United Synagogue has closed its cemeteries to the public this week and is postponing all stone-setting ceremonies in a series of measures to protect the community from the threat posed by the coronavirus.
The movement’s rabbonim and rebbetzen will neither officiate weddings nor visit shiva houses while social distancing restrictions are ongoing.
Under the changes, community members are encouraged to comfort mourners over the phone and email. Funerals, to be held outdoors, no longer require a minyan, with attendance restricted to immediate family only.
Mourners should practise social distancing by standing some distance apart from one another and consider live-streaming ceremonies, United Synagogue said this week.
Stone-setting ceremonies are to be postponed until after social distancing restrictions are eased. However, tombstones should be erected as usual.
Steven Wilson, chief executive of the United Synagogue, said the measures reflect the movement’s “priority to protect life”.
“The coronavirus crisis has forced changes upon us we couldn’t have imagined. No chief executive wants to have to limit attendance at funerals or tell families they have to postpone a stone setting for a loved one,” he said.
“The Torah teaches that regarding mitzvot, ‘v’chai bahem’, ‘you must live by them’, from which the Talmud learns that in certain circumstances, we have to postpone a mitzvah in order to save lives. This principle has been at the heart of all the careful actions the United Synagogue has taken so far in response to this crisis,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Reform and Liberal Judaism clergy will continue to officiate funerals and cremations, but with no mourners present.
“Even one mourner could inadvertently be a carrier of COVID19. Our funeral directors will help to ensure that these can be streamed,” read an open letter from leaders across both movements, released on Wednesday.
“We are balancing din v’rachamim (justice and mercy) with this decision and we know that this is hard, but unavoidable,” it said.