United Synagogue president says Covid will lead to shorter Shabbat services

The three-hour service 'won't happen' in most synagogues, Michael Goldstein tells Limmud


The president of the United Synagogue predicted the experience of the pandemic would accelerate the move towards shorter Shabbat morning services.

The three-hour Shabbat service “won’t happen in the vast majority of our communities,” Michael Goldstein told the Limmud Festival.

“I think people will want shorter services – which is something that was the case before Covid but I think Covid has basically accelerated.

“That doesn’t mean the quality of the services will be reduced, it just means they will be briefer.”

He predicted a “hybrid” scenario where the regular length of the mainstream service would “drop a little” but on occasions be longer when a guest chazan was brought in.

Reviewing the challenges of the past two years, he said that while synagogues had sometimes had to be closed during lockdown, communities still remained open.

Volunteering had increased, families who had lost income had been helped and innovations introduced, including streamed Kabbalat Shabbat services watched by thousands on Friday
afternoons and US TV, which broadcast educational and other material.

He revealed that over the past year, the United Synagogue had welcomed 1,000 new members  - 20 per cent of whom were under the age of 30.

“It’s a wonderful achievement considering the demographic challenges facing us,” he

Forthcoming initiatives including a course to encourage and train women educators, sessions on the environment and Project Welcome, launched with the Chief Rabbi, one of whose aims would be to encourage people to return back to synagogue in person.

Asked why the US had prohibited saying Kaddish online, he explained, “The halachic advice which I think is consistent with the majority of halachic opinions across the Orthodox world is that we don’t think it is appropriate for Kaddish to be said online and that Kaddish has to be said in person in a formal minyan.”

But he rejected one questioner’s suggestion that the US had banned garden minyanim at one point. “We certainly didn’t forbid them, we sent out very clear provision for communities to properly authorise them when the government guidelines allowed them to be in a formal setting, not an informal setting.”

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