Orthodox Union Guidance Regarding Coronavirus

With the input of our leading Rabbis, and with the guidance of our team of Infectious Disease Specialists of the highest caliber, this section contains updates regarding significant statements and policies provided by the Orthodox Union. This resource will be updated as circumstances evolve, with the latest up-to-date information regarding the Coronavirus pandemic.

 


Guidance Statements & Policies


August 14, 2020 9:45 AM EDT

OU/RCA Guidance for Shuls for Yamim Noraim (High Holidays)

As we approach and plan for the upcoming Yamim Noraim, we do so with the recognition that this season provides us all with a critical anchor for the rest of the year, in several ways.

First, during this time G-d decides our fate, as individuals, as communities, and as a world. We therefore flock to the synagogue during this season, knowing the critical importance of our approaching G-d with prayer and teshuva.

Second, the season’s focus on prayer and teshuva renews and recharges our connection to G-d and Torah, and provides us with the framework to define our most meaningful ambitions for the coming year.

And third, it is during this period that the synagogue truly serves as the rallying point for the community, bringing us all together more than at any other time in the year. Men and women, young and old, come together in the synagogue for prayer and inspiration, to cry and to sing.

Due to the pandemic, this year we must plan for a Yamim Noraim that will be very different than usual. The requirements of social distancing will limit the capacity of our shul facilities and – in many cases – require us to subdivide into smaller groups. Distancing and masking will challenge the feeling of community among the assembled. Time limitations and other constraints may force the elimination of inspiring parts of the service. And – most difficult of all – many members of our communities may not be able to come to the synagogue at all.

But while the Yamim Noraim will be different, they can be profoundly meaningful. Challenges should drive us to work creatively to overcome. Each of us – as rabbis, communal leaders, and community members – can and must work resourcefully to make this season memorable for its opportunities and not only for its limitations. The myriad technical details involved in pandemic shul planning must not distract us from the true focus of coming to shul, and our material efforts to accomplish things safely must not divert us from putting our hearts and souls into the spiritual efforts of prayer and growth, and from extending ourselves to others with genuine warmth.

This year, more than ever, we need our prayers to be meaningful.

This year, more than ever, we need the spiritual renewal that this season provides.

This year, more than ever, we need to strengthen the bonds and the embrace of community.

What follows are principles to guide the decisions and planning of our shuls and communities throughout the country. This guidance is predicated on the principles shared in our earlier guidance on reopening, issued on May 8, 2020.

The situation continues to evolve and varies significantly from region to region. As such, these recommendations and guidelines are formulated based solely on information and advice available as of August 2020. As always, shuls and communities should follow, at a minimum, the guidelines provided by local and national authorities, including the CDC and local health departments.

1. Compliance: By-and-large, our shuls have been models of compliance with public health recommendations during this crisis. This is profoundly inspiring and represents a true kiddush Hashem and affirmation of our choosing life, a value cherished by the Melech Chafetz BaChayim, the King Who desires life.

2. Seating Plans: In addition to masking, we continue to urge social distancing, leaving six feet between seats occupied by non-family members. As such, the Yamim Noraim assigned seating model will be very helpful for maximizing usage of space by seating family members together.

3. Outreach to Members: Shuls should reach out as soon as possible to each of their members to ascertain their plans for the Yamim Noraim. While surveys may be effective in getting a general view of what to expect, proper planning for this season will require advance knowledge of every person’s plans. Wherever possible there should be personal and individual outreach to all members and past seat-holders.

This outreach should not be simply formal and technical, but inviting and caring. All men and women who are coming to shul will need to be accommodated, and those who are unable to come should be addressed and cared for.

4. Adding Minyanim: Shuls may consider providing additional minyanim for several reasons. Buildings will have capacity issues due to distancing requirements. Many people will require or prefer an outdoor option and/or a briefer service for health reasons. And as many shuls will be unable to provide childcare services, parents of young children may require different minyan times to allow each parent to daven in shul while the other watches the children.

Proper shul planning will weigh using multiple spaces versus reusing the same space with early and late minyanim. The latter option allows more of the community to daven in the beit knesset (sanctuary) space and will address the needs of parents of young children to alternate their davening times, but it will also necessitate a significantly shorter service and a sanitizing between services.

5. Difficult Choices: There is significant halachic and tangible value to davening in a beit knesset, a facility designated and maintained as a House of G-d; to davening “b’rov am,” within a large group; and to following the prescribed and customary order of prayers. In addition, communal singing and words of Torah enhance our shul experience immensely. The unfortunate realities of the pandemic may require communities to make difficult choices, foregoing some of these valuable components for the coming Yamim Noraim.

6. Ventilation & Duration: Efforts, including consultation with HVAC experts, should be made to ensure proper ventilation of the space. As noted in our earlier guidance, masking, distancing, and ventilation reduce risk but do not eliminate it, and duration of exposure may increase risk. That said, there is no meaningful universal recommendation we can provide regarding a proper length of the service, given regional variations in disease and the quality of ventilation in the particular davening space.

7. Shortening the Davening: Halachic guidance regarding whether and how to shorten the time together in shul has been provided by many poskim, and local rabbis should decide the halachic solution that is most fitting for their community. Options may include eliminating Mi Shebeirachs; saying the first sections of davening at home and beginning the public minyan at Nishmat Kol Chai; reducing the amount of singing and length of speeches; and possibly eliminating certain customary piyyutim.

Care should be taken to ensure that these changes not be so extreme as to empty the shul experience of its soul. A shul should be a makom rinah, a place of song, and a makom Torah, a place of learning. Communal singing, words of Torah inspiration, and familiar piyyutim are very valuable components of the Yamim Noraim experience. If deemed safe and practical, they may be reduced but not eliminated.

8. Planning & Preparation: Planning for multiple minyanim needs to begin early. Considerations may include identifying additional neighborhood facilities, indoor or outdoor; ordering tents; and critically, preparing to staff these minyanim with adequately prepared baalei tefillah, keriah, and tekiah. To assist shuls in meeting the increased need for baalei tefillah, we have developed – with the support of the New York Jewish Federation – a Yamim Noraim baal tefillah training program, which can be found at ou.org/Chazzan.

9. Shofar: An appropriate precaution during shofar blowing would be to place a surgical mask over the wider end of the shofar, as this does not appear to alter the sound of the shofar blast. Some may point the shofar out an open window or door, or near and towards the front wall or aron kodesh, facing away from the congregation. A single shofar should not be used by multiple people, and no barrier should be placed between the shofar and the mouth of the one blowing the shofar. Poskim have addressed when and how much to sound the shofar where the time in shul is seriously limited.

10. Torah Reading: In order to maintain safety during the Torah reading, options include having the baal koreh take all the aliyot, having those called up standing at a significant distance during the reading, or using a plexiglass shield separating the baal koreh from the one called up to the Torah.

11. Avoiding Crowding: While in shul, as well as while entering and exiting, congregants should maintain social distance. Where entry is monitored by security, systems must be established to avoid crowding as lines form.

12. Mikvah: While it is customary for men to use the mikvah during this season, this cannot be done without the implementation of a proper and safe men’s mikvah protocol.

