Outdoor shofar blowings mooted as United Synagogue unveils back-to-shul plans

Face mask will have to be worn in shul under US proposals


Organising shofar blowings in parks and streets is one of the options being considered by the United Synagogue as it plans for the High Holy Days in the time of coronavirus.

Britain’s largest Jewish religious body has issued a detailed 12-page guidance on providing services as the country gradually emerges from lockdown.

The earliest places of worship could reopen is July 4, if the country drops to step three on the government’ five-part threat scale – we are still at step four.

But even then, religious institutions will still need to implement special measures to ensure social distancing.

According to the US advisory, synagogues should introduce a booking service where men and women can book a seat at a service ahead of attendance in order to enable control of numbers.

Both attenders and officiants would be expected to wear “face coverings” and maintain two metres’ distance.

Children under 12 should not come to services, neither should those who are categorised as medically extremely vulnerable who show coronavirus symptoms, told to self-isolate according to the new national track and trace system or those quarantining after travel.

The proposed policy represents “a cautious path centred on the wellbeing of members”, US leaders say.

With Rosh Hashanah three and a half months away, the US says congregations should find a way for everyone who would usually to come to shul at that time to “participate in some way”.

But due to the need to avoid crowds, synagogues will need to be flexible and may have to hold multiple services at different times during the day.

One option is for people to daven the shacharit service at home and come to a synagogue for Musaph.

“Communities could organise multiple shofar blowings on and off site and could consider holding a shofar blowing in the local park on condition that it does not cause a disturbance or Chillul Hashem,” – that is bring Judaism into disrepute.

Other ideas include a livestreamed pre-Kol Nidre service and offering Yizkor several times during the day of Yom Kippur rather than the usual once.

No date for the reintroduction of life cycle events such as weddings can yet be given, according to the advice, which has been circulated by US president Michael Goldstein, communities and strategy director Jo Grose and US rabbinical council chairman Rabbi Nicky Liss.

But a phased process of reopening facilities is envisaged “over the course of many months”.

Regular services could be shortened in order to reduce the time spent indoors by starting them at a later point in the siddur than would normally be the case.

Only the prayer leader should sing and those who handle the Sefer Torah should wear gloves.

The US is providing a “risk assessment template” for congregations to check their ability to comply with social distancing – but warns shuls must have a plan for “rapid shutdown” if the need arises.

The policy will require a “great deal of forbearance” from members, it says.

While online programming should continue, it would now be possible to hold an outdoor shiur (class) for six people.

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