On Thursday night, the North Jersey Board of Rabbis issued a statement in which it said that for at least this Shabbat, synagogues cancel services in communal spaces.
The board, made up of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis, consulted with public health experts, the state health department, and local officials about how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Acknowledging the need to find the right balance between “the need to protect the public’s health and the need to continue offering valuable services to members of our community,” the board suggested that as public religious services are canceled, members consult their own communities and understanding of Jewish law to decide whether to stream them, or to offer online Kabbalat Shabbat services before sundown.
If congregations still decide to hold services with some members of the congregation present, they are urged to keep numbers as low as possible, and not to shake hands or touch any ritual object.
Hebrew schools should be canceled, as should nursery schools that meet inside synagogue buildings, the guidance says. Funerals should be at graveside, shiva should be virtual, and anything having to do with babies – brit milah, baby naming, or pidyon haben—should be done with as small a group as possible; no one over 60, including grandparents, should be present.
The board plans to offer more guidance after Shabbat.
This statement follows — and in many ways is similar to — the one that the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Bergen County released yesterday morning.