GUIDELINES being shared among Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) congregations recommend congregants “avoid shaking hands, kissing and hugging” and use their tallits rather than siddurs to kiss the Torah.
The guidelines, which were drafted by the North Shore Temple Emanuel (NSTE), come after Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi cautioned Jews not to kiss mezuzahs and the Conference of European Rabbis issued its own directives against kissing mezuzahs and Torah scrolls in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“As the Torah is paraded through the congregation for the hakafah, those who wish to reach out to it are encouraged to use the fringes of your tallit rather than the siddur, as kissing the siddur then placing it back on the shelf after the service may put others at risk,” the NSTE-drafted guidelines say.
Congregants are also asked to use provided utensils when challah or other food is served to protect vulnerable members of the community from being exposed to germs.
Instead of shaking hands, kissing and hugging, they ask synagogue-goers to “consider adopting alternative greetings like a touch on the back, or placing one or both hands over your heart” and to “keep in mind commonsense measures” like avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose, and mouth, covering when they cough and sneeze and washing hands frequently.
Congregants are also urged to refer to the Department of Health for more information.
Meanwhile, the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) has disseminated a series of Health Department recommendations following the 24-hour closure of Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre.
Individuals experiencing symptoms of the COVID-19 are asked not to attend synagogue and to seek medical advice, while healthy attendees are urged to ensure proper hygiene by washing hands regularly with soap and/or hand sanitiser.
Synagogues are asked to make sure that common surfaces touched by multiple people – including mezuzahs are cleaned regularly.
RCANZ president Rabbi Yaakov Glasman said Jewish law “requires us to seek and heed advice from medical experts”.
“At the same time we caution against panicking and note that the mass hysteria we’ve witnessed by some in the community can have far more deleterious effects on people’s health that the virus itself,” he said.