Chief Rabbi: Jewish life must change forever

EXCLUSIVE: Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has called for a 'paradigm shift' in Jewish community life


Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has called for a “paradigm shift” in Jewish community life that takes on board the challenges of the pandemic.

Small services should be held in houses and gardens and simchas should be scaled down in a hybrid approach that combines online and real life, he said.

Writing in today’s JC, he said that while the Covid crisis had created “a fundamental rupture” in communal life, it had also led to a “historic moment” to consider what comes next.

“In our quest to reconceptualise our vision of community and the nature of Jewish engagement, as well as to strengthen our communal infrastructure, we ignore our pandemic experiences at our peril,” he wrote.

“We have learnt that there is something precious about life-cycle events with greater online accessibility, smaller physical gatherings and less ostentatious celebrations.”

“We have learnt that complete Shabbat and Yomtov services need not be as long as some were used to.”

Many people ironically felt “more connected” to their community than before, he wrote, because of the efforts of rabbis, rebbetzins and lay leaders to reach out with “affection and concern”.

“Whereas previously one needed to cross a threshold in order to attend a community event, now one just needs to press a few buttons,” he argued.

Communities should continue to take full advantage of the “Zoom revolution”, the Chief Rabbi said. While some events should be face-to-face, others should be “exclusively online, while many should surely now be hybrid events, so that a global audience can benefit from a real-life occasion. Having seen the appetite for smaller, more personal home-based prayer experiences, in addition to prayer services in synagogue, we should accommodate and encourage services in homes and gardens.”

The pandemic had highlighted the centrality of people’s homes in “securing our Jewish future,” he said.

“At the most impressionable time of our children’s lives, a love for Yiddishkeit is ‘caught’ and not ‘taught’ and no amount of time spent at school, shul or youth centre can replace meaningful Jewish experiences at home.”

And it had also highlighted that important as synagogues were, the essence of a community was “not a building, it is people”.

“It is time to do even more to reach people wherever they are — at home, at school, on campuses, at workplaces and even in local parks — in settings where people feel more comfortable and are therefore more inclined to lean into valuable Jewish experiences,” he wrote.

Synagogues are no longer only places for prayer, as they were a century ago, but have evolved into “powerhouses” of religious, educational, social and cultural experience, he added.

V see essay, p35

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