To My Fellow Orthodox Jews: Don’t Open Shuls Until You Can Open Them to Women

May 26, 2020

By Rabbi Dov Linzer for The Jewish Forward

After two months of heavy restrictions on New Yorkers’ comings and goings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that religious gatherings of up to ten people will now be permitted. My ears, like those of many religious Jews, perked up at the number ten.

In Judaism, ten is the minimum number of people required to partake in communal prayer. In non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, the number ten refers to ten people of any gender. In Orthodoxy, however, the number ten refers to ten men. In Orthodoxy, communal prayer cannot commence before ten men are present.

For Orthodox Jews, the coronavirus pandemic with its social distancing restrictions has forced us to grapple with issues of tradition and modernity in new and unexpected ways. Of particular focus in the news has been the Haredi world, whose leadership has had to strike a delicate balance between their community’s skepticism of the outside world and emphasis on Torah with the Torah’s own mandate to protect and save lives.

After an initially rocky start when COVID-19 first broke out, Haredi Jews now comprise fully half of plasma donors. And in a surprising turn of events from the time of COVID-19’s start, Haredi leaders are now urging synagogues to remain closed, even as Cuomo sanctions small religious gatherings.

But Cuomo’s ruling to allow gatherings of up to ten poses a new question: Which ten?

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