13. Caring for Those at Home: A critical concern is providing for those who will be unable to attend shul. As noted above, shuls are encouraged to reach out personally and individually to all members and past seat-holders. Those who will be unable to come to shul must be supported, addressing both their social and practical needs. Community members should ensure that they have Yom Tov food (including simanim), a Machzor, guidance for davening at home, and additional helpful reading material. Most important, where possible they can have someone regularly checking in with them, safely distanced visitors, as well as someone to blow the shofar outside their home.

14. Including Singles: Communities and individuals should make meaningful efforts to include singles of all ages who live without family. These months of isolation have been especially trying for this population, and efforts should be made to safely welcome them to the homes of others in a responsible manner.

15. Children’s Programming: Shuls will have to consider if there is a safe way – consistent with local regulations and guidance – to provide childcare and programming during the davening on Yamim Noraim. Where this cannot be done, shuls should nevertheless design some form of age-appropriate outdoor programming during the afternoon to ensure that they too have a Yamim Noraim shul experience.

16. Divrei Torah: As noted above, words of Torah inspiration and guidance are an essential part of the Yamim Noraim experience. While there is an outstanding array of quality Torah content that is available online and in print, there is no substitute to the messages of Torah that are communicated by our personal, local mentors. Every effort should be made to provide opportunities for sharing those messages directly. While speeches during morning davening may be limited, other times – both during the Yomim Tovim and preceding it – should also be utilized, as well as the written word. Shuls will do well to provide nationally produced and shared learning materials for individuals and families to use at home to enhance their Yamim Noraim, but they would do better to include and highlight the local rabbi’s voice, where he shares the personal and direct messages tailored to his community.

A closing thought. During the month of Elul and the Yamim Noraim we recite the 27th Psalm twice daily, where we express the following: “There is one thing that I ask of G-d, it is that which I seek: that I dwell in the house of God all the days of my life….”

Jewish communities are built around the house of G-d, the synagogue. Yes, much of Orthodox Jewish life can be conducted without a synagogue, and all the technical elements of a service can be accomplished in a backyard minyan. For months we prayed and studied at home, supported by outstanding online content. But there is no substitute for physical community, for the relationships that are nurtured by the social framework of that community, for a room full of voices raised together in prayer and song, for being in a House of G-d, and for a nurturing personal connection to religious mentors. Yes, we as individuals have made it without some of these for months, but we would be mistaken to dismiss their value for the long term.

Your shul needs you. It needs your presence and it needs your support. Our rabbis have been working incredibly hard during this pandemic, tending to issues of health and safety, finances, pastoral counseling, planning for a radically different Yamim Noraim, and multiple other areas of unprecedented communal challenge – all while tending to their usual and expected responsibilities. They have acted heroically to benefit us all. Please support them during this important season so that they will be there for us now and for the long term.

We need each other. We have all been through a challenging year. As a result of COVID, many of us have suffered the loss of loved ones and have experienced serious illness, financial difficulty, isolation, and profound uncertainty and stress. Let us all look out for each other and reach out to each other with understanding and support.

We look forward to getting past the many technical and practical issues addressed here so that we may arrive at the Yamim Noraim prepared to pour out our hearts to G-d in genuine and sincere prayer, beseeching Him to bring an end to this pandemic and its many challenges, and that He help us to emerge from it with health, strength and renewed commitment.

Read/Download the full guidance


May 21, 2020 3:00 PM EDT


Update on Shuls and Communities

We are certainly encouraged that downward trends in disease have moved many states towards re-opening. Nevertheless, we reiterate that based on our Halachic value of the concern for life (Pikuach Nefesh), a government’s allowance of Minyanim – for which we are grateful – does not mean that such Minyanim should occur.

Before resuming communal Davening, the OU/RCA guidance required both a clear flattening of the curve and a verified safe period of 14 days following communal reopening to assess whether there will be a significant surge of new cases as other parts of society are released from mitigation.

This guidance remains in place. We continue to advise delaying 14 days prior to the opening of any Minyanim.

Our Poskim and our medical advisors imposed this guideline because a downward trajectory of illness during the lock down period itself does not reflect what may occur upon reopening. Reopening a community is an experiment to determine whether the downward trajectory will continue even after people begin to circulate significantly. The opinion of our Poskim is that Pikuach Nefesh concerns dictate that the return to communal Davening wait until after the experiment of reopening has been conducted successfully for two weeks, without a rise in disease.

This caution should of course be exercised not only regarding Minyanim, but for other new government allowances as well. All activities must be approached with appropriate caution.

We restate that due to the variety of experience and data between communities, there can be no “one size fits all” national schedule for reopening. The rabbinic and medical leadership of shuls and communities should determine local policy in consultation and coordination with local public health officials, meeting and exceeding their standards.

This statement was written with the guidance of our Poskim, Harav Hershel Schachter שליט”א and Harav Mordechai Willig שליט”א. It has been reviewed and supported by Harav Dovid Cohen שליט”א and Harav Asher Weiss שליט”א.

The situation continues to evolve and thus these recommendations and guidelines are based solely on currently available information and advice.

We share our community’s deep desire to return to communal Davening and to shul life. It is our sincere hope and prayer that our decisions maximize both communal safety and our service of Hashem, יהי רצון שתשרה שכינה במעשה ידינו ויהי נועם ד’ אלקינו עלינו.


May 8, 2020 3:00 PM EDT


As was shared on a call yesterday with Rabbi Moshe Hauer & Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America are disseminating a guidance document to help our communities plan for the eventual safe reopening of shuls.

Please see the guidance document here.


April 27, 2020 10:45 AM EDT


Give So That Others Might Live

The Orthodox Union, a leading voice of American Orthodox Jewry, is encouraging members of our community to consider donating plasma by registering with the COVID Plasma Initiative.

The COVID Plasma Initiative is a grassroots effort collecting the antibody-rich plasma of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 as part of treatments or scientific trials. When that plasma is transfused into patients suffering from the virus, it can be life-saving.

ACT TODAY!

If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 and are now fully recovered, find out more and register today at covidplasmasavealife.com.


April 6, 2020 1:00 PM EDT


Follow-up Joint Statement to the Orthodox Community Regarding Pesach

As our nation and our world grapples with the ongoing critical struggle to contain the mortal threat of COVID-19, we offer the following words of guidance to our communities.

We are all joined in prayer for the success of these efforts at containment, and for a speedy recovery for all those already affected. We acknowledge the pain and confusion that these efforts have imposed on everyone, especially those who will celebrate Pesach away from family and/or completely alone.

All of us share in the grief and uncertainty that is being experienced by so many individuals and families at this difficult time.

We wish for one and all that they be blessed with health and the ability to commemorate these days with meaning and with a measure of joy.

In light of the upcoming festival, we must again share critical notes of guidance. We note that the situation continues to evolve, and under all circumstances nothing should be done that is not within the current guidance offered by local governments and health departments, as well as within the standards prescribed by communal rabbinic and medical leadership.

1. Everyone must plan to celebrate Pesach where they are currently. Travel to other cities, or visits with family even within your city, should be cancelled. This applies to the entirety of Pesach, including Chol HaMoed and the last days.

2. While fresh air walks are encouraged, there should not be Chol HaMoed trips or excursions to parks, playgrounds and other venues, as these will create gathering points for community and pose a grave danger.

3. The limitation against holding Minyanim – indoors or outdoors – must sadly remain in place at this time, without exception.

4. Shopping trips must absolutely be limited to the bare minimum, and – where critical – should be done while wearing a cloth mask, per current CDC guidance. Consolidate lists, and make do with less. Take delivery or curbside pick up whenever possible. This should be observed before, during and following Yom Tov. A crush of shoppers at our stores is a risk we cannot afford.

5. Bi’ur Chametz: At this time of great stress, we may do nothing that would possibly add any stress or burden to our emergency responders. Without a controlled communal bi’ur, significant risk would be posed by the creation of fires – public or private – for the burning of chametz. Chametz may be disposed of via trash pick up or the sale of chametz, and the ten very small pieces from the bedikah may be crumbled and flushed.

STAY HOME; SAVE LIVES
We urge one and all – while strictly maintaining the prescribed guidelines – to look out for each other by reaching out to and providing for each other, especially those living alone.We hope and pray that our sincere tefillos (prayers) and chassadim (acts of kindness) will move Hashem to swiftly remove this plague from the world and bless us all with health, peace and tranquility.

Chag kasher v’sameach!

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President, Agudath Israel of America
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznick, Executive Vice-President, Igud HaRabbanim – Rabbinical Alliance of America
Rabbi Shmuel Blech, Chairman, Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, Co-Chair, the Lakewood Vaad Farley Weiss, President, National Council of Young Israel
Moishe Bane, President, Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President, the Orthodox Union
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, President, Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Council of America


April 2, 2020 3:15 PM EDT


COVID-19 and the Mikvah

We are writing with the guidance of our Poskim, Harav Hershel Schachter שליט״א, Harav Asher Weiss שליט״א, and Harav Modechai Willig שליט״א, concerning the issue of Mikvah use during the current pandemic.

While the unfailing dedication of Jewish women to this practice is profoundly inspiring, we must address its safety with the utmost seriousness, both for the sake of public health, and to allay fears.Everyone must respect a woman’s wish to delay her immersion in the Mikvah and resumption of intimacy until the pandemic has passed.

The following is shared for the sake of those who wish to continue to access this sacred resource at this time.We have approached this subject in consultation with our medical advisory panel, composed of Infectious Disease and Public Health specialists from across the country. With their guidance, the OU provides the recommendations and guidelines set forth below as necessary for a Mikvah to safely remain open. The situation continues to evolve at a rapid pace and thus these recommendations and guidelines are formulated based solely on currently available information and advice.

These guidelines should be implemented in consultation with your local rabbi and medical advisors.

1. Strict screening of Mikvah staff and visitors for any symptoms or known exposure to COVID-19.

2. Strict implementation of social distancing protocols, ensuring no close human contact during the entire Mikvah visit.

3. Strict implementation of maximal hygienic standards for attendants and for cleaning of surfaces and rooms before and between visitors.

4. Strict maintenance of proper chlorination/bromination levels in the actual immersion pool, per CDC guidelines.

These conditions cannot be properly met in the conditions of a men’s Mikvah, and so these should be uniformly closed during the pandemic.Women’s Mikvaot that wish to remain open to serve those who wish to access them, must strictly adhere to the specific protocols for both staff and users developed in consultation with our medical advisory panel, designed to meet the four conditions enumerated above.

Mikvaot that are able to adhere strictly to these protocols may safely remain open.Individuals who do not pass the screening process must respect the current processes that are put in place to protect public health. As the Mikvah experience is understandably stressful under the current conditions, extra efforts should be made – by both attendants and users – to be patient, empathetic and supportive.

We pray that G-d speedily eradicate this plague from our midst, and allow all aspects of our lives, as individuals, families and communities, to be fully restored.

Please click here for the recommended Mikvah protocols. Please be mindful of the fact that the data available to us is ever-evolving and therefore, require us from time to time to update these policies. We note as well that individual communities may have specific circumstances that may warrant community-specific protocols.


April 1, 2020 12:00 PM EDT


Congress Needs to Give More Help to America’s Charities in This Crisis

OU Advocacy Executive Director Nathan Diament’s op-ed in the New York Jewish Weekread it here.


April 1, 2020 7:00 AM EDT


As a service to the wider community, the Orthodox Union has researched various online platforms and has organized, collected and curated many key resources in one centralized location for your convenience.

Please visit our COVID-19 website at covid19.ou.org for a wide range of information covering the following areas: Adults, Leadership, Parenting, Seniors & Elders, Technology, Torah and Youth. Check back often as these pages will be updated regularly.


March 24, 2020 2:00 PM EDT


Worldwide Yom Tefillah – Wednesday, March 25, 2020 – Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan
11:30 AM EDT; 5:30 PM Israel time

We call on our communities to join the entire Jewish People in focusing extra effort on prayer throughout the day on this Wednesday, Yom Kippur Katan.

Additionally, at 11:30 am EDT, all are asked to join – from their individual homes – in the recitation of Tehillim 20, 41, 120, 130, 142, 91, followed by Avinu Malkeinu.

אבינו מלכנו מנע מגיפה מנחלתך
In response to the global pandemic of COVID-19
we, G-d fearing and believing Jews, turn our hearts and prayers
to our Father in Heaven with pleas for a speedy end to this plague;
for complete recovery for all those who are ill;
for support and encouragement for all those who are suffering and lonely;
for comfort to those who are mourning;
and for inspiration and wisdom for our researchers to find a cure.
אבינו מלכנו קבל ברחמים וברצון את תפילתנו


March 23, 2020 6:00 PM EDT


World’s Largest Kosher Food Certification Agency Confirms that Kosher for Passover Products will not be Impacted By COVID-19

Orthodox Union (OU) Kosher, the world’s largest kosher certification agency, has confirmed that the supply chain for kosher for Passover food has not been disrupted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

OU Kosher is certifying more than 7,400 products for Passover 2020, which are available both in the United States as well as overseas. Despite the long lines and panic shopping taking place at grocery stores around the country, there is an abundance of kosher food available for the upcoming holiday, according to the organization.

Read the full article


March 23, 2020 3:30 PM EDT


Joint Statement to the Orthodox Community Regarding Pesach

Rabbinic leaders and organizations across the Orthodox spectrum have, individually, declared the health threat presented by COVID-19 a mortal threat (sakanas nefashos). We, leaders of major American Orthodox Jewish organizations, join together again to further clarify our shared and firm guidance for our communities.

We have heretofore urged not only full compliance with all health guidance issued by federal, state and local governments, but have gone beyond those pronouncements in urging our communities to remain at home and avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions.

With regard to the upcoming Pesach holiday, we note specifically the following critical mandates, shared in consultation with leading infectious disease and public health experts:

1. We are accustomed to honoring Pesach to the fullest degree, including taking haircuts, purchasing new clothing and tableware, and preparing the fullest menus. This year’s public health crisis mandates us to significantly limit all of the above. Our responsibility is to refrain from any NON-ESSENTIAL outside interactions, including especially in-store shopping. If there is a need for truly ESSENTIAL purchases, send one family member only – who is neither ill, vulnerable, nor of known exposure to COVID-19 – as rarely and as briefly as possible. Stores serving the community should shift to home delivery or drive-by parking lot pick-up of pre-orders, and – to the extent this is not possible – must take substantive steps to minimize crowding, maintain hygiene, and maximize social distancing.

