Coronavirus: safety instructions published for Jewish festivals

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Blowing a ram’s horn is a key feature of Rosh Hashanah – but extra care needs to be taken this year


The government has released highly detailed Dos and Don’ts for British Jewry as they celebrate their most important festivals of the year.

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot normally involve crowded synagogues and large family gatherings.

This year, synagogues should ensure social distancing and avoid shawls and community prayer books.

The person blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) for Rosh Hashanah must stand 2 m from other devotees.

Starting on Friday, the three-week period known as the Days of Awe is the central feature of the Jewish religious year, but many of its traditions will be impossible this year.

A long checklist makes it clear that synagogues can be used as long as Covid security measures are in place.

But community prayer books and prayer shawls, normally scattered around the synagogue, should be removed and worshipers should bring their own prayer books.

Microphones should be used whenever possible, although these are normally unacceptable in Orthodox synagogues.

Wearing a mask is advised and people should not mix in groups of more than six people, in accordance with new limits for social gatherings.

The guidelines recognize that the “rule of six” will have a particular impact on the tradition of hospitality around Sukkot – the feast of tabernacles, which marks the end of the harvest and commemorates the Exodus from Egypt.

From October 2 to October 9 of this year, the festival normally consists of building a “sukkah,” the small shelter that many Jews build in their gardens to eat during the eight-day festival of Succot.

Normally, guests would be invited and crammed inside, but now the limit is six – unless the social bubble is bigger than that.

There is no more sharing of food or cutlery, just like social gatherings in a community sukkah and “sukkahs crawl” through the community.

A central feature of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – is the shofar’s breath, a musical instrument made from ram’s horn that can present a risk of spreading the virus by droplets.

To reduce the risk, the guidelines state that the shofar blower should be at least 2m away from other people and should not be blown towards anyone.

There is also detailed guidance for a ceremony known as Tashlich, where Rosh Hashanah devotees go to a body of water moving like a river and figuratively cast their sins away.

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In addition to the rule of six and social distancing, the advice states that items used during the ceremony should not be shared, such as prayer books or breadcrumbs that some worshipers throw on the water.

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales has been appointed patron of a Jewish youth organization on his 125th year.

Neil Martin, director general of the JLGB (Jewish Brigade of Boys and Girls), said it was an “absolute honor” and praised the prince as “a strong supporter of youth power”.

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