cancel in-person Seders and, where desirable and feasible, to move them online to virtual platforms. 

We strongly urge families and individuals to refrain from gathering for Seder with anyone outside of their immediate household.  Our tradition teaches that even if a person is alone, the mitzvah of telling the story can be fulfilled. 

We urge each household to gather for Seder on their own, and to link their family and friends together via Zoom, FaceTime, or other virtual connections, in order to include those who are physically isolated this holiday season.

Life Events

Given the increased needs in hospitals throughout the country for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the safety of those treating the ill, and the impossibility of safely performing Tahara (the ritual preparation of the deceased for burial) without PPE, we recommend against doing Taharot at this time.

Because we place the highest priority on maintaining the safety of the living, we recommend limiting attendance at funerals and other life-cycle events to family members only, and using live-streaming and virtual participation wherever possible.

We also recommend against gathering for Shiva or shiva minyanim until further notice.  Where desirable, shiva minyanim can be moved online and people are urged to connect with each other electronically and via phone to offer comfort.  But we strongly discourage people from visiting each other in their homes, even briefly.

We remind everyone that the Talmud teaches dina dmalchut’a dina – that we recognize the law of the local presiding authorities as binding upon us.  We strongly urge everyone to follow the regulations of their local health and public safety requirements and out of an abundance of caution, to go even further in restricting physical contact with others in places where the regulations remain lenient.

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association remain committed to providing resources, services and materials to help adjust to the above and to life under this current shutdown.   Many resources for virtual gatherings and home practices are available at  https://www.reconstructingjudaism.org/recon-connect.  We are gathering additional information and will make it available to rabbis and community members as it becomes available.

We look forward to better days ahead and a time when gladness and joy will fill our streets once more.  May it be soon.

The Reconstructionist Network