We will truly honor Pesach by limiting our purchases to the truly ESSENTIAL, ensuring that all of us – especially the vulnerable – are able to celebrate Pesach in good health. We must STAY HOME; SAVE LIVES.

2. The Pesach plans of many have been completely upended. This creates severe difficulty for so many. We are deeply sympathetic to this enormous difficulty. Nevertheless, public health demands strict adherence to the current guidance. Travel to other cities must be cancelled, whether to vacation venues (Florida, etc.) or to family. Everyone must plan to celebrate Pesach where they are currently.

Individuals living alone or those absolutely unable to prepare for Pesach may choose to self-quarantine for 14 days, and then – if asymptomatic – may join with a welcoming local family that is similarly asymptomatic and that has been disciplined in staying home and limiting their interactions outside the home to the absolute minimum as described above.

These guests may join one family only for the duration, without additional company, and must carefully observe the mandated standards of scrupulous hygiene and social distancing. The elderly and high risk must seek medical advice before considering this.

STAY HOME; SAVE LIVES

We urge one and all – while strictly maintaining the prescribed guidelines – to look out for each other by reaching out to and providing for each other, especially those living alone.

We hope and pray that our sincere tefillos (prayers) and chassadim (acts of kindness) will move Hashem to swiftly remove this plague from the world and bless us all with health, peace and tranquility.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, Executive Vice President, Agudath Israel of America Rabbi Mendy Mirocznick, Executive Vice-President, Igud HaRabbanim – Rabbinical Alliance of America
Rabbi Shmuel Blech, Chairman, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Weisberg, Co-Chair, The Lakewood Vaad
Farley Weiss, President, National Council of Young Israel
Moishe Bane, President, Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President, the Orthodox Union Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, President, Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Council of America


March 22, 2020 2:30 PM EDT


Urgent Action Memo
TO: SHUL, SCHOOL & COMMUNITY LEADERS
FROM: Nathan Diament, Exec. Director – OU Advocacy
RE: Act Today re: Pending Legislation in Congress That Can Assist Our Community to Deal with the Economic Impact of the Coronavirus

The core mission of the OU Advocacy Center is to protect and promote the interests of the Orthodox Jewish community in the realm of public policy. As Congress and the Administration have been working to respond to the economic impact of the crisis, OU Advocacy has been working intensively to have the needs of our community’s essential institutions – your shuls and schools and tzedakot – included and eligible in any financial relief legislation.

To that end, OU Advocacy is one of the leaders of a coalition of nonprofit organizations that has been urging Congress to include major relief for nonprofit organizations in the next package of relief legislation. See here

Many of you have had questions and asked about the impact and benefits of what Congress has done and will do. We will send you a full guidance memo answering those questions as things develop.

Today, you can help shape the outcome.

TODAY, the Senate leaders, Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin are meeting to hammer out the final details of the third coronavirus response package. Majority Leader McConnell said he will have the Senate start considering it at 3:00pm today.

These are following measures OUA and our partners are advocating for. We know from our many conversations with key Senate and White House officials that these proposals are all on the table, as they finalize the legislation:

Nonprofit charities – including shuls and day schools – should be eligible to receive up to $10 million each (initially in the form of loans, but they can be forgiven) in a $300 billion program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Increasing donations to charities by enacting an “above the line” deduction for contributions to charities of up to $2000. If taxpayers make donations of that amount between 2019-2021, they could deduct the donation on their taxes even if they don’t otherwise itemize their deductions.

The creation of a $60 billion fund exclusively to assist nonprofits in the Economic Stabilization Fund being set up at the Treasury Dept. to assist the airlines and other distressed sectors.

All of this is changing moment to moment. You can help by using our Action Alert here and urging Senate leaders to help our shuls, schools and other mosdos today.

Thank you

Nathan J. Diament
Executive Director
OU Advocacy Center


March 20, 2020 1:00 PM EDT


Rabbinic leaders and organizations across the Orthodox spectrum have, individually, declared the health threat presented by COVID-19 a mortal threat (sakanas nefashos).

Today, we, leaders of major American Orthodox Jewish organizations, join together to reiterate, as clearly and forcefully as we can, our collective view. We have heretofore urged not only full compliance with all health guidelines issued by federal, state, and local governments, but have gone beyond those pronouncements in urging our communities to remain at home and avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions. In keeping with those guidelines, we have mandated scrupulous hygiene and social distancing, and urged everyone to stay home and minimize physical interaction.

We have taken the unprecedented and deeply distressing step of shuttering the central fixtures of our lives – our shuls, yeshivos and schools – and certainly to eliminate other gatherings.

We have done so because as observant Jews we have an obligation to place supreme value on protecting human life (pikuach nefesh).

The undersigned, representing the broad spectrum of organized Orthodox Jewry in the United States, wish to underscore collectively that which each of our organizations has already stated unequivocally.

Stay home; save lives.

May Hashem swiftly remove this plague from the world and bless us all with health, peace and tranquility.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President, Agudath Israel of America

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, President, Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Council of America

Rabbi Shmuel Blech, Chairman, Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, Co-Chair, the Lakewood Vaad

Farley Weiss, President, National Council of Young Israel

Moishe Bane
, President, Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President, the Orthodox Union

Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive Vice-President, Igud HaRabbonim – Rabbinical Alliance of America

Additional signatories are forthcoming and will be featured in updated statements.

Download the full statement


March 19, 2020 10:00 AM EDT


Orthodox Union Joins Nonprofit Charities Nationwide in Call for Congress to Provide Financial Support for Charitable Sector Amid Coronavirus Emergency

Joint Letter Calls for $60 Billion So Nonprofits Can Continue to Serve Those in Need

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of American (Orthodox Union) – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – has joined nonprofits nationwide in issuing a letter to Congress requesting $60 billion to help the nonprofit charitable sector continue to serve vulnerable families and communities in the wake of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, signed by nearly 100 leading charities including the Orthodox Union, states: “America’s charities are frontline responders providing food, shelter, medical services and other critical services to those in need in their communities.

At this crucial time when the American people and governments will depend even more on charitable nonprofits, contributions are likely to decrease as happened following the 2008 recession. Without dramatic and immediate financial and programmatic backstop from government, America’s charitable nonprofits and the people we serve face a precipitous decline in mission services at a time when our efforts are needed like never before by the most vulnerable in our communities.”

The request to Congress would help nonprofits maintain operations, expand scope to address increasing demands and stabilize losses from closures throughout the country. It also includes several specific recommendations for assistance to help the nonprofit sector serve the American people, such as providing business continuity relief, payroll tax credit relief and an “above-the-line,” or universal charitable deduction, for contributions through the end of 2021.

Said Orthodox Union President Mark (Moishe) Bane:
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the United States, more attention must be focused on disruptions to America’s charities. Now, more than ever, we must not forget about the most vulnerable in our communities who count on the Orthodox Union and other charities such as ours for social welfare services, education, health and spiritual care.”

