OU Lays Out Guidelines for Reopening U.S. Shuls, but No End in Sight for New York

As some U.S. states have begun reopening, Jewish communities have started laying out plans for the day when the coronavirus lockdown is lifted. The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America issued a letter Friday detailing the “principles that should guide the decisions and planning of synagogues and communities” when it comes to eventually reopening.

The document stresses that it “does not imply that any reopening should be done at this point,” and that the resumption of communal prayer and other communal activities should not be considered until at least two weeks after local governments have allowed public gatherings and not seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Any reopening, the letter says, should take under consideration that “every community is unique,” and warns rabbis and community leaders against comparing their communities to others when making decisions.

“The relaxation of restrictions in Israel has no bearing upon New Jersey, just as the decrease in new hospital admissions in New York can occur simultaneously with a rise in Maryland,” it states.

Resuming activity in synagogues, the signatories say, will have to happen “slowly, in smaller groups, for shorter times, perhaps less frequently, and certainly with social distancing and masks.”

Practically, seating should be “eliminated or marked off, such that each open seat will have eight feet of space surrounding it”; entry and exit should be managed to avoid convergence; public davening should be “as short as appropriate,” curtailing parts of the rituals; consistent cleanings and disinfection should be planned; and shul must “ensure that all Davening spaces are well ventilated by windows or HVAC systems.”

In addition, synagogues are asked to discourage or forbid attendance for congregants over 65, or those with chronic medical conditions.