ALL PUBLIC DAVENING AND
LEARNING SUSPENDED DURING THE CRISIS
FROM RABBI YOLKUT:
YOM SHEINI 20 ADAR MONDAY 16 MARCH
I apologize for the length of this letter, but please read it carefully.
We find ourselves in an unprecedented and rapidly changing moment. I would like to share some comments and guidelines for our response AS THINGS CURRENTLY STAND.
Tefillah is a core value, and even more precious when the world finds itself in need of Divine mercy. Our current stance regarding the complete cessation of public tefillah is rooted in the need to impress on all of us the paramount halacha of pikuach nefesh. To that end, I am firmly opposed to any private minyanim being held at this time. As Rav Hershel Schachter wrote “It is not a midas chassidus (act of piety) to ignore sakanas nefashos (danger to life).
At the same time, we need to daven more rather than less:
Everyone should take it on themselves, with the stipulation that is being done without taking a formal vow, to add to the quality and quantity of their tefillah.
Women are encouraged as well to commit to adding shemoneh esreh of Shacharis and/or Mincha if possible, which is halachically ideal for women who do not have significant child care responsibilities. (Husbands and older children can help facilitate this.)
There have been many suggestions made of ways to add prayers to our davening to reflect this particular moment. The rabbis of the Five Towns have suggested adding Avinu Malkeinu after Shemoneh Esreh of Shacharis and Mincha during the week, and until Rosh Chodesh Nissan I am adopting the practice bli neder.
Shacharis should ideally be davened at a pace where you would begin Shemoneh esreh at sunrise, which is at 7:29 am on Monday and a minute or two less every day. (Exact times can be found at www.myzmanim.com )
It is very meaningful to daven at the same time with other members of the community. For those who wish to do so, I suggest that we daven at 7 PM for Mincha and 8:45 for Maariv from now until Pesach
However, this is a challenging time for all, and the above are merely suggestions for those for whom it is feasible. For many, the ideal will be complying with the basic halachic standards. This week Shacharis can be recited at any time until 11:25 am, and Shma by 10:25 am. Mincha can be recited from 2 PM until sunset.
For those home with children, modeling tefillah and davening together with children is an extremely powerful opportunity. At the same time, be careful not to allow tefilla to become a tension point
It is worthwhile to find a permanent spot in the house to daven in.
KADDISH AND YAHRTZEIT
As painful as it is, this crucial cessation of daily prayer in the commitment to slow the spread of the disease and risk of infection supersedes the cherished customs of kaddish. PRIVATE MINYANIM SHOULD NOT BE ORGANIZED. For those in aveilus or marking a yahrtzeit, please consider adopting daily Mishna study as a substitution, prefaced by saying הריני לומד לעילוי נשמת (I am learning for the elevation of the neshama of) and the name of the deceased.
Pirkei Avos, which is perhaps the most accessible section of Mishna, can be found in the Siddur after Shabbos Mincha or at https://www.sefaria.org/Pirkei_Avot.1?lang=bi.
There is also a wonderful Mishna App that has the modern classic Kehati commentary in English or Hebrew available at https://apps.apple.com/us/app/kehati/id1059791961 for the IPhone, or https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nocker.kehati&hl=en_US for Android.)
FIGHTING THE PANDEMIC- SOCIAL DISTANCING AND SOCIAL EMBRACING
Our efforts to help slow the spread of the virus by cancelling public tefillah require us to take a step back from our usual routines. Notwithstanding the difficulty, for the duration of the current crisis our Medical Response Committee strongly recommends no play dates for children or Shabbos and Yom Tov meal invitations. While this difficult step comes at a significant social cost, it is all part of the efforts we must put in l'maan hatzibur (for the sake of the greater community). We will be revisiting our recommendations as the situation changes. (For specific situations for those who live otherwise alone, please consult me or one of our doctos directly.)
At the same time, we have to be creative in terms of finding alternate ways of embracing each other. To return to the metaphor of Rav Amital’s shirt, we need to express all of our wonderful chesed instincts into he berachos that Hashem has given us in our generation of various forms of electronic communication! Make check in calls, offer neighbors and particularly to the elderly to pick up groceries. I will continue to update as we develop ways of sharing our chesed.
Giving of Tzedaka at such a time is both a paramount act of caring for others as well as an act that our Mesora sees as having great protective value. As we approach Pesach, please donate generously for Maos Chittim, the annual obligation to provide resource for Pesach, which this year I am sure will present unprecedented needs. Checks can be mailed to the shul with Maos Chittim in the note.
