Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Rosh Hashanah 5781

The Coronavirus presents a serious ongoing danger. Doctors have warned that public gatherings can spread the virus unless proper precautions are taken. They recommend outdoor gatherings, if possible, and require masks and social distancing. As a result many questions have arisen concerning Rosh Hashanah 5781. Each shul should follow the psakim of its own rav. What follows are merely my suggestions which may be implemented in our own shul, depending on the facts on the ground come Rosh Hashana.

The main issue is the need to shorten the davening Rosh Hashanah morning in order to reduce the risk. In addition, it is difficult for many to keep masks on for a long period of time. Furthermore, for the outdoor minyanim, it is hard, and for some even dangerous, to remain in a potentially very hot tent for an extended Tefilla. Finally, it may be necessary to have two consecutive minyanim in shul, since it may not be filled to capacity as usual for health and/ or legal reasons. For example, in our shul davening on Rosh Hashanah typically lasts for six hours. How can it be reduced to three hours?

It is critical to preserve the primary ingredients of the Rosh Hashanah experience that the tzibur is accustomed to and anticipates. The Rama (Orach Chaim 619:1) states: one may not change the custom of the city, even the tunes sung and piyutim that they say there. The Mishna Berurah (619:7) explains that changes confuse the kahal. If we omit a tune or a devotional piyut, the kahal may be confused and/or disappointed.

The lesser of the evils would be to omit the piyutim accompanied neither by tunes nor by tears. These literary masterpieces, primarily authored by R' Elazar HaKalir (day one) and by R. Shimon ben Yitzchok HaGadol (Shacharis day two), should be studied and even recited at home during the course of Rosh Hashanah.

As such in Shacharis, only Ata Hu Elokeinu and L' Keil Orech Din, and their brief introductions and conclusions will be, respectively, sung and recited. In Mussaf, only Melech Elyon (on day one) and Un'saneh Tokef will precede Kedusha. From Kedusha and on, we will daven as usual, but, if necessary, at a somewhat faster pace.

The lengthy Mi Shebarach's will be omitted, and Lamenatze'ach before shofar will be recited only once, not seven times as usual.

The beginning of Shachris will be recited individually, in shul or at home. At the appointed time, the Chazan will begin at Nishmas, which is the beginning of the beracha which ends with Yishtabach (Mishna Berurah 52:5. See the pask of Harav Hershel Shachter shlit"a, 20 Tamuz 5780). Even those coming from home should not speak in the middle of p'sukei d'zimra. Even though from the perspective of hefsek it would be better to start after Yishtabach (Orach Chaim 54:3, Mishna Berurah 54:6), it is more desirable that the ba'al Shachris begin with the traditional, haunting chant of Hamelech.

The custom of one hundred shofar blasts is not recorded in the Shulchan Aruch; the Mishna Berurah (596:2) quotes it from the Shelah. If necessary, the last forty blasts can be omitted. Alternatively, they can be sounded outside of shul after Musaf concludes. As mentioned, doctors agree that risk is reduced outdoors and many are davening outside as well.

Some doctors are concerned with aerosols from the shofar. To allay these fears, the shofar can be blown near a door, if feasible, so the air goes outside.

Some have suggested covering the wide end of the shofar with a mask. However, if this changes the sound of the shofar the mitzva is not fulfilled (Orach Chaim 586:16). It is reported that a very tight fit, such as a rubber band, changes the sound. Therefore, a loose fit must be used, and it must be tested in advance to make sure that the mask does not change the sound of the shofar.

In case consecutive minyanim are held, Harav Hershel Shachter shlit"a ruled (17 Menachem Av 5780) that one Chazan may lead Chazaras HaShatz multiple times for different minyanim if needed, as seen in Mishna Berurah (124:5). The Rivevos Ephraim (Greenblatt, 2:83, 4:254) agrees. The Divrei Yaakov (Ades, Berachos 21a,7) asked many poskim and they said it is obviously permitted. Therefore, while the Mishna Berurah is not conclusive (it may refer to one who davened at the first minyan but was not the Chazan), it is nonetheless permissible.

Some wish to use the Tzomet microphone for outdoor minyanim. This device has not been accepted by American poskim. Tzomet has developed an infra-red thermometer based on their notion of grama. This, too, is not universally accepted. Therefore, if there is a need (many doctors question its accuracy when entering a building), a non-Jew should use a thermometer as a shvus d'shvus which is permissible in a case of need.

In the merit of our strict adherence halacha and our strict adherence to responsible medical guidelines may we all merit a K'siva V'Chasima Tova.

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