Masks On or Off? A Covid Reality Check


Dear Rabbi

With the government’s new proposals to abolish masks and social distancing, I wonder what your view is on the matter especially in synagogues. Do we blindly follow what the government says or do we still practise safety first, in keeping with the Jewish principle of the preserving Jewish life?



Dear Gitta

If you trusted the government up until this point to maintain all the necessary precautions, why would you consider their current analysis to be flawed and following them to be blind?

I have read so many articles in the past few days about the various concerns, fears, etc. both physical and psychological. We have gotten ourselves locked into a mind-set which we are afraid to release ourselves from. I read one Rabbi’s posting on social media where he decries the government stance because some people, notwithstanding the vaccine, might get sick and then have to deal with long covid after.

First of all, the science does not support the fact that those with the vaccine will have to endure long covid. It does however support the fact that while a minority can still get covid, they will not require hospitalisation let alone anything worse. Yes, covid is nasty, and having spoken to post vaccinated people who caught it, it is very far from pleasant. But let’s consider the flipside. You will remember how the government sanctioned the opening of places of worship because of the vital service it provides and the benefits it offers for people’s spiritual and mental wellbeing. Well, the fact of the matter is, that so long as masks are in place, a large proportion of people will not come to Synagogue – especially the younger element. In a United Synagogue survey, the primary reason an overwhelming majority are not coming back into Synagogue is because of the masks. So, the restrictions, however necessary, have their own negative impact.

To be clear, notwithstanding government guidelines, synagogues in Golders Green and Stamford Hill have not been using masks or social distancing for some time. I’m not justifying it. In fact I have previously condemned it. I am pointing out though that they have developed herd immunity at this stage. I suspect the United Synagogue will leave it up to individual synagogue discretion and if so, I would hope that synagogues will then leave it up to member discretion. Some will come in with masks and they should be respected. They may even choose to sit more distant and that should be accommodated as well. Others will want to come in without masks and sit together (finally have those mid-prayer chats) and that should be fine as well (well, not the chats mid-prayer). Of course if masks are abolished then some might stop coming and others will delay their coming back. I, for one, believe that a very small minority will choose to leave against a larger majority who will come back. As for those staying away, well they’re doing that anyway.

As another point, they’ve moved past all this in the United States and in Israel. I know we like to procrastinate in the UK, but let’s not do that at the expense of our communities.

Lest one accuses me of being callous and indifferent, let me remind readers that even as synagogues were allowed to be opened during the last lockdown, we kept our synagogue closed for a while longer. I used this column to also rage against those that were flaunting government guidelines. I was, personally, on the frontline of covid, seeing first hand much of the devastation. I stood at more than thirty funerals and on the doorsteps of near ninety different bereaved families. So let no one preach to me about the dangers of covid.

BUT – most of us have been vaccinated. We trusted the government to lockdown, to wear masks, to stay out of synagogues, to go back into synagogues, to take the vaccines etc. etc. We don’t get to now just choose at whim to decide they can no longer be trusted. It’s time to get out of the herd mentality and into the herd immunity.

I appreciate the sentiments of some rabbis and other professionals, but in repeating the wonderfully coined catchphrase: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” See you in Synagogue!


For Whom The Bell Tolls

Dear Rabbi

I live near a church that weekly rings its bells. Both on Sundays and “practice” mid-week. Stopping by there recently, I struck up a conversation with one of the bell-ringers (campanologist is the correct term, I believe) who was out for a smoke! She told me that they were always keen to bring in new trainees, although the work was voluntary. The carillons do sound beautiful.  I told her that I “batted for the opposition” so to speak, but that I would ask a Rabbi. I’m too embarrassed to ask mine, so your thoughts please?



Dear Michael

Don’t you think the fact that you’re too embarrassed to ask your own Rabbi, is indeed the answer to your own question? You have spare time on your hands? Go volunteer in your shul or local Jewish charity