New guidelines allow for weddings, b’nei mitzvah and baby namings beginning Aug. 1.
On March 12, 2020, the Michigan Board of Rabbis decided to close synagogue and temple facilities due to the threat of COVID-19. That action, which was based on medical recommendations, preceded Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “stay-at-home” order.
In recent weeks, this group, which includes Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanist and Modern Orthodox rabbis, as well as rabbis who work at Jewish day schools, has begun discussing policies for re-opening synagogues and temples. (Most Orthodox rabbis rely on the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit as a centralized policy-making body.)
Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills has served as president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis during the first few months of the pandemic. Looking ahead to re-opening, he said, “We are taking into consideration the governor’s orders and changing science. We’ve been very cautious.”
On June 9, the Michigan Board of Rabbis approved a policy for re-opening simchahs that will “provide essential Jewish rituals in ways that address our shared commitment to health and safety. In doing so, we are heeding the advice of governmental authorities and health experts – and recognize that this advice (and our response to it) may continue to change and evolve rapidly.”
Beginning Aug. 1, synagogues affiliated with the Michigan Board of Rabbis will offer private, in-person simchahs (weddings, baby namings, b’nei mizvah) with specific guidelines. These include location considerations — outdoor ceremonies are preferred but simchahs may be held inside a well-ventilated sanctuary with additional precautions. Participants and guests (besides clergy and essential synagogue workers) are limited to 25 people from no more than 10 households, or the state of Michigan’s recommended limit, whichever is less.
Worship space will be set up to maintain 15 feet of distance between clergy and ceremony participants. All guests must wear masks and sit with at least 12 feet between individual or family groups who live in the same household, including relatives. Sanitation stations will be readily available. Such “touch points” as shared programs, loaned siddurim, kippot and tallitot will be eliminated. Aliyot, other than those given by a bar/bat mitzvah, or his/her family members, will be allowed only from the pews.
Additional suggestions include installing a plexiglass divider between the cantor and congregation, pre-arrival surveys regarding health and potential exposure and potential testing of unmasked participants/clergy within 48 hours of a service.
Several congregations are planning to conduct services and other events this summer in compliance with the Michigan Board of Rabbis’ policies for social distancing and other health precautions.