Coronavirus and Judaism: What you need to know

Prayers, Passover, mikva, and more - your questions, answered.

Worshipers at the Western Wall adhere to Health Ministry regulations by maintaining social distance.  (photo credit: THE WESTERN WALL HERITAGE FOUNDATION)
Worshipers at the Western Wall adhere to Health Ministry regulations by maintaining social distance.

With the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, infecting hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including many Jews, a number of religious questions have arisen.

Here are some of the answers to them:

Can I pray with a minyan? 

Social distancing has made praying with the traditional quorum of 10 men nearly impossible. In Israel, the chief Rabbinate has ruled that praying in a synagogue is forbidden at this time. Prayer services cannot take place even in open spaces, the prime minsiter said. Instead, people are asked to pray alone.

In light of the situation, there have been a number of mass-prayer sessions held online, with tens of thousands of people praying together

What if I need to say Kaddish, the memorial prayer for the deceased? 

Kaddish is normally said only with a minyan. There are different rabbinical opinions as to how one who must say Kaddish should proceed, with some suggesting organizing prayer groups online. 


What about life cycle events like weddings, funerals, and circumcisions?

According to the most recent restrictions in Israel, up to 20 people can attend a funeral, up to 10 people can attend a brit milah circumcision ceremony, and weddings can have no guests. 

Can a woman go to the mikva? 

Jewish law strongly forbids sexual relations between husband and wife before the woman has immersed in a mikva, and so access to mikvaot is critical for marital life.

In a dramatic decision written last week, two Orthodox women arbiters of Jewish law ruled that women should refrain from immersing in mikvaot if they cannot be certain that the requisite hygiene standards are adhered to and in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Others, like Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, have ruled that women should continue to immerse, although they should do as many preparations as possible at home instead of in the mikva building.

The Chief Rabbinate has this far failed to give a conclusive decision on the matter. 

As we approach the Passover holiday, further questions have arisen:

Can I burn my chametz publicly before the holiday starts? 

People should not leave their homes to burn chametz or kasher pots and pans for Passover, Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau have ruled. People should forgo the custom this year and instead throw their chametz in a garbage bin and pour bleach on it to render it inedible, the chief rabbis said.

What about kashering utensils? 

Because Jewish law forbids eating chametz on Passover, pots and pans specifically for the holiday need to be used. Alternatively, everyday vessels can be put into boiling water or heated to high temperatures by a blow torch or other means.

In normal times, numerous stations are established around the country where people may kasher their everyday pots in these ways. But they will not be permitted this year by government regulations.

The chief rabbis suggested that pots and pans without plastic, wood or rubber parts can be put in a clean oven, which itself does not to be kosher for Passover, with the oven set to its highest temperature for 20 minutes. They said this solution should only be used this year, implying that it is a leniency that would not normally be employed.

What about selling chametz?

Selling chametz to a non-Jew can be done via the Chief Rabbinate’s website or other rabbinical organizations. This year, The Jerusalem Post is working with Tzohar to offer a free and easy place to sell Chametz online for anyone, anywhere in the world. 

The Orthodox Union has stated that “despite the long lines and panic shopping taking place at grocery stores around the country, there is an abundance of kosher food available for the upcoming holiday,” both in the United States and overseas. 

To accommodate the new challenges, the London Beth Din, or religious court, has created a list of permissible products not made under special supervision for Passover due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Can I celebrate my Seder as usual?

The Seder on the first night of Passover is considered one of the most important religious traditions of the year, and many have the custom to hold it with their extended family. However, this year, the Health Ministry has asked people have a Seder only with their immediate families.

In a remarkable ruling, senior Orthodox rabbis have given permission for people to use the Zoom video conferencing service at the Passover Seder. However, others have challenged that view

One Israeli grassroots organization is calling on Israelis to conduct their Seders on balconies or near windows to create the biggest communal celebration of Passover ever.