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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Photograph of a seder table. Image of a table with a white table that has an unclear intricate pattern woven into it that is barely visible. The ends of the table are cut off from the image so that only 4 table settings and a bit of a 5th are visible. Each setting has an orange plate, seemingly paper, with a purple border covered in large white leaf patterns and smaller green leaves in between. To the right of each plate is a simple metal knife and spoon on top of a white napkin folded into a rectangle. On the left of each plate is a simple metal fork. Above the left and right settings closest to the camera are a simple metal spoon with a blue plastic cup on the left and a small wine glass on the right. With the two table settings furthest from the viewer you can only see the fork and edge of the plate on the right table setting and you can't see the fork or the blue cup on the left one and only the base and stem of the wine glass. The table setting closest to the veiwer and at the center has a matzah cover over the plate with the knife and fork not visible and no wine glass, instead there is a simply and polished silver kiddish cup with wine filled tot he lip and a silver wine dish underneath the cup. The matzah cover is white and has gold filigree designs on the outer edges with little golden tassels hanging off, there are also red Hebrew words woven on the cover but it is unclear what they say. At the top of the image, partially cut-off, is a transparent and bumpy square tray with several squares of matzah nestled inside. In the middle of the image is a sedar plate. It is white, circular and fluted, giving a vaguely flower shape and is split into 6 equal segments with a circular cavity in the middle. In the middle, inside the cavity, is a white bowl with a royal blue inner rim that has white floral designs, there are also blue Hebrew letters at the bottom which difficult to discern. From top left and rotating clockwise to bottom left the different sections of the seder plate have the following items: a light brown chicken wing, pale brown charoset, a white egg, green lettuce leaves, a root of horseradish and a few slices of purple beets.YCT Creates Coronavirus-Focused Passover 2020 Supplement
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