Sep 8, 2020

Rosh Hashana Roundup with CoronaVirus

Rosh Hashana is just a week and a half away and nobody really knows what will be allowed then and what will be recommended, what regulations will be in place, if there will be a closure or not, will the shuls be open or not and if yes for how many people.... so many questions, and we likely won't know until a day or two before the holiday starts. Any decisions and announcements made between now and then will likely be reversed or changed closer to the holiday.

In preparation, as much as possible, for a Rosh Hashana that might have all sorts of limitations, different rabbonim are issuing rulings as to what can, and sometimes should, be changed and what should be kept as normal....

Kipa quotes  the rulings from Chief Rabbi Rav Yitzchak Yosef. According to Rav Yosef, all instructions from the Ministry of Health must be followed, including social distancing and wearing masks, and opening the windows of the shul. Anybody who is not careful to wear masks and does not keep his distance in shul and infects other people, and especially if he infects people with prior health conditions and gets him sick and causes death, has transgressed a very serious sin.

After that introduction, Rav Yosef says, regarding:
Shuls: 2 minyanim should be organized, with one operating at sunrise, netz hachama, and the second later. It is better to have the minyanim outdoors if possible, making arrangements for shade and airflow. If davening indoors, the people davening should be divided up into groups as per the instructions from the Health Ministry
Davening: singing and piyutim should be minimized. When necessary, selling the aliyos and other honors should be minimized or cut out, as should the Mi Shebeirachs after aliyahs as well. Rabbonim should shorten any speeches to be given (such as before the shofar blowing). The Mizmor said before the shofar blowing, normally repeated 7 times, should only be said once.
Shofar: People should not stand near the person blowing the shofar to avoid the particles of breath and spittle blown out of the shofar. In necessary situations, the large opening of the shofar can be covered with a face mask, but in such scenarios the mask should be on it tightly and should not go into the shofar itself at all. In such a situation, before the holiday it should be tested to ensure the mask covering the shofar is not changing the sound of it at all. 
Anybody sick with CoronaVirus or in quarantine, or anyone in the high risk category, should not go to shul but should daven alone at home and should find someone to blow near his house by a window so he can hear the shofar. One can fulfill his obligation of hearing the shofar blown like this even through a closed door.
Women: women who always go to shul on the Yomim Noraim are not obligated to go to shul and do not need to perform an annulment of vows, a hatarat nedarim. Because women are not obligated in the mitzva of shofar, if there is no space available in shul, a shofar blowing for women should be arranged for later in the afternoon.
Tashlich: someone in quarantine should say tashlich in his house near a bowl of water  or by the running water of the faucet.
Selichot: someone in quarantine can say selichot via the telephone or other forms of communication (eg zoom, whatsapp video, etc)
Hatarat Nedarim (Annulment of Vows): someone in quarantine can perform the customary annulment of vows via telephone and other forms of communication, by saying the text along with someone else saying it, and when the "beis din matirim" respond with their text they should have in mind all the participants, including those on the telephone and zoom, etc

Kikar brings the rulings of a number of Rabbis as well on these matters.

Rav Shlomo Raanan, Director of Ayelet Hashachar, asked several poskim the following questions:
1. considering the increased risk of spreading the virus via blown particles, can oen cover the shofar with a mask or a filter, or can the shofar blower keep his mask on while blowing the shofar? (note, I have no idea how the shofar can be blown physically while wearing a mask)

2. can the shofar opening be directed downward?

3. is it ok lechatchila to blow just 30 blasts, and is it ok to skip piyutim?

4. (Ayelet Hashachar is an organization that arranges minyanim and torah learnign in secular areas, especially on secular kibbutzim) in such minyanim as those arranged by Ayelet Hashachar, is it appropriate to be more lenient on being more careful? (note, I dont understand the question. At first I thought there must be a typo in the article, but based on answers below, it was not just me )

Rav Yitzchak Zilbershtein, Rav of Ramat Elchonon neighborhood of Bnei Braq, responded:
1. you cannot blow shofar through a mask - that is a chatzitza.
2. you cannot blow less than 100 blasts, but ask people to keep their distance from the shofar blower.
3. do not cut out piyutim, especially now being in a time when we need more heavenly mercy, but it is really too early to discuss this possibility as things change daily.
4. Rav Zilbershtein didn't understand this question.

Rav Mendel Shafran, posek, av beis din and rosh kollel in Bnei Braq, responded:
1. a. the shofar blowers mouth cannot be covered with a mask because of chatzitza, and disinfecting between people might not help
b. possibly soaking the shofar in alcohol between people using it might help
c. at the large opening of the shofar, a cloth filter can be attached. It is not a chatzitza nor does it affect the sound of the shofar, and dulling the strength of the sound is not a problem.

2. the shofar can be turned downward

3. if there are instructions to finish the minyan quickly, 30 blasts would be enough, and that can be done if chazarat hashatz is not ebing said. It would be better though to say chazarat hashatz but skip the yotzros, and then blow another 30 during the brachos.
Technically, the yotzros can be minimized and even skipped, but, Rav Shafran says, he thinks the congregation will not want to skip some of the regular yotzros that are sung nicely,.

4. all instructions from the Ministry of Helth should be strictly adhered to no matter where you are - in Haredi, Religious or Secular communities.

Rav Gershon Bess, rav of Kehilas Yaakov community responded:

1. covering the shofar with a mask has been checked and found to not affect the sound, so it is fine.
2. It is preferable to not minimize the number of blasts blown and piyutim said.If we follow all the guidelines as instructed, wearing masks and distancing then we have performed our obligations faithfully. Rav Bess says he is hesitant that being lenient on minhagei yisrael could weaken the minhag and next year or in another year there mightbe some issue and people will say but last year we canceled it so it is less important. If necessary, we will dow hat is necessary but if there is no outstanding reason, we should not minimize them.

Rav Shlomo Aviner, one of the leading Religious Zionist rabbis, responded:
1. the mask is a chatzitza (I don't know if he means the mask ont he shofar, the mask on the shofar blower, or both)
2. the shofar can be turned downward
3. piyutim should not be skipped
4. it should be blown near an open window

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  1. Why aren't they just make everyone daven outside (i.e. rabbis close the shuls and order everyone outside)? It's common sense that OUTDOORS are MUCH less likely to spread the virus. And why don't they order people to minimize the length of the davening [maybe piyutim on porches or in yichidut] - the longer people are in proximity of each other, the higher the viral load. Maybe a rabinic ban on singing since singing makes davening longer increasing viral load. Why don't they order SMALL and SHORT outdoor minyanim -- i.e. make sure everyone is yoztei but nothing more to avoid spiking numbers. What about the bitul tora of the CHILDREN who are missing [and will miss] school? Is that less important than piyutim? What about the economic devastation of families (yes, people who work in 'hiloni' restaurants have kids to feed)? Or these kids to feed less important than piyuim? Why is this so hard?

  2. r hershel schechter seems more meikel...


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