I want to thank everyone who covered for me while I was on vacation. You have heard me say this before but it bears repeating; particularly in smaller congregations like ours, rabbis often report that they are not able to take the full amount of vacation to which they are entitled. In all my time here that has never been an issue and I am very grateful.
The first day of Rosh Hashanah is five weeks from today. I know that our office staff and volunteers have already been at work sending out High Holiday ticket forms and so on and now we kick into high gear getting the services themselves ready. When I went on vacation a month ago I would not have imagined that we would be in the position we find ourselves in today. Thanks to the Delta variant, we need to consider the balance between in-person and online participation. As you probably know, a couple of weeks ago a number of attendees at the joint Tisha B’Av service became infected with the coronavirus even though everyone attending was fully vaccinated. At Kehilat Shalom, we require everyone attending services to be fully vaccinated and in accordance with CDC and County guidance, have not required mask wearing. As of this morning the guidance that fully-vaccinated people do not have to wear masks is still in effect as the transmission level in Montgomery County remains “moderate” but it is increasing. I think there is a reasonable possibility that the County may reimpose an indoor mask mandate and if that happens we of course are obligated by both Jewish and secular law to follow suit. In the meantime, I want to remind you that masks not being required does not mean they are forbidden. I continue to wear a mask when I go into a store and while I have eaten indoors in a restaurant a handful of times in the last few weeks I will no longer do so until the Delta and other subsequent variants are well under control.
A few weeks ago the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism (CJLS) passed a ruling on the question of “how do we know that the pandemic is over?” The reason for making a ruling on this question is that many of the things we and most other Conservative congregations have been doing (counting a minyan on Zoom, using electronics on Shabbat and holidays) were instituted as “temporary measures” for the duration of the pandemic. At the time it seemed like we might really be nearing the end of the pandemic and needed to decide whether and how to wind down our Zoom services. It seems clear now that this assumption was wrong.
Last week the CJLS passed two different rulings on the question of how to proceed once the pandemic is over. I am still digesting them; one of the papers is 50 pages while the other is a mere 18. As I read and digest them I will share their rulings and reasonings as well as my own reactions to them.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian