Welcome to the weekly newsletter of Igud HaRabbonim, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, in which we share news for and about members, including communal news, announcements, publications, Divrei Torah, press releases and media mentions.
In this newsletter:
• Chaplaincy Commission Update
• Candle Lighting Times
• COVID-19 Update, Quarantine and Succos, Sep 10, 2020
• Divrei Torah: Nitzavim-Vayeilech
• Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef: Siyum HaShas Greetings
• Chief Rabbi David Lau: Rosh Hashanah Greetings
Please let us know about your family simchos and l"a aveilus, book publications and career changes or milestones, so we can share as chaveirim our life events. Send updates to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
917 446 2126 email@example.com
September 10, 2020
I have often written about feelings. It is often said that the medical staff especially in a hospital setting cannot become emotionally involved, or let their emotions get the best of them since they are frequently dealing with so many difficult, challenging, heart breaking, often sad, to say the least situations that could bring most of them to tears. Here are some situations, a woman who has a stillborn, parents who find out their child will be born with serious medical conditions that are life-limiting or life long challenging, a person who has to have an amputation, a person who has to have surgery that might change the course of his or her quality of life, a woman who has conceived, but unable to go full term because of certain medical condition, life, and death situations, knowing a person has limited months to live, the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and so on and so forth. This holds true with many disciplines including chaplaincy and rabbonim who are involved in medical and many personal issues with their congregants and others. But, there are many instances when the emotions do show and often those tears that might come out or the sharing of those feelings with the patient, the family, the caregiver can be a tremendous source of good feelings that bring comfort and understanding. When appropriate, even holding hands can be meaningful.
Through the many years of chaplaincy both in the medical field or police chaplaincy, I had to deal with many of the examples I gave plus so much more. In chaplaincy, we have a tremendous relationship with the interdisciplinary team giving the support not just for the patient, families, and medical staff, but for each other as well. As a police chaplain, not only was I required to give the various blessings at special events, speeches, and so on, or even interviews and meetings with dignitaries, visiting the various precincts throughout the city, I also did counseling, pastoral care, visited the sick, offered grief and bereavement to family and others, had to assist with sharing information about someone who died to family. Many think being a police chaplain is all glory, with lots of pomp, but that is not always the case and what I just shared is just the tip of what a police chaplain does. Being a rabbi of a congregation also has it‘s emotional and spiritual challenges and many issues and concerns not just about medical issues.
Marriages on the brink, children going their own ways and so much more. Personally, I was grateful and appreciated the medical staff at Sloan and their comments and yes tears on the death of my wife, us being like family, and their own appreciation of caring for a couple so loving to each other and caring and appreciation for them as well. It was even difficult when they had to share the latest diagnosis and prognosis finding the right words to say. Perhaps, a lot had to do with my wife and my relationship with the medical staff. But still, their emotions and feelings came through and for me, it was very comforting.
On Friday of this week, we remember the horrific tragedies of 9/11 and as much as it is heartbreaking to remember the loss of thousands of innocent lives in three locations. Yet, in the midst of still dealing with COVID-19 how could we forget the death of so many in just a short time ago due to the Coronavirus. Many who left orphans, widows, and widowers. Many who died without a loved one at their side and many who died with family members first learning of their loved one’s death at a different time. Many who died all alone who did not have any family or others to care for them. According to a letter sent to the Jewish news media from the NYC Department of Health Chief states that though most cases are mild or no symptoms at all, there are still patients in the hospital including the ICU. Though there were according to that letter only 19 cases reported which compared to the many thousands of the Orthodox Jewish population not effected is really an exceedingly small percent. He was making a point that the coronavirus is still alive. There are many reports with information and changes that is truly mind-boggling and confusing. The world at large with thousands of people doing whatever they want, you sometimes wonder why there is often so much focus on the Orthodox Jewish community. However, if someone is not well with any of the coronaviruses, any flu-like symptoms, other viruses, or a bad cold should get in touch with their doctor. There is a responsibility to care for others and not taking the chance of another person catching someone’s flu, virus, or a bad cold. Even if the odds are that the majority of people not contracting anything serious, there is always that small percentage who are high at risk of ending up in the ICU or at the least ending up having to stay at home. Yet, remembering 9/11/2001 is important as it reminds us of the tragedy caused by terrorism on United States soil in our own backyard. Unfortunately, there is so much destruction with loss of life, injuries, and destroyed the property of innocent victims happening on US soil in this year of 2020.
