Jewish home-based rituals adapting and changing during pandemic

American Jews are modifying long-standing rituals in the age of coronavirus and quarantines, when the community elements on which those traditions rely are out of reach, reports the online magazine Ozy (April 8, 2020). From home-based bar mitzvahs to online funerals, “We’ve broken every norm there is,” said Jonathan Jaffe, a Reform rabbi in suburban New York. The Rabbinical Assembly and the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has given their support to remote “minyans” — traditionally a quorum of at least 10 Jewish people who need to gather in order to pray. Carly Stern reports that other congregations have held online services and cooking classes to prepare for Passover, while other Jews are adapting mourning, burial and funeral practices. The tradition of “sitting Shiva,” a traditional week-long mourning period, usually marked by eating, embraces, laughter and storytelling, must be done through a screen.

These shifts are “spawning an unlikely contradiction. On the one hand, they’re dismantling the tight-knit community aspect of religion. Rituals done in isolation make it harder to foster engagement,” Stern writes. “How do you sustain any sense of community … if you’re sitting alone at home looking into a computer screen?” Jaffe asks. But she adds these changes are also causing an increase in participation among nonobservant Jews. “People are more connected to the community than I’ve ever seen before in my life,” another rabbi adds, noting that those who rarely come to synagogue are attending e-services. While some wonder if these innovations could spark a revival of at-home-based Judaism among the non-affiliated Jews, the rabbis Stern interviewed are asking if these changes will be merely temporary. The participation uptick could also subside when stay-at-home orders are rescinded. “I don’t know if half the synagogue’s going to need to resign because they can’t afford to pay dues,” one rabbi said.