The four major movements of Judaism are in complete agreement that upholding guidance from state authorities, in consultation with public health experts, is paramount. The StaySafeMN guidance for religious institutions from Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan has the full support of our Minnesota Rabbinical Association. We will do our part to stay safe by keeping the doors to our religious institutions closed for regular activity and hope the state will continue to affirm such guidance.

Our tradition commands in Leviticus that one must not put a stumbling block before the blind. The sages understand that verse to forbid guidance that undermines another’s wellbeing, and rabbinic law expands the definition of blindness to include those put in harm’s way who cannot see the consequences. Religious leadership today must do everything in our power to prevent a “boiling point” with Covid-19 and promote compliance especially before it peaks in Minnesota.

The Orthodox Union shared in its movement statement last week:

“The resumption of communal prayer and other communal activities should not be considered until — at the very least — the successful and verified safe completion of the local government’s first stages of communal reopening, i.e. at least two weeks after the local governments have allowed public gatherings of more than ten persons, and have not seen upticks in disease.”

We agree with such guidance as we monitor the impact of re-entry. From Passover seder held at empty tables to B’nai Mitzvah celebrations postponed or moved to Zoom, the rituals and rhythms of tradition feel most alive in person. It runs counter to our every fiber to celebrate and mourn in any other way. But rabbis across our state know that re-opening our buildings rapidly in larger numbers will create stumbling blocks where none should exist. Staying safe now means life later. No matter how many precautions we take, open doors invite people to embrace, crowds to gather, and vulnerable populations to risk their lives in God’s name. Let us not put stumbling blocks where none belong, but instead bear witness to the pain of this moment and open our hearts.

[May 21]

Editor’s Note: The Minnesota Rabbinical Association has released an addendum to their prior statement this morning (Sunday, May 24, 2020) in light of the changing guidance for religious organizations from Governor Tim Walz and the state of Minnesota over Shabbat:

We affirm our unanimous statement, endorsed by the 42 rabbis of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, and affirm Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan’s updated guidance that it is much safer to continue worshipping and celebrating life cycle events from home at this time, even as certain rights to access houses of worship expand. As a Jewish people our commitments to one another, to Torah, and to our fellow Minnesotans flow from a language of responsibility. It is essential to continue drawing from that responsibility as the peak of Covid-19 has yet to come. We will not gather nor will our religious facilities be open for regular activity. “We will all go, young and old” (Exodus 10:9) when it is possible to stay safe. As we prepare for the giving of Torah at the holiday of Shavuot, the painful physical absence we feel calls for presence with open hearts.

–Rabbi Jill Crimmings and Rabbi Aaron Weininger
Minnesota Rabbinical Association, co-chairs