At this point, use of the Mikvah for women is safe and strongly encouraged. The Mikvah website http://pittsburghmikvah.org/ has a list of the precautions being taken to ensure that this central mitzvah continues unabated. If you have any concerns, please reach out to me or Anna.
At this point, it is clear that this will be a different Pesach. For some of us, this may be the first time making Pesach ever, or in a long time.
As the situation continues to change, we will all need halachic guidance as to what best practices this year will be, including sale of chametz, siyyum on Erev Pesach and kashrus issues. I will be fielding Pesach related questions on a special WhatsApp group, where you can post questions, receive answers and learn from issues raised by others. Please keep your questions brief and limited to questions only, and use this for questions that do not pertain to a personal situation. Questions on products, hechsherim are totally fine. You can join the group at https://chat.whatsapp.com/HckMsDiVCdaGkEk4Sa76Vn. (For those not in the group, I will certainly be sending out updates by email and facebook regularly.)
I am also starting a WhatsApp group where I will be sharing text, audio and video material on the Haggadah, as well as concrete tips for ways to make the Seder meaningful. https://chat.whatsapp.com/Jh9e5A2PvQsGQNYEk4RaVM
On a very specific note, under these circumstances a siyyum on Erev Pesach can be made on a single tractate of Mishna or a book of Tanach studied with commentaries. Now is the time for those looking to start such a project! (You don’t have to be a firstborn to provide this service for the firstborn in your house.) A more general solution to this issue before Pesach will certainly be provided, either electronically or otherwise.
Please be in touch with me directly with any questions or guidance for Pesach (or regarding anything else!)
LIFE CYCLE EVENTS
As they present themselves, life cycle events will be very different. For those with be’h upcoming births, please be in touch with me directly regarding appropriate protocols for bris milah and baby namings. Similarly, in the event of deaths rachmana l’tzlan (Hashem should shield us), please be in touch regarding funeral and shiva protocols.
One of the primary responsibilities of a Jewish parent is the chinuch of our children. Hillel Academy is working extremely hard at providing online school, but so much of what we outsource to school and shul is returning home.
Anna is running a WhatsApp group with resources for the opportunities and challenges for parenting in this moment at https://chat.whatsapp.com/Bgt7Y415IvZLVYcf2FEhkY
It is so important to work on being forgiving both of ourselves and our families as we adjust to this situation.
SUPPORTING LOCAL KOSHER ESTABLISHMENTS
Our community’s kosher establishments--- first and foremost Murray Avenue Kosher, but all of the restaurants and caterers--- are trying very hard to meet the needs of the moment, including different options for delivery. Particularly with Pesach coming, they have a very important role to play.
If it is economically reasonable, please patronize these services for yourself, or to send a meal to others as an act of chesed.
Please remember to be forgiving and kind of these establishments, workers and other shoppers. Everyone is harried and figuring this out. Smiling, thanking, and kind words can go so far.
This is a perfect time to increase our daily learning. My two favorite resources with a staggering amount of amazing text and audio material from my two Alma Maters can be found at:
I will be shortly providing a schedule for online shiurim that I will be providing for the next few weeks.
For those interested in Pesach material:
a number of years ago I put together a series of short (3-5 minute) videos on the Haggadah. You can find them at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvX-zlviUw56fICKYbaWYTPgx9NED1r0y .
I gave two full length Pesach shiurim at the Kollel last year. You can find them at https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1wygTJKndQgSErz2qB_pqk-ToHmHd5vPo
“We do not wonder about the ineffable ways of the Holy One, but instead ponder the paths man must take when evil leaps up at him. We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and uplifting. How should a man react in a time of distress? “- Rav Soloveitchik, Lonely Man of Faith
This is a time of teshuva. When we are confronted by virus and fear, it should refocus us on ultimate issues and think about what really matters in life, and how to be better Jews and better human beings.
HAKARAS HATOV AND CHIZUK
Many of us are stressed and worried.
Two suggestions of areas that might help: cultivating our sense of hakaras ha-tov, of gratitude to Hashem for all the brachos that we DO have, and of strengthening our sense of hope and faith that Hashem runs the world and cares for us. That does not mean that we do not have real issues, or that we understand the ways of Hashem, but does provide the reassurance that we do not live in vertigo, but as part of a plan.
