Melbourne’s cautious return to synagogue
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Melbourne’s cautious return to synagogue

A small handful of Melbourne shules are staging limited reopenings, with the Melbourne Beth Din ruling that synagogues should regard the opportunity to reopen with 'strict caution'

The Mizrachi synagogue. Photo: Peter Haskin
The Mizrachi synagogue. Photo: Peter Haskin

WITH the Victorian government relaxing its coronavirus curbs and allowing religious worship to resume in a limited form, Mizrachi is among a handful of shules reopening under tight restrictions.

Urging adherence to a new government rule of no more than 10 worshippers, aside from service leaders, and advising congregants over 65 to seek medical advice, Mizrachi president Danny Lamm and Rabbi Danny Mirvis said members can book online for Shacharit and Mincha-Ma’ariv from Wednesday this week – held at staggered start times in multiple areas of Mizrachi. Shabbat services will also resume this week.

Priority is given to male congregants reciting Kaddish for a family member. Congregants must use separate entrances and exits and undergo temperature checks. Physical distancing is enforced, with guidelines for tefillah. Minyan areas are cleaned between sessions. 

Rabbi Moshe Kahn of Yeshivah’s Daminyan Shule, said some Yeshivah minyans have begun conducting Mincha-Ma’ariv worship subject to government rules, but have made no decision on Shacharit or opening this Shabbat. South Caulfield Shule will reopen for Shabbat this week.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced a limited lifting of coronavirus restrictions on Monday, which include worship services resuming from midnight Wednesday. However, the Melbourne Beth Din (MBD) cited “divided” medical opinion and urged “strict caution in decisions to open”, emphasising the need to conform to government rules.

The MBD also stated private minyans with five visitors to a household, in its opinion are halachically “not permitted”, due to a high contagion risk, despite the Department of Health and Human Services now allowing Victorians to hold prayer groups in homes under these conditions.

“We remind all members of our community that the same Torah that idealises Torah and tefillah in a shule and with a minyan under normal circumstances now requires us to vigilantly preserve our health and the health of others around us. Praying as an individual in the current circumstances is therefore not just permitted but is an important and overriding mitzvah in itself,” the MBD stated.

Caulfield Shule’s Rabbi Ralph Genende told The AJN, “We are looking forward to restarting when it’s prudent.” St Kilda Shule had not reached a decision about reopening, with Rabbi Yaakov Glasman telling The AJN on Wednesday, “We are considering our options.”

Rabbi Menachem Wolf, whose Spiritgrow shule is deciding whether to open for people to recite Kaddish, said small shules have problems with safe distancing – but a pent-up demand for Kaddish and life-cycle events is being considered. 

President Benjamin Koppel said Adass Israel will remain closed for now, as an influx of worshippers would not be good for health and safety. Elwood Shule’s Rabbi Shmuel Karnowsky said it was “unlikely” minyans would resume for this Shabbat.

Progressive Judaism Victoria (PJV) president Philip Bliss said a “surge of interest” in online daily and Shabbat minyans and other events since March has kept congregants active, although PJV is in dialogue with shules about gradually reintroducing physically attended worship. 

Temple Beth Israel president Rebecca Silk said online prayer will continue for now, but the shule may open for some bar and bat mitzvahs next month. Etz Chayim Synagogue is holding its first bar mitzvah this Shabbat with close family members attending. Rhona Rosenberg, president of Masorti shule Kehilat Nitzan, said her board will discuss the easing of restrictions, “but we will continue with our very successful services on Zoom”.

Related coverage: Back to shule … and school in Sydney

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