Tightly constrained Jewish prayer services are likely to resume in early June in Bergen County, the New Jersey county where rabbis were first to shut down all Jewish communal life to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In a letter distributed Sunday, the Bergen County Rabbinical Association said it expected prayer quorums, called minyans, to be possible starting June 4, two weeks after New Jersey began allowing small-scale gatherings. Services will be able to take place outdoors only, with strict distancing rules in place and masks required.
From the letter:
These minyanim will not be arranged informally, but will be organized through the shuls with participants registering in advance to join a consistent group. Participants will need to stay with their particular group and cannot “minyan hop” from day to day. The adherence to these principles is critical to everyone’s safety, and we will not be able to continue these minyanim if they are not conducted in this way.
At the time that the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County decided to shut down communal Jewish life in mid-March, the decision was unprecedented. “I do not recall anything of this nature taking place,” a leading historian of American Jewry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Within days, Bergen County was hard hit by the coronavirus. Soon almost every Jewish community in the United States followed suit in closing their synagogues and schools.
Now, pressure is mounting — including from President Donald Trump — to allow religious services to resume safely. In some communities, Orthodox rabbis are sparring about when and how to allow communal prayer.
In Bergen County, the decision about whether to hold services will be up to individual rabbis and synagogues, the letter said, and the council reserves the right to call them off again in the future if coronavirus cases rise.