Said Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament:
“We strongly urge the President and Congress to take swift action to help us so that we, and so many other nonprofits across the country, may continue to serve our communities and provide them the help they need during this uncertain and precarious time.”

Read the full letter to Congress here


March 18, 8:00 PM EDT


Stay Home; Save Lives!

During these extremely difficult and precarious times, we again turn to one and all with the clear and unambiguous mandate to heed the guidance of our governments and health authorities regarding the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

STAY HOME; SAVE LIVES! This is a halachic imperative of the highest order that each and every one of us must obey for the sake of the health of our own families, communities and fellow citizens.

We cannot repeat this often enough. Stay home. Avoid groups or public interactions of any kind, for any purpose. Leave home only for essential needs and only if you are healthy, have not been exposed to the virus, and are not in a high risk category. Observance of this mandate is critical.

We pray to the Almighty for the recovery of all those already affected by COVID-19, and for the swift success of the efforts of our government for testing, containment, treatment and prevention.


Half-Day Fast and Day of Prayer Tomorrow

The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America join in the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel for a half-day fast on Thursday, March 19.

Only those who feel very well and are not in any risk category should fast until Chatzos (midday).

One and all should engage in extra Tehillim (Psalms) and intense Tefillah (prayer). May Hashem hear our prayers with mercy and compassion and eradicate this plague from our midst.


March 18, 2020 10:00 AM EDT


Please join the Orthodox Union community for the recitation of Tehillim (chapters 20, 27 and 130) and divrei chizuk (words of inspiration) from our rabbanim each afternoon at 1:00PM EDT. Today’s divrei chizuk will be shared by Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, GA.

To participate, please dial 773-377-9170.

May the group recitation of Tehillim serve as a zchut (merit) for those who are ill and to ward off this pandemic.

OU Live Premieres Tonight at 8pm

OU Live is a new nightly hour-long program, bringing you front row seats to our conversations with our community’s most inspiring and uplifting leaders.

Beginning tonight, tune in together with thousands across the country, every night at 8pm at ou.org/oulive.

Tonight’s (3/18) program features Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb with words of inspiration, Dr. Henry Abramson on the unprecedented historical setting of our time and special musical guest star Shulem Lemmer.


March 17, 2020 9:15 PM EDT


Additional Guidance for Synagogues/Communities

We have already advised that social distancing for each and every member of our community is critical. People should maintain physical distance from others, and should limit shopping trips, sending only one person on those trips.

The situation continues to evolve at a rapid pace and thus these guidelines are formulated based solely on currently available information and advice. Significant developments have compelled this addition to the guidelines previously issued by the OU.

We must further add:

Many individuals – including thousands of students – are returning to their communities from areas with active communal transmission – including Israel, New York and New Jersey. These individuals should practice separation for 14 days in the family home, having a separate room for sleeping, a separate bathroom if possible, and otherwise keeping a safe distance. They should not be the ones doing the shopping trips or any ventures out into the community until they have been home for 14 days symptom-free.

We advise strongly against those returning from such areas – as well as all grandchildren – kissing or hugging or having other close contact with elderly grandparents or others considered high risk from COVID-19.

With regard to what specific steps to take within the family home to separate those returning from the other members of the family, parents should consult with their own medical advisors and should adhere to all governmental, public health and local medical guidelines for how to practice separation for returnees from areas of active transmission. Many local synagogues and communities are helping members to be informed and connected to appropriate sources of guidance.


March 17, 1:00 PM EDT


OU Kosher Advisory

As we confront the challenges brought about by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), all of us at the OU Kosher continue our mission to provide the highest level of Kosher certification. As the pandemic evolves, we are doing everything we can to assist our communities and customers worldwide.  Read More


March 17, 2020 9:00 AM EDT


Introducing – OU Live

OU Live is a new nightly hour-long program, bringing you front row seats to our conversations with our community’s most inspiring and uplifting leaders.

Beginning tomorrow night, tune in together with thousands across the country, every night at 8pm at ou.org/oulive.


March 16, 2020 12:00 PM EDT


The following are our most current, recommended policies for shuls and communities, as of Monday March 16, 2020. The situation, of course, continues to evolve at a rapid pace and thus these guidelines are formulated based solely on currently available information and advice. Significant developments have compelled this updating of the guidelines we issued on Friday March 13.

The Orthodox Union has convened a highly sophisticated medical advisory panel. The panel is comprised of Infectious Disease and Public Health specialists from across the country, and is providing the necessary expertise and guidance.

In consideration of the advice of the medical advisory panel, the following policies reflect the guidance of our Poskim, HaRav Hershel Schachter שליט״א and HaRav Mordechai Willig שליט״א.

As always, shuls and communities must strictly follow the guidelines provided by local and national authorities, including the CDC and local health departments.

In all communities – whether or not there are local confirmed cases of individuals suffering with the Coronavirus – all shuls and minyanim must be closed. Individuals may not attend shuls that remain open, nor convene minyanim in homes or other indoor or outdoor venues.

We encourage shuls to use both readily available and creative technological means to retain virtually their character as a kehilla, including continuing davening and learning together. We similarly encourage Torah Study Shiurim and Sedarim to continue virtually according to their established schedules. At times like this, it is critical that our Torah and Tefillah increase, rather than the opposite. Families and individuals should aspire to turn this period of challenges into an opportunity to bring more Torah and Tefillah into the home.

Public gatherings and Smachot may not take place. Weddings and funerals should be limited to a basic minyan. Brit Milah should be held privately, and Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations postponed.

Though not attending in person, family, friends and invited guests should connect in any other manner and bring meaningful joy to the Baalei Simcha, or comfort to mourners, who are certainly experiencing significant difficulty and disappointment.

Social distancing is critical. People should maintain physical distance from others outside their homes, and should limit shopping trips, sending only one person on those trips.

At the same time, it is important to get fresh air and exercise. Go outside, but avoid and maintain significant distance from others.

While we must physically isolate, it is critical that we use all means of virtual communication to connect to friends and family members outside our homes and community.

In particular, it is more important than ever to ensure that those living alone have strong virtual social contact and are consistently communicated with and cared for.

Children and young, “low risk” individuals should practice these measures exactly as others.

We must emphasize that we are all dealing with limited data on a new virus and we are being as protective as possible in the absence of data. We are trying as hard as possible to protect people. The guidance provided such as closing shuls and minyanim is extremely painful but necessary, and is advice that none of us ever dreamt we would have to issue.

We reiterate that the measures that this pandemic have forced our community to adopt are exceptionally painful. Though we embrace and celebrate the Torah’s directive to take extraordinary steps to protect our health and those around us, we are simultaneously deeply pained by the absence of Torah and Tefillah from so many of our shuls. We encourage everyone to redouble their efforts in the spheres of Torah study and Tefillah, and to seize this challenge as an opportunity to create in our own homes a presence of meaningful Tefillah and shared Torah study.


March 16, 2020 11:00 AM EDT


Please join the Orthodox Union community for the recitation of Tehillim (chapters 20, 26 and 130) and divrei chizuk (words of inspiration) from our rabbanim each afternoon at 1:00PM EDT. Today’s divrei chizuk will be shared by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton Synagogue.

