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September 16, 2020 9:06 am

Rosh Hashanah Prayers During Lockdown: A Guide for Perplexed Israelis

avatar by Israel Hayom /

Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, in the city of Uman, Ukraine, Sept. 20, 2017. Photo: Reuters /  Valentyn Ogirenko. – Synagogues across Israel were busy on Wednesday making preparations for Rosh Hashanah prayer services under the shadow of coronavirus and public-health restrictions.

The Health Ministry has issued clarifications for its regulations on holiday prayer, with an emphasis on the need to pray out of doors wherever possible.

According to the Health Ministry, outdoor prayer minyanim (quorums of 10) may be held in groups of up to 20 participants, with two meters (six feet) between each participant. Each “capsule” area must be marked by rope or tape, and an empty chair is to be placed between participants who do not live in the same household.

The Health Ministry has asked the public to adhere to the same prayer groups and not move from one group to another.

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As far as indoor prayers are concerned, the Health Ministry has instructed that prayer groups be separated by impermeable barriers or plastic sheeting, and that there must be a two-meter (six feet) distance between sections.

Each synagogue is to put up a sign at the entrance denoting the building’s maximum occupancy and the name of the person in charge of enforcing coronavirus regulations. Worshippers who do not live in the same household must be separated by two empty chairs when praying indoors.

Cantors and people assigned to blow the shofar have been granted special exemption from the upcoming lockdown and can apply for travel permits, given the importance of song and the shofar in High Holiday rituals and the fact that there is a shortage of people who can fulfill these roles.

Preparations are also ongoing to accommodate outdoor prayers for large numbers of people. Chief Rabbi David Lau, along with religious-Zionist rabbis, are urging Israelis to participate in an initiative from the Benoam rabbinical group designed to allow everyone in Israel to hear the shofar simultaneously: 11 am on Sunday morning, the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

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