US surgeon general advises Orthodox rabbis on High Holiday practices

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams advises rabbis on how to prepare for the High Holidays in a call with the Orthodox Union, Sept. 1, 2020. (Screenshot from Zoom) 

Shira Hanau

(JTA) – In a call with Orthodox rabbis, the U.S. surgeon general encouraged the spiritual leaders to take precautions when planning High Holiday services this year.

Dr. Jerome Adams also assured the rabbis that the pandemic would not last forever.

“Dr. Fauci still feels strongly we’re going to have a vaccine for COVID by the end of this year,” Adams said of the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “So we just have to get through this with minimal harm to our congregants and to our communities. This will not be forever.”

His remarks were part of a Zoom call organized by the Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization for Orthodox synagogues, to discuss safe High Holiday practices for this year.

Advertisement for the J

Adams advised synagogues to consider virtual services, though they are not an option for Orthodox synagogues, or organize outdoor services with strict distancing and mask wearing. He also cautioned about reopening in places where COVID test positivity rates are still high.

“No matter how good your synagogue’s reopening plan is, you’re going to be set up to fail if you’re opening up in the context of runaway community spread,” Adams said. “Some places are doing really well, some places not so much.”

Adams also offered advice about specific holiday practices, for instance bringing your own bread for tashlich, the practice in which many throw pieces of bread into a body of water in a ritual casting away of sins. He also suggested keeping the shofar blower far from others at Rosh Hashanah services, citing examples of cases where coronavirus spread through the playing of instruments.

But with all the restrictions needed for this year, Adams was hopeful that services next year would be simpler.

“Know that this, too, shall pass,” Adams said. “I fully expect that by next year we will be back to normal and able to bring people back to be able to worship in person.”