Please use this link to connect to the call. If you are using a landline or a non-smartphone, please dial (773) 249-0370. Please note, we have greatly expanded our phone line capacity and we should be able to accommodate all callers.


March 13, 2020 2:45 PM EDT


Guidance for Shuls and Communities

Please see updated guidance above!

We recognize the great need for practical guidance for shuls and communities with regard to the continuing situation surrounding COVID-19. With the guidance of our Poskim, HaRav Hershel Schachter שליט״א and HaRav Mordechai Willig שליט״א, we share the guidelines below. Please keep in mind that the situation is evolving at a rapid pace and these guidelines have been drafted with the information and recommendations that we have as of now.

As always, shuls and communities must strictly follow the guidelines provided by local and national authorities, including the CDC and local health departments.

Due to the unique social patterns of many of our communities, where we share daily Tefillah and Shiurim, children’s schools and frequent festive events, we may be exceptionally prone to communal transmission. As such it may be appropriate for us to adopt an even stricter standard than the authorities require.

The medical advice we have received and wish to share is as follows:

In communities where there are confirmed cases, it would be prudent to severely limit all public gatherings, and to close shuls.

In communities where there are not as yet confirmed cases, significant restrictions should be placed on how shuls gather. In addition to the known restrictions on attendance for people displaying symptoms of any kind, as well as individuals considered at greater risk, shuls should hold multiple minyanim to avoid large crowds and ensure significant spacing between individuals.

The above guidance is the minimal standard. The communal rabbi and leadership may assess the situation and wish to exercise greater caution and close the shuls.

In communities where schools have been closed by local government – whether or not there are existing confirmed cases – children must not get together in homes, parks, or other venues. In these communities shuls should be closed as well. Not closing the shuls will render the school closures essentially meaningless in limiting communal transmission.

We are not addressing particulars and shuls may want to look to these examples for texts that have been utilized by communities across North America: Bergen County, Boston & Lower Merion.

The measures that this pandemic have forced us to take are exceptionally painful. We are concerned for the threat to our health, and we are deeply pained by the absence of Torah and Tefillah from so many of our shuls. We encourage everyone to redouble their efforts in these areas, and to seize this challenge as an opportunity to create in our own homes a presence of meaningful Tefillah and shared Torah study.

We pray together that we soon see an end to this crisis.

The Leadership of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America


March 13, 2020 12:15 PM EDT


Due to the unfolding community crisis, we are gathering together to beseech HaKodosh Boruch Hu for His unlimited mercy and compassion. We ask Him to protect us and give us the strength to withstand the difficulties that we each may face in the times ahead.

Please join the Orthodox Union community as we join together for the recitation of Tehillim and Divrei Chizuk with Rabbi Moshe Hauer this afternoon at 2 pm EDT – the call in number is 773-377-9170.


March 13, 2020 10:00 AM EDT


Community resources for connection

One of the main things that our modern era offers us is ways to connect with people even when isolated.

Many schools are already transitioning to online learning but often synagogues may not necessarily have the know-how or experience to access or use the myriad of tools out there.

To that end, OU Synagogue Services connected with a wide variety of educational experts to compile a list of tools that can be useful for shuls to connect with their constituents. This is currently available at https://www.ou.org/tech-tools-4-shuls/.

Please note this is a work in progress and we appreciate feedback as this resource evolves.


March 11, 6:30 PM EDT


Updated guidance for synagogues:

Please see updated guidance above!

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has caused illness that have been widely covered in the news media. The number of cases worldwide has grown substantially, with rising numbers of infected individuals and affected shuls and Jewish institutions.

The situation is certainly serious and warrants an appropriate response. At the same time, it is critical to respond proportionally, in line with expert advice, and avoid creating a situation of panic.

In consultation with Poskim and regular monitoring of the CDC and local health department websites, we are sharing the following guidance and recommendations. We note, however, that this situation is evolving at a rapid pace and we strongly urge you to regularly check the CDC and local health department websites for up-to-date guidelines and recommendations.

Tefilla

As maaminim bnei maaminim (believers), we must turn our attention to Hashem for assistance. We renew our call to include daily tefillot for those affected by COVID-19, and for the further containment of this virus.

In addition, we urge all those lighting Shabbat candles before the advent of this Shabbat to again include chapter 130 of Tehillim in their candle lighting recitation and encourage shuls to insert Tehillim on Friday night between Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat. We have a sacred duty to open our hearts to Hashem to ask for mercy on behalf of the people here and around the world already affected by the virus, and for the containment of the virus’ further spread.

Infection control precautions
At all times, notwithstanding the current concerns, the practice of proper hygienic precautions and infection control measures should be a constant priority.

All community members should be encouraged to be especially vigilant to implement the following common-sense protocols:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue that is immediately disposed of or, minimally, into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • We are recommending that handshaking should be avoided at this time.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances and in your car for use when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  • Custodial staff should be extremely diligent about cleaning our shuls and checking dispensers for hand soap and hand sanitizer to ensure that they are filled at all times.

Remember: these are important practices, regardless of coronavirus. If you have not already done so, get the annual flu vaccine, unless medically contraindicated.

Staying away from communal gatherings if you are ill
It is extremely important that if anyone is in quarantine or has symptoms of illness, including fever, coughing, or other symptoms of a potentially contagious condition, that they refrain from coming to shul or other communal gatherings, either during the week or on Shabbat. This is true even for a mourner saying Kaddish. Protecting and preserving communal health supersedes other considerations.

Canceling shul for minyanim or other programs
At the current time, the OU is not recommending that communities cancel minyanim, Shabbat services or other gatherings unless directed to do so by a community’s local health department. This recommendation is fluid and comes with the following caveats:

  • Following local Health Department guidelines. If the health department in your community recommends closure, cancellation or quarantine of any community member or institution, these recommendations must be adhered to without question or exception.
  • Infection control protocols must be in place and community leadership must be confident in their implementation.
  • Those who are actively sick must stay away from communal gatherings.

If a community is unsure that these protocols will be implemented effectively, the OU recommends that the shul leadership consider its options in consultation with Rabbinic and local public health authorities.

Mikva
Hygiene is especially important in the mikva environment and infection control protocols must be undertaken with even greater care.

The OU is not recommending mikva closures at this time outside of the previously mentioned caveats.

The leadership of each mikva has a sacred responsibility to ensure that the standards of cleanliness and hygiene are upheld to the highest degree. The prohibition of access to those who are sick or in any sort of quarantine status is of even greater importance when it comes to the mikva, and mikvaot are encouraged to adopt protocols prohibiting anyone with a potential contagious medical condition from using the mikva.

Best Practices for Mikva cleanliness include:

  • Disinfection of preparation rooms in between each use.
  • Continuous cleaning, chlorination, and filtration of Mikvah waters.
  • Frequent cleaning of common areas including counters, doorknobs and other areas of common touch.
  • Full cleaning of the Mikva following each day’s use.

Most mikvaot have sent guidelines regarding their cleaning practices, and we reiterate that each mikva should ensure that they are compliant based on the guidance of their local health and Halachic authorities.

Increased vigilance

We are sharing a guide that can be accessed here developed by our partners at the Secure Communities Network (SCN) offering important tips about avoiding scams during this difficult time as well as best practices of public events and operational protocols.

