We are in extraordinary times. Judaism has something to say about that.
In Hebrew, there is a term: Sha’at Had’chak, which roughly means at the time of an emergency. I would argue–as have many of my colleagues across the observance spectrum–that we are in such times right now. As you may know, in Jewish laws there are often various rabbinic opinions on observance. Some positions are more stringent while others are more lenient. During Sha’at Had’chak, it is permitted to follow a more lenient position if necessary. Our tradition also records majority and minority opinions. Typically, we follow the majority, but during these times there are those who suggest that it is permitted to follow the minority if necessary.
The overall guiding principle here is that we must do whatever we can to save lives; we are required (not just allowed) to violate all but three laws in Judaism in order to save lives; these are committing murder, committing a sexual offense, or denying the nature of God. Otherwise, we must do what we can to save lives–and even to prevent illness when the chance of a fatality is low.
Most synagogues are following the principles of Judaism by adhering to the current CDC recommendations on social distancing. This is why most congregations are not holding Shabbat services–or any services for that matter. We are all finding creative ways to carry on the life of the community, stay connected and sane using the technology available to us–some of which many will not use on Shabbat and holidays.
Because of Sha’at Had’chak, most JCCs and other gyms are closed. They are also adhering to the CDC recommendations. That doesn’t mean that our fitness has to be delayed as well. There are many ways that we can stay in shape and maintain social distancing. I’ve been offering daily workouts for free through Facebook. The Mandel JCC here in Cleveland has virtual workouts several times a day that are free as well. Do some research. Find out how you can stay active and stay healthy. BTW, it is OK to get outside as long as you follow the rules there as well.
I pray that all of these measures will be temporary–although no one knows just yet what that means. Once the Sha’at Had’chak ends, we will (God-willing) return to the regular activities in the community, perhaps with some adjustments that may become permanent.
Over the years, the Jewish people have faced massive changes. We were thrown into slavery in Egypt and centuries later miraculously and spectacularly freed. We settled a new land, were exiled, resettled, were exiled again and resettled again. We have survived pogroms, plagues and mass murder. Through it all, we remained true to ourselves, our tradition, our observances and to God.
We will get through this with God’s help–and with each other’s help too!
Wishing you an early Shabbat Shalom!