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Comments on Worshipping outdoors in the COVID era, issues and options

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Worshipping outdoors in the COVID era, issues and options

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I've chatted with Monica about this. She agreed with my assessment of the place I first heard about it, which I don't consider good enough to link to.

It's about a jurisdiction where COVID emergency measures forbade indoor religious services.

If the secular law requires holding services outdoors, how can that be reconciled with holding prayer books? As soon as someone is outdoors, it's carrying something on the Sabbath.

Even I know there's a principle that protecting life can override most laws. Would that principle actually apply, given that the law against indoor services is about reducing risk as opposed to directly saving a life or lives?

The next thing I wondered about was whether there was some good reason the person who posted about this didn't come up with the idea of an eruv. Monica, who spells it "eyruv" in English, said based on her studies it was an option.

Do I understand right that there is a principle, with important exceptions, of following secular law? That principle is at a low ebb if the secular law interferes with worship. The Bible is unmistakable about what Jews must do if the government says to pray to Darius or bow to a golden icon. Is having to go outside, prayer books in hand, enough of an interference that religious law would override secular law?

Are there other legal affordances that might be used?

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Wouldn't the issue be resolved by davening in an 'eruv ? I realise that this isn't always feasible, b... (1 comment)
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This doesn't strictly answer your question, but I think the background information and context will be helpful.

The halacha (Jewish law) is that we can violate any torah law to save a human life except for three (murder, idolatry, sexual transgressions). If it were a matter of preserving life, then carrying something outside on Shabbat would be permitted. For example, if a doctor witnesses an accident and needs to fetch medical tools from his house to save someone's life, he does so, even though it involves carrying them through the public thoroughfare.

The prohibition of carrying applies when moving through, into, or out of a public domain. It doesn't apply within a building, for instance; you can carry that prayer book from the library to the sanctuary within the synagogue, no problem. It also doesn't apply within an enclosed space that is outdoors. There are laws about this so I don't want to just say "any fenced courtyard suffices", but it is possible for people who know what they are doing to construct a border such that the synagogue building and its lawn are all enclosed within a private domain. Within a private domain you can carry -- problem solved, if the synagogue has such an adjacent space.

This constructed boundary is called an eiruv (transliterations of the Hebrew vary). It need not be restricted to one building and its lawn. There is an upper size limit, but it's large enough that a good-sized neighborhood can be enclosed in an eiruv, allowing people to carry books, push baby strollers, and otherwise carry things from home to synagogue to the friends you're having lunch with etc.

Given all this, I don't think there's an issue with secular law interfering with religious observance in most locations at most times of year. If it's physically possible to meet outside, and if there exists some outdoor space adjacent to a building where the books can be kept, then it's possible to build an eiruv and use those books outdoors. (If the synagogue has no suitable outdoor space, there might be a need to use a congregant's backyard or something.)

There's one more consideration: praying in a community is very much preferred, but one who is unable to do so -- for example someone who is sick, or in quarantine -- may pray alone, omitting certain parts. Because of this, if the only way to pray in community were to violate a secular law about gatherings, I think the rabbis would rule that people must instead pray at home. Unless it transgresses Jewish law we follow secular laws; the principle is known as dina d'malchuta dina, "the law (of the land) is the law".

There might be one more consideration, but I haven't studied enough to say for sure. Before printing, people didn't have individual prayerbooks; there was a leader, who was responsible for doing it correctly, and people said "amein" at the right places and added their individual prayers. If a group were able to gather for prayer but could not bring books, it seems to me that it could revert to this approach so long as there's one person present who is qualified to lead.

I know I haven't answered the root question of whether Jewish law would allow violating a secular law that, as a side effect, precludes communal prayer. I think, given the flexibility already present in Jewish law to handle situations like this, it probably wouldn't come up. "But if it did?" That, unfortunately, I haven't answered.

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"even though it involves carrying them through the public thoroughfare" There is an opinion in the mi... (9 comments)
"even though it involves carrying them through the public thoroughfare" There is an opinion in the mi...
AA ‭ wrote about 2 years ago

"even though it involves carrying them through the public thoroughfare" There is an opinion in the mishna like that (Shabbat 19:1), but we do not rule that way.

Monica Cellio‭ wrote about 2 years ago

We don't? What does a mohel do in that case? I'll update that part of this answer but would also appreciate a source if you can share it easily, thanks.

AA ‭ wrote about 2 years ago

The laws are in Yoreh Deah 266. If he didn't prepare in advance, we can ask a gentile to do things that are rabbinically prohibited. If that's insufficient we're stuck and delay the circumcision.

Monica Cellio‭ wrote about 2 years ago

Thank you for educating me.

I realize it was a bad example anyway; as you said, he can prepare in advance. I changed the example in my answer to a doctor in an emergency situation.

Fred Wamsley‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

I remain curious about one point. There is a large practical difference between a doctor carrying a set of supplies to a life-threatening emergency and an action that cuts the odds by some hard-to-measure amount of spreading a disease which can be fatal but isn't always, not even close.

Does the practical difference translate into a legal difference? Could a situation full of "maybes" and "it improves the odds" be enough to override a religious obligation?

If there's even one elderly or health-compromised person in the congregation, then of course it gets much simpler, and that is likely to be the case.

Monica Cellio‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

Fred Wamsley‭ are you asking about prayer books or masks? I think carrying a mask would be fine because it's a clear matter of protecting life; we don't require imminent death but just the chance. (I think an epi-pen in case of anaphylactic shock would be similar on a personal level.) There is probably a line, beyond which we say "that's not a reasonable concern", but I don't know where it is.

Fred Wamsley‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

I was still thinking about the prayer books, but am interested in how masks are viewed legally as well and I'm glad you brought it up.

manassehkatz‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

Comments on a few of the issues: 1 - Basic concept is "if you can only Daven in a group outside due to legal health-based restrictions" you either "Daven outside in an Eruv (which can be as easy as an already fenced back yard with everything brought before Shabbos)" or you simply Daven by yourself without a Minyan", which is what many Jews in many places did for a few months in 2020. 2 - For real Pikuach Nefesh, a Jew can do any normally-Shabbos-prohibited activity; for a more mild situation (but still serious), you can ask a non-Jew, but I don't think any of that applies to the COVID-19 "might get sick" situation, 3 - Halacha is quite clear that a Mohel has to plan things in advance, but there are certain leniencies for the health of a baby where asking a non-Jew is permitted, 4 - Masks - wear them walking between home & Shul (or wherever) if there is no Eruv and carrying is avoided (no different from a hat or coat, because it is (now at least) a normal thing to "wear".

manassehkatz‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

5 - As far as an Epi-pen, while clearly if someone is having a severe allergic reaction it would be permitted to go and get an Epi-pen (and to call 911), I don't know if there is any basis for allowing preemptively carrying an Epi-pen without an Eruv. My hunch is that there is not, and that the answer is "stay home", just as we say "stay home if you can only Daven with a Minyan outside and can't do that because there is no Eruv, etc.".