Massachusetts rabbis: Don't rush to reopen shuls even if allowed

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, included houses of worship in the first phase of Massachusetts’ plan to resume operations after bringing coronavirus infections under control.

An illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depicts the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (photo credit: MAM/CDC/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
An illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depicts the 2019 Novel Coronavirus
(photo credit: MAM/CDC/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Rabbis in Massachusetts say they are not rushing to open their synagogues even though the state’s governor has said houses of worship may resume services.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, included houses of worship in the first phase of Massachusetts’ plan to resume operations after bringing coronavirus infections under control. He announced Monday that churches, synagogues and mosques could reopen immediately.
A handful of religious leaders said they would reopen quickly, but as in other states that have begun to allow gatherings, rabbis are not among them. Instead, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, a membership organization for rabbis in the state, issued a statement urging caution both among Jewish congregations and government officials.
“At this challenging moment, we also call upon our government officials to prioritize human life above all else. We do not want our family, friends and neighbors to become statistics,” the group’s statement said. “Just as we will rely on expert medical opinions as we proceed with extreme caution, we encourage the leaders of our Commonwealth to do the same.”
Churches in at least two states where houses of worship are now permitted to operate, Georgia and Texas, have closed again after people who attended them developed the coronavirus. Studies have shown that religious services, where people sing together in close quarters for sustained periods of time, are prime vectors for transmission.
Here’s the complete statement from the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis:
Jewish tradition teaches that the value of pikuach nefesh, saving a life, comes before all else. The state’s new safety standards raise many questions for clergy, lay leaders, and synagogues. We know our synagogue members are saddened that we cannot gather together for communal worship. We understand the disappointment when life cycle events cannot happen as planned. At the same time, the health and safety of synagogue members, clergy, and staff must be the preeminent Jewish value as we chart a new way forward.
In these days of yearning to be together, we recognize that in other states gathering to worship has hastened the spread of Covid-19 and could jeopardize the progress of these long weeks of being at home. Throughout history, the Jewish community has placed the needs of the kahal and the greater community above all else. Protecting those most vulnerable and ensuring there is no further spread of disease is of the utmost importance and a cornerstone of our Jewish values.
Therefore, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis maintains that synagogues and Jewish institutions should only physically reopen their spaces when they can be assured of the well-being of their members, especially the most vulnerable amongst us. When the time does come to physically reopen, we are committed to implementing all health and safety best practices as guided by medical experts.
At this challenging moment, we also call upon our government officials to prioritize human life above all else. We do not want our family, friends and neighbors to become statistics. Just as we will rely on expert medical opinions as we proceed with extreme caution, we encourage the leaders of our Commonwealth to do the same.
Finally, we remain committed to all those in our community impacted by the shut-down and Covid-19. We will continue to care for and support those in need and to support our communal organizations.
We pray for the health and safety of our community and our friends and neighbors as we take the next steps forward in responding to this unprecedented communal crisis.
With appreciation for all that you’re doing during these trying times,
The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis Executive Committee:
Rabbi Neal Gold, President Rabbi Alison Adler Rabbi Allison Berry Rabbi Ron Fish Rabbi Navah Levine Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow Rabbi Victor Reinstein Rabbi Toba Spitzer