What does all this have to do with Elul and the Yomim Noraim one may ask. Well for one, 9/11 had many ramifications as it occurred at this time of year. For those who remember, thousands put the American flag on their cars, windows, storefronts, etc. Thousands flocked to their houses of worship and for those of the Jewish religion, the synagogue became a focal place for even those who might not have attended synagogue services let alone the High Holy Days. When saying the Unesaneh Tokef one could visualize the horrific deaths of those who were trapped in the World Trade towers, including those who had said the viduy with their rabbi and said goodbye to their loved ones. For us, it is a renewal of our relationship with the Ribono Shel Olom which we pray should have a close relationship all the time throughout the year. There is much for us to be mispallel to the Ribono Shel Olom and to be grateful for all that He does for us especially in times of need.
Someone asked me what is my life like now? What are my aspirations since my beloved and dear wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H died just several months ago? Am I doing things that I always wanted to do? Am I like a free bird? Something like a husband being in the city during the summer while the wife and family are in the country. No, not at all. Of course, I feel at a loss without her. I miss her very much. I am capable, responsible, active, involved, learning, and so on, but it is not the same without my dear and beloved wife- my co-pilot, my partner in
life, and a wonderful inspiration for myself my family, and for Klal Yisrael. I aspire to have a deeper relationship with the Aibershta, to daven with more kavaneh, to do as many mitzvos as I can. To do as we all are doing-especially at this time of year, asking the Aibershtal for mechila.
Being mispallel for a shana tova umeshuka for a ksiva vchasima tova so that I can be on the right path. I was inspired by a great rav. HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Rennert ztkl who was one of the Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva Derech Chaim in Brooklyn, NY. He had such a beautiful relationship filled with kindness, understanding, sincerity, and care for his talmidim, fellow Jew of all backgrounds, and others. What he had was a tremendous love of the Aibershta. He wrote many notes of chizuk and a beautiful relationship with the Aibershta. The many quotes which he
wrote that expressed a genuine closeness he felt with the Aibershta that influenced his love of Yiddishkeit, of the Torah for Klal Yisrael. I remember how this tremendous relationship with much love for the Ribono Shel Olam was conveyed by one of the maspidim at his levaya. I always remember his soft voice and sweet smile. It is that love he had that I think about. How can I not think about knowing my wife is in Gan Eiden in Olom Haba. Isn’t that where we all want to be after 120 years. We pray that until that time, to be blessed with good health and the joy of life to give us the strength of being able to be mikayaim the taryag mitzvos, to make a Kiddush H. To be a worthy ambassador of the Aibershta for many years to come. This is the time to offer our appreciation to others especially those who gave us their kindness and generosity no matter how small or insignificant it might have seemed. I davened for years at the MTJ Yeshiva where I had the zchus of davening with the Rosh HaYeshiva HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztkl and since then with HaGaon HaRav Dovid Feinstein shlita may he continue to have a complete refuah shelaima. The Yeshiva MTJ has been and will always be a makom of kadosh for me and my family growing up through the school years, bais medrash and beyond. I have also been davening at the Bialystoker Synagogue whose Morah Dasrah is HaRav Zvi Romm a gadol in his own right. He is gentle, sincere, and caring for all his mispallim and respected throughout the Lower East Side community and by other Rabbonim with his Rebbitzen so zein gzundt. He is welcoming to all who daven and seek his advice from all backgrounds of Judaism. He is involved in many aspects of Jewish and communal affairs. Many Gedolim has graced the Bialystoker with their presence. There is a famous picture of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler ztkl speaking at the Bialystoker to a packed audience, which I am including.
On the Lower East Side you can find a yeshiva, a Bais Yaakov, other shuls and shtiblachs, a mikva, bakery, butcher, many shirurim, bikur cholim and chesed groups, We even have a shidduch group, There is a Tehilim group of women who recite Tehilim . When my wife was ill, they davened. When her condition became serious, they davened day and night and often in the wee hours of the morning. I was so inspired by their tefilos, it gave me so much encouragement. I recently sent them the following thank you. “I want to wish all of you a ksiva vhasima tova a shana tova uesuka. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you so much for your sincere kindness of your tefilos for my dear and beloved Aishis Chayil, Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKoshen A”H. This past Thursday evening was the wedding of a grandson. The first family simcha I attended without my wife in 27 years, As I stood under the chuppah before, during, and after the brachos I said, I know she was there. I spoke to her though, I did not see her. I still say the Aishis Chayil Friday night. Just as I am grateful to the Aibershta that she is in Gan Eiden in Olom Haba. I am also grateful to everyone who gave their kindness in many ways including all of you for your heartfelt tefilos that helped give her all the extra strength she needed as much as the Ribono Shel Olom wanted to have. They ultimately helped her have a smooth journey back to the Ribono Shel Olom. You also gave me encouragement reading the tefilos being said all hours of the day and night. I also want to thank you in case I did not give my appreciation when you were necham availos. Perhaps, I could be the voice for Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H ,as she would have thanked you herself. All my very best and thank you again. To all of my readership, I also want to thank you for your tefilos when my wife was ill, when you were necham availos me and for the many kind words of comfort and encouragement, you have given me and still receiving. I have been receiving many heartwarming and truly kind words from rabbis and chaplains from a wide spectrum of Judaism which I sincerely appreciate. Yes, our feelings for others are so important. Most of all for the Aibershta, How much He wants us to care for others, for each other, and yes ourselves. Avraham Avinu and Sara Imainu continue to teach us how they cared for others and conveyed
the love of the Holy One.
These are some quotes from HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Rennert ztkl
“הלואי we would feel as bad when we do something wrong בין אדם למקום as we feel when we know we wronged someone בין אדם לחבירו”
“My מצב today is your plan for me ה”;, this a real חיזוק to me, everything is תלוי in mood, thank you for everything ה;”.
“נותן לחם לכל בשר it is important to realize how dependent we are on you ה”.
This is a picture of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler ztkl speaking at the Bialystoker Synagogue (From the Bais Medrash Govoha Archives)
May each of you have a shana tova umesuka, a kesiva vchasima tova, good health, happiness, and all the brachos we are mispallel for. Thank you and sincerely, Yehuda Blank
Please don’t forget to complete the United States Census and vote if it is not too late to register.
Please read the flyers from TTI Training and Testing International and CAHE Center for Allied Health Care. Two new informational flyers.
Below is an update on the Covid situation from Rav Dr. Aaron Glatt, RAA/Igud’s Director of Halacha and Medicine Commision, dated September 10, 2020 (the situation changes day to day). He will provide a live update on Motzei Shabbos, September 12 at 9:00pm NY time
Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD
In the past two weeks, I have been asked more quarantine and isolation questions than during the entire summer, so I am devoting much of this note to those subjects, as well as the queries I am already getting regarding “how will Succos look this year”. This motzei Shabbos, September 12th, our Zoom talk will begin at 9:00 PM. You can join the session via:
Zoom at Meeting ID 980 3243 6809; Password: SUMMER2020;
I have been amazed and bewildered at the number of physicians, educators and individuals who have contacted me regarding persons with symptoms who attended public events WHILE THEY HAD SYMPTOMS and are now asking for advice “what to do”.
Absolutely no one – not the ba’alei simcha, chavrusa, close relatives or friends – should EVER attend any public gathering while experiencing any symptoms. Even if you are masked and distanced, do notattend. Similarly, if you have been COVID-19 tested and are awaiting the results, do not attend. You MUST stay home under all circumstances till you are proven to be not contagious. This is not infection control 1.1 – this is the most basic level of ehrlichkeit.
Staying home keeps everyone else safe – and allows businesses, shuls and schools to remain OPEN safely. It also prevents the inevitable questions that impact so many people afterwards – was I exposed? Do I need to quarantine? What about my family?
It usually takes between 2 – 14 days for symptoms to develop after exposure to COVID-19. In some studies, infected patients were contagious an average of 4 days prior to developing symptoms, although many remain asymptomatic for the entire duration of their COVID-19 infection.
What does quarantine mean?
The CDC states that quarantine is used to keep people exposed to COVID-19 away from all others. Quarantine helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick and / or are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their physician, state or local health department.
Quarantine means not being within 6 feet of anyone else during the entire period of time that you require quarantine. Ideally, you should be in a separate room / area using separate eating, bathroom and sleeping quarters from everyone else. Where that is simply not possible, you must be masked and distanced from the others living there as best as possible at all times.
Who should be in quarantine?
People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 MUST quarantine for 14 days. Not 8 days. Not 10 days. But 14 days. A negative test does not change anything.
The only exceptions are people who are recovered from recent COVID-19 (within 3 months) infection. People who tested positive for COVID-19 and Boruch Hashem recovered (see below for how long it takes to not be contagious) do not need to quarantine if exposed. They do not need to get tested again for up to 3 months – as long as they do not develop new symptoms. People who develop new symptoms within 3 months of their first bout of COVID-19 should be seen by their physician. Repeat testing may be indicated if there is no other cause identified for their symptoms.
What counts as “close contact”?
You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more;
You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19;
You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them);
You shared eating or drinking utensils;
They sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.
If both parties were masked, then an exposure / close contact is usually not considered to be significant and quarantine is not needed. If only one person was masked, it is not clear what the risk is.
How do you count the 14 days of quarantine?
The 14 days start from the LAST exposure to a COVID-19 patient.
The CDC states that if you live with someone with COVID-19 and started a 14-day quarantine period, and then another household member gets sick with COVID-19, you need to restart a 14 day quarantine period from the last day you had close contact with anyone in your house who has COVID-19. Any time a new household member gets sick with COVID-19 and you had close contact, you will need to restart your quarantine. Hence, as possible, do not be near people in your house who have COVID-19.
If I test negative while in quarantine, can I stop quarantining?
Absolutely NOT. The CDC states: Even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, you should stay home (quarantine) for the full 14 days since symptoms may still appear up to 14 days after COVID-19 exposure. Under rare circumstances, a physician may need to order retesting for a specific purpose.
If I have COVID-19, how long do I need to isolate? Do I need to re-test?
As an aside, we use the term “isolation” for people with COVID-19, as opposed to quarantine for people exposed to someone with COVID-19.
For most persons with COVID-19 illness, isolation and precautions can generally be discontinued 10 days after symptom onset and resolution of fever for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medications, and with improvement of other symptoms. A limited number of persons with severe illness may produce replication-competent (“live”) virus beyond 10 days that may warrant extending duration of isolation and precautions for up to 20 days after symptom onset; consider consultation with infection control experts.
Retesting is usually not recommended within 3 months after the date of symptom onset for the initial COVID-19 infection unless specifically recommended by a physician for clinical reasons.
I am scared to go to my doctor’s office to get evaluated. What should I do?
A very reassuring study just published in Clinical Infectious Diseases demonstrated that hospital acquired COVID-19 is extremely rare. Very good news for people concerned about going to the hospital or their doctor for care. (That is assuming your doctor or dentist wears a mask and believes in infection control). These findings suggest that the overall risk of hospital-acquired COVID-19 was very low and that rigorous infection control measures are associated with minimized risk.
We have a wonderful group of physicians in our neighborhood who are committed to providing you with safe expert COVID-19 care. Please do not hesitate to call upon them for a telehealth or regular visit to assess your COVID-19 concerns and exposures. Everyone exposed, or indeed infected should be under a physician’s supervision even if a visit is not necessary. Monitoring is critical. Patients at all ages are at increased risk if they have co-morbidities. Two major underlying medical issues, obesity and hypertension, were just again documented in a JAMA paper as being predictors of more severe disease for even younger individuals.
Please follow these guidelines scrupulously as they are essential to prevent real serious illness – regardless of the incidence of COVID-19 in any neighborhood.
Succos 5781 will be different than any other Succos celebrated in recent years. I will try and outline some of the changes and give my medical recommendations, noting again that each shul’s Rav must make all the final policy decisions for his kehilla. Last week I discussed attending shul, indoor and outdoor minyanim and general shul issues, so I will not repeat that discussion.
What about building the Sukkah?
I do not see any issues with a family living together putting up their sukkah together. Alternatively, if you are hiring someone to build your sukkah, as long as there is no mixing between “unbubbled” builders, the builders will not “contaminate” your sukkah walls. Enjoy the holy rarified atmosphere of the sukkah.
Can we have company in the Sukkah?
The general rules for mixing at meals apply just as well to a sukkah. While technically outdoors, sukkahs are enclosed much more than a typical outdoor setting, and I would be concerned with mixing unless there was adequate separation (at least 6 feet if not more) between family units.
People without a private sukkah who need to eat at a neighbor or in the shul sukkah should try and stagger meal times so as not to coincide as possible.
Is it safe to purchase arba minim (Lulav and Esrog)?
I am concerned that having multiple people congregating in and around an arba minim store (especially having multiple unmasked people touching the species), presents a very risky enterprise. Each shul needs to work out methodologies whereby full kosher four species sets can be purchased that are pre-checked by the Rav or a mumcheh (expert) and sold as is without individual examination by multiple people in close proximity. There can be several standards for different prices, but a system needs to be set up to minimize group exposures.
What about sharing arba minim?
People living together within the same family unit can share their arba minim with no concern for transmission. If someone from a different family unit needs to shake your lulav and esrog, they should wash their hands first, fulfill the mitzvah, return the set, and wash again afterwards. I would not recommend doing this with multiple people unless there was absolutely no other option.
How should we do hoshanos?
Walking around in a large space with appropriate distancing between the “hoshana walkers” poses little risk. Outdoors in general again is usually safer, but distancing (with masking of course) is the critical factor. Such spacing may not be available though in many facilities, and it may be necessary to alternate who “walks” the hoshanos while others recite them standing by their seats. This will be especially important for Hoshana Rabbah. I dare say that davening the hoshanos is far more important than walking.
What about hakafos?
The rules for hakafos are essentially identical as for hoshanos. Vigorous unmasked prolonged simchas Torah dancing in close proximity can be a super-spreader event and must be avoided. Again, slow appropriately masked and spaced dancing and singing is doable – depending on each facility’s physical constraints and crowds. Maybe this year we celebrate and demonstrate our love of Torah with a special shiur from the Rav, with the congregation masked and distanced instead of dancing wildly.
Can we do “duchening” (birkas Kohanim)?
Having the Levites wash their hands before handling the cup to wash the Kohanim is easy and practical advice, and allows multiple Levi’im to participate. Efficiency must be stressed to minimize lines and congregating amongst Kohanim and Levi’im.
During duchening, the Kohanim must be distanced; larger areas than usual in the front of the shul may need to be utilized.
What about shul appeals?
Tzedakah appeals can and should be performed as usual. I am such a meikal. I strongly recommend, for those able to do so, to donate more than usual, as many more people this year are in need of these tzedakah funds than in previous years.
Are Chol HaMoed trips safe?
Depending greatly on numerous factors, chol hamoed events pose numerous potential issues that may or may not be surmountable. Indoor events with poor ventilation and no masking or distancing are clearly out, but outdoor parks and hiking, especially with just the family unit and lots of open space are ideal. Everything else falls in between. Shul events with short trips on uncrowded buses to appropriate socially distanced events are certainly doable. It requires planning and attention to detail, and not all events from prior years will be kosher this Chol HaMoed.
What about sukkah hops?
Unfortunately, the prospect of large crowds congregating in small overcrowded sukkahs with unmasked people eating, is scary. However, having some sort of a Torah story-telling time for the children in a large outdoor shul tent without refreshments would be an acceptable social engagement.
Similarly, simchas beis hashoeva parties will need to be greatly curtailed or re-engineered in a suitable distancing and masked fashion this year to keep everyone safe.
Can we all get aliyot this Simchas Torah?
A very tough question. If multiple small groups of 10-12 masked people can gather around a sefer Torah (but not too close) and quickly all get an aliyah without excessive crowding or being in close proximity, maybe…
Same thing applies to kol hane’arim. Very difficult to do in a safe manner. Let each child stand by their father or mother and say the bracha at their places, and not all together under a canopy…
But if unable to do so this year, these beautiful customs will iy”H be observed next year in their full glory in a rebuilt Yerushalayim.
In the merit of our serving Hashem to the best of our ability this difficult COVID-19 year,
may we all merit a Kesiva vachasima tova and good Shabbos.