It cannot be stressed enough that this situation is constantly evolving, sometimes by the hour. All community members should monitor the CDC website at www.cdc.gov or www.coronavirus.gov in the US or Health Canada in Canada for updated information. The WHO (World Health Organization) website also provides information regarding COVID-19. Many health departments have local contact websites as well which provide information about local developments.

We hope to alert you to additional general guidelines as the situation evolves and we encourage each individual community to look to local Rabbinic and Public Health experts for guidance.


March 9, 2020 3:00 PM EDT


Halachic and practical guidance for megillah readings

Please note the following guidance that is generally applicable.  We encourage each person to consult their local rabbi.  Individual communities experiencing an outbreak may need to act differently, and all communities need to keep abreast of the guidance provided by their local and state health departments.

It is critical to note that it is our recommendation, and – as we understand it – the recommendation of health departments generally, that healthy individuals attend public Megillah readings as usual.

As we have been instructed by medical and public health experts, the best way to prevent spread of disease is not to keep the well at home, but rather to keep the ill out of public spaces.

Who should stay away from shul on Purim?  Although in different manners, both those who are ill and those who are considered high-risk should they contract illness.

As such:  Anyone with symptoms of illness, including fever, cough, stomach bug or other sickness, should refrain from coming to shul or other public places and gatherings. This is true even for the reading of Megillah.  If you have doubts, please err on the side of staying home. And if you have such symptoms, please call your doctor before going to the medical office for treatment.  Individuals with such symptoms likely need to be in isolation. Likewise, anyone who had meaningful exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must also maintain isolation.

On the other hand, the elderly and those with underlying medical issues such as chronic lung problems, the immunocompromised (due to chemotherapy or other immune-modifying medications), and insulin-dependent diabetics who appear to be at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, should discuss their individual medical situation with their provider prior to attending, especially if they have multiple risk factors listed above.  As a rule, these individuals do not need to be in isolation; they may simply need to avoid large crowds.

Those who should not be coming to shul but do not need to be in isolation, should ideally take part in a private Megillah reading.  As in past years, rabbis and communities across the country will do their very best to provide this service to members of their community.  

For those who need to be in isolation due to COVID-19, the following Halachic guidance is based on the ruling issued for our communities by Rav Hershel Schachter, שליט״א.

The clear majority of Halachic authorities do not consider Halachically adequate a Megillah reading heard over the phone or online.  There is however a minority opinion that does allow for this, provided that the reading is live, and not pre-recorded.  Following the Halachic principle that we may rely upon minority opinions under extenuating circumstances – שעת הדחק כדיעבד דמי וכדאי הוא ר״ש לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק – this minority opinion can be relied upon for those who are in mandated isolation.

IMPORTANT: Even for those in isolation, the ideal solution is to have a kosher, hand-written Megillah in hand which they read from audibly, either on their own (even without the correct טעמי המקרא, cantillation), or assisted by a reading heard by phone or on-line.  In such situations – as in all situations where there is no Minyan present – the closing Bracha following Megillah reading is not recited.

To summarize:

  • Generally healthy individuals should attend public Megillah readings as usual, where the community is exercising the proper precautions.
  • Those who are not currently ill but are not attending a public reading because they are deemed high risk, should reach out to their Rabbi and community to help arrange a private Megillah reading.
  • Those who are ill or have had serious exposure and must remain in isolation must not come to shul.  They should ideally have a kosher, hand-written Megillah in hand from which they read audibly, either on their own or assisted by a reading heard electronically.
  • Those who must be in isolation but are unable to read from a kosher, hand-written Megillah, may fulfill their obligation via hearing a live Megillah reading, by phone or online. 
  • As a community service, we are providing links to Megillah Readings in each North American time zone that can be accessed by those who are affected by this quarantine.   

As a community service, we are providing links to Megillah Readings in each North American time zone that can be accessed by those who are affected by this quarantine.  

Night reading:
Eastern Time Zone Link –  Click Here 7:40pm EDT
Mountain Time Zone -7:30 pm 1 (304) 948-5320, Password 386-6526
West Coast Link – Click
Here Times : 7:40pm Pacific

Morning reading:

6:40am Mountain – 8:40am Eastern  +1 (304) 948-5320, Password 386-6526
9:00am Mountain – 11:00am Eastern +1 (304) 948-5320, Password 386-6526
9:00am Pacific – Noon Eastern Click
Here


March 8, 2020 8:00 PM EDT


Please Join a Yom Tefilla and National Tehillim Call -Ta’anit Esther, Monday, March 9, 12:30 PM EDT

As believing Jews, we must instinctively approach our every challenge with emunah u’bitachon, with faith and trust in G-d.

This perspective guides us to react to our current public health challenge with a calm and consistent approach, in line with the standards of care and caution prescribed by the responsible experts and authorities, including the CDC and state and local health departments. While at times – given our strong community culture – we must exercise a somewhat elevated level of caution, this too should be done carefully and proportionally, in consultation with responsible experts and authorities.

Our emunah also moves us to react to the current challenge with genuine and sustained tefillot. This is true at any and every time.

It is exceptionally true at this time of year, when we commemorate the miracle of Purim. That miracle came after – and as a result of – Esther’s request of Mordechai to gather the Jewish people together for three days of fasting and prayer. We commemorate this relationship annually by the observance of Ta’anit Esther on the eve of Purim, thus linking the celebration of our deliverance to the prayers that preceded it.

It is in this spirit that we repeat and emphasize our calls to individuals and communities to dedicate special efforts to pray on behalf of those already affected by COVID-19, and for its further containment. We must pray both for public health and for economic and social stability.

Specifically, we join the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America, and encourage individuals and communities to recite additional tefillot tomorrow, Monday, March 9th. We encourage all shuls, minyanim, and individuals to add specific Tehillim following the afternoon Mincha service, including chapters 20, 22, 121, 130 and 142.

In addition, in the spirit of לך כנוס את כל היהודים, Esther’s request to bring the entire nation together in prayer, and in an effort to include the homebound and quarantined, we will be hosting a national prayer call at 12:30 pm EDT. The call will include a joint recitation of Tehillim, as well as words of inspiration from Rabbi Reuven Fink, Rav, Young Israel of New Rochelle. Rabbi Moshe Hauer of the Orthodox Union will also be giving divrei chizuk.

Join the call at 773-377-9170 or stream it at OU.org.

We encourage you all to join and to share this invitation with others. May our efforts find favor with G-d, such that we and the entire world be spared further suffering and uncertainty.


March 6, 2020 12:00 NPM EDT


A conference call with shul leadership from across the U.S. was held on Thursday, March 5 with Rav Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt – listen to the recording here.


March 5, 2020 6:00 PM EDT


The coronavirus, COVID-19, has been widely covered in the news media. The number of cases worldwide continues to grow substantially, with greater numbers of infected individuals and affected Jewish communities.

The situation is certainly serious, rapidly evolving and warrants an appropriate response. At the same time, it is critical to respond in line with expert advice and avoid creating a situation of panic.

The Orthodox Union is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with medical experts and rabbinic authorities to provide guidance and support with ultimate concern for the wellbeing of the community at heart. We have issued specific guidance to synagogues–please view it here

Regarding any public programs and events, the Orthodox Union and its programs remains in close contact and coordination with various local departments of health as well as the CDC. Should an event or program be cancelled for any reason, immediate communication will be issued.

