United Synagogue leaders have issued a new set of Covid-compliant guidelines in line with the latest government advice — and the latest information affects Succot and Simchat Torah.
The biggest change focuses on the Arba Minim, or Four Species, traditionally carried inside synagogues and frequently passed from one person to another to perform the relevant blessings. But not this year.
The US says “We have received a very clear message from government that we should not facilitate the use of shared items in any way. With regret, therefore, please note that communities must not make communal sets of Arba Minim available to members, youth or children.
“For those who bring their own Arba Minim to shul, it is important to ensure that they are not touched or used by others”.
Communal succahs will be allowed, but under straitened conditions. Anyone who has a succah at home will be encouraged to go home and use it; those who need to fulfil the mitzvah at their shul will find no chairs inside the succah, a socially distanced queue to get in, and a pre-packed biscuit and drink carton to be collected in order to make kiddush.
Only one household at a time will be allowed inside the communal succah — and a number of shuls are due to open in the week between Succot and Simchat Torah in order to allow families to book slots to use the succah.
Simchat Torah is an even bigger casualty of Covid restrictions. The US says that “the exuberant singing and dancing which we normally associate with the festival” can’t happen this year.
Many communities, it suggests, have a variety of events planned for before the chag, including “home deliveries, drive-throughs and on-line events”.
And inside synagogues on Simchat Torah itself, the normal procession and circuits of the bimah, holding sifrei Torah, will have a different look, with everyone obliged to wear face masks, walk at least two metres from each other, and absolutely no handing of a sefer Torah from one person to another.
Jo Grose, the US Communities and Strategies Director, and Rabbi Nicky Liss, chair of the US Rabbinical Council, who have put together the guidance for rabbis, rebbetzins and shul chairs, say the priority is the community’s health and safety. Anyone who falls sick after a shul visit will be asked to tell the honorary officers where they were sitting so that extra cleaning can be carried out, and to identify their nearest seated neighbours during the service.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Celia Surget, chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors, said: “Reform Judaism and its communities place pikuach nefesh [preservation of human life] above all else.”
Our communities have responded over the past six months with creative and engaging ways to enable meaningful community online. Our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services were hugely attended both by our members and by those who chose to join Reform communities to experience an immersive and safe prayer experience.”
We welcome you to join us for Succot and Simchat Torah, details of how can be found at www.reformjudaism.org.uk”