The World Organization of Orthodox Communities and Synagogues released prayer-related instructions concerning how to conduct oneself during the holiday of Purim in a variety of languages, including Italian, Spanish, and French – a press release on behalf of the organization reported on Sunday.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel David Lau already ruled that, due to coronavirus, people should avoid kissing the mezuzah when they enter or depart Jewish homes. The decision was released on March 4.
The organization repeated the instruction and also said people who are spending the holiday of Purim in quarantine can read the megillah [Book of Esther] on their own or listen to a recorded megillah reading as they read the text. One of the obligations of the holiday is to attend a reading of the Book of Esther, which would spread the virus should those who have it go to synagogue.
The press release points out that the hearing of the megillah in a community is only an option and that Jewish tradition places caution in health matters over religious harshness.
Taking a note from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who suggested Israelis refrain from shaking hands to prevent further infection, the instructions are to nod to other people one meets during prayer with a “glad expression.” Netanyahu, for his part, suggested adopting the Indian greeting in which both hands are clasped together.
An extra prayer is suggested for this Purim as well, beseeching God to remove the illness from his people.
The Jewish religion is not the only one influenced by the epidemic. Photographs of Mecca revealed that the sacred site to Muslims, the Kaaba, is almost empty of visitors due to the health instructions limiting large gatherings and the Vatican announced Pope Francis will deliver Sunday prayers via livestream to reduce the number of crowds gathering in Italy.
Italy is among the hardest hit countries outside of China with 16 million of its citizens currently under quarantine.