All community members should be are encouraged to be especially vigilant to implement the following common-sense protocols:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue that is immediately disposed of or, minimally, into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances and in your car for use when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  • It is extremely important that if anyone has symptoms of illness, including fever, coughing, stomach bug or any other sickness, that they refrain from coming to shul or other communal gatherings, either during the week or on Shabbat. This is true even for a mourner saying Kaddish. Protecting and preserving communal health supersedes other considerations.

And while we take steps to protect our community and our communal spaces, we must not forget our relationship with Hashem and encourage all to include daily tefilot (prayers) for those affected directly by COVID-19 and encourage recitation of Tehilim as appropriate.

Due to the rapidly changing situation, we may issue additional general guidelines as the situation evolves. We encourage each individual community to look to local rabbinic and public health experts for guidance.


March 4, 2020 11:00 PM EST


The new novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has caused illness that have been widely covered in the news media. The number of cases worldwide has grown substantially, with rising numbers of infected individuals and affected shuls and Jewish institutions.

The situation is certainly serious, and warrants an appropriate response. At the same time, it is critical to respond proportionally, in line with expert advice, and avoid creating a situation of panic.

In consultation with poskim and public health experts, we are sharing the following guidelines to assist our communities.

Please see updated guidance above

Tefilla
As maaminim bnei maaminim (believers), we must turn our attention to Hashem for assistance. We renew our call to include daily tefillot (prayers) for those affected by COVID-19, and for the further containment of this virus.

In addition, we urge all those lighting Shabbat candles before the advent of this Shabbat to again include chapter 130 of Tehillim in their candle lighting recitation, and encourage shuls to insert Tehillim on Friday night between Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat.

We have a sacred duty to open our hearts to Hashem to ask for mercy on behalf of the people here and around the world already affected by the virus, and for the containment of the virus’ further spread.

Infection control precautions
At all times, notwithstanding the current concerns, the practice of proper hygienic precautions and infection control measures should be a constant priority.

It is important to remember that over 30,000,000 people in the US this season have gotten the flu, with between 16,000-30,000 deaths, including over 100 children. Flu vaccination is still indicated! By not getting or transmitting flu, you will not only save lives, but you will greatly help doctors who will have fewer patients to evaluate with unknown respiratory illnesses.

All community members should be encouraged to be especially vigilant to implement the following common-sense protocols:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue that is immediately disposed of or, minimally, into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances and in your car for use when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  • Custodial staff should be extremely diligent about cleaning our shuls and checking dispensers for hand soap and hand sanitizer to ensure that they are filled at all times.
  • Remember: these are important practices, regardless of coronavirus. If you have not already done so, get the annual flu vaccine, unless medically contraindicated.

Staying Away From Communal Gatherings if you are ill
If you have not traveled to an area where COVID-19 is prevalent or been in close contact with a traveler, and you develop respiratory symptoms, it remains likely that you have a seasonal illness like the flu rather than COVID-19.

However, it is extremely important that if anyone has symptoms of illness, including fever, coughing, stomach bug or any other sickness, that they refrain from coming to shul or other communal gatherings, either during the week or on Shabbat. This is true even for a mourner saying Kaddish. Protecting and preserving communal health supersedes other considerations.

Canceling Shul for Minyanim, Zachor and Purim
At the current time, the OU is not recommending that communities cancel minyanim, Shabbat services or Purim gatherings unless directed to do so by a community’s local health department. This recommendation is fluid and comes with the following caveats:

Following local Health Department guidelines. If the health department in your community recommends closure, cancellation or quarantine of any community member or institution, these recommendations must be adhered to without question or exception.

Infection control protocols must be in place and community leadership must be confident in their implementation.
Those who are actively sick must stay away from communal gatherings.

If a community is unsure that these protocols will be implemented effectively, the OU recommends that the shul leadership consider its options in consultation with Rabbinic and local public health authorities.

Mikva
Hygiene is especially important in the mikva environment and infection control protocols must be undertaken with even greater care.

The OU is not recommending mikva closures at this time.

The leadership of each mikva has a sacred responsibility to ensure that the standards of cleanliness and hygiene are upheld to the highest degree. The prohibition of access to those who are sick or in any sort of quarantine status is of even greater importance when it comes to the mikva, and mikvaot are encouraged to adopt protocols prohibiting anyone with a potential contagious medical condition from using the mikva.

Megilla
We share with you the guidance provided to the RCA by Rav Hershel Schachter, Shlita. “In a situation in which it is impossible to have an in person mikra megillah due to pikuach nefesh considerations caused by coronavirus, it is permissible to hear mikra megillah via a live phone call or video. We follow the rule that sha’as had-chak ke-di’eved dami; in a sha’as had-chak we allow le-chatchila what is usually only accepted bidi’eved. The beracha of ha-rav es rivainu however should not be made unless there is a minyan present where the megillah is actually being read.”

It cannot be stressed enough that these are constantly evolving guidelines. We encourage all community members to monitor the CDC website at www.cdc.gov for updated information.

We are also including templates for signage that may be helpful for your institution to post sharing some of these and other CDC mandated guidelines. Please feel free to add your own logo to these flyers and post them appropriately.

We hope to issue additional general guidelines as the situation evolves and we encourage each individual community to look to local Rabbinic and Public Health experts for guidance. –>


February 27, 2020 9:00 AM EDT


Prayers for those affected by Coronavirus

As you are no doubt aware, the spread of Coronavirus has become a global concern that has reached 6 continents and continues to spread.

There is a great deal of uncertainty as to how this virus may spread and as מאמינים בני מאמינים, part of our responsibility is to turn to Hashem in times of crisis such as these.

We have a sacred duty to open our hearts to Hashem to ask for Rachamim on behalf of the people and countries around the world already affected by the virus, and for the containment of the virus’ further spread.

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February 3, 2020 5:15 PM EDT


Coronavirus – Everything You Need to Know and Then Some
by Hylton I. Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

Nowadays, it would be difficult to find someone who has not heard about the coronavirus. Loads of information and misinformation is swarming about as scientists across the globe grapple with how to deal with and arrest it. Here is your guide to what you need to know.

The new coronavirus, which is also known as 2019-nCoV, is an upper respiratory virus that has grabbed headlines globally for its virulence, lethalness and fast-spreading pace. Its symptoms typically include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Rooted in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, the virus has spread to more than 17,300 people in 24 countries across the world. As of this writing, there are eleven confirmed cases in the United States.

The novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV has been categorized by WHO (World Health Organization) as a pandemic — a new disease strain spreads beyond a local epidemic into a large regional or worldwide event. Examples of 21st century pandemics include SARS, H1N1 and MERS.

How did 2019-nCoV come to be?

Scientists believe the genome sequence of 2019-nCoV were 96% identical to coronaviruses found in bats. In other words, bats are the likely hosts of the disease. Interestingly, it is supposed that SARS developed from bats, although it spread to civet cats before infecting humans during the 2003 outbreak. Most of the initial cases occurred in people who worked at or visited the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, where a variety of wild animals were sold.

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