For those looking for inspiration, I am starting a WhatsApp group for short inspirational divrei Torah and niggunim that can help give us a little bit of strength. https://chat.whatsapp.com/JUXGnUMPmlV0FwsPKMHmsw
קוה אל ה' חזק ויאמץ לבך וקוה אל ה'
Hope in Hashem, be strong and let your heart be valiant, and hope in Hashem.
Take care of yourselves and your families, and continue to daven,
With much love,
Rabbi Daniel Yolkut
YOM HASHISHI 17 ADAR FRIDAY 13 MARCH
עש'ק ולא יהיה בהם נגף תש'פ
It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that due to the statewide ban on schools for the next ten business days, we will be closing the shul for the period for all davening and other activities.
This is a challenging decision at a time where we need Tefillah desperately. However, the needs of being part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus, which to date has not been confirmed in the Pittsburgh area, is vital. According to directives of the OU and RCA, and verbally confirmed directly to me regarding our specific situation by a prominent posek, the time has come, for the time being, to focus on social distancing in the hope of flattening the curve of the epidemic, and step back from public tefillah and learning for the time being. I am particularly sad for those saying kaddish, but firmly believe that our efforts for individual and communal health will provide that spiritual benefit for the departed. (If you would like me to contact a community that is still meeting to say kaddish on your behalf, please contact me directly)
Notwithstanding this, our lives as maaminim (believers) and shomrei mitzvos (mitzvah observers) continue. As I said in shul, my Rosh Yeshiva Rav Amital zt’l used to talk about his experience in Hungarian labor camp where the only way he could mark Shabbos was by changing into his only other shirt, but that somehow he was able to condense the holiness into that moment. (You can hear the story at https://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/926697/rabbi-moshe-taragin/post-shacharit-torah-stories-of-harav-amital-2-the-white-shirt-how-this-story-changed-my-life-/) Thank God, we have a lot of other options than just a shirt , and over this period I hope to find many ways to help us as a community to maintain a vigorous religious life through the many electronic resources available.
We are all digesting this still, and will be working together as a kehillah to connect, and keep you updated throughout this changing situation. Please feel free as always, to be in touch with any sheilos that might arise--- or just to talk!--- by email, phone, text or WhatsApp. Our Medical Response Team will continue to monitor all developments, and communicate with the shul, and evaluate when we can return to our essential functioning.
The building will be unalarmed and accessible until Shabbos tonight and Sunday morning from 7-10 for people to pick up their tallis and tefillin if they are in shul.
Some brief ideas for Shabbos, culled from my many colleagues in shuls across the country that are similarly shuttered:
Take a moment before lighting Shabbos candles for extra prayer for those infected
My colleague Rabbi Daniel Fridman also suggested the following beautiful idea:
“As our children will be home. ... we have a unique opportunity to renew our family bonds. At the same time, the close proximity is bound to cause friction and tension. Let us all endeavor to use this period as a special opportunity to focus on being loving and patient with all members of our family. I am asking a special request of the women in the shul lighting candles tomorrow to daven on behalf of shalom bayit, as the Talmud associates the mitzvah of Shabbat candles with Shalom Bayit.”
We must make sure to keep up with our tefillos, and make them as heartfelt as possible. Since we will not be davening with a minyan , another halakhic ideal is to begin davening shemoneh esreh of shacharis at sunrise, which happily in Pittsburgh is at 7:33 AM. (Shma should said by 10:30 AM at the latest, and Shemoneh Esreh of Shacharis by 11:30 am)
While we will not be able to hear the Torah reading, Artscroll has kindly shared this weeks Torah reading from the Stone Chumash for free download for printing before Shabbos https://artscroll.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/parashas-ki-sisa-and-parah.pdf
This period may provide challenges. Parents will need to be very cognizant of the psychological and spiritual needs of their children. Please do your best to keep Shabbos festive and uplifting. Answer their questions and allay their anxiety, sing zemiros, share divrei Torah! Start a new learning project with them. And without shul, being careful to wear special Shabbos clothes is even more critical for setting the mood for adults and children.
We will get through this. We will look for ways to help each other through this. We will daven, we will study Torah, we will give tzedakah. We will celebrate Shabbos and we will make Pesach. We will roll with the punches and strengthen our bitachon (faith).
HaKadosh Baruch Hu should bless all of us, Klal Yisrael, the United States and the World, with good health and peace of mind
Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, Gut Shabbos
Rabbi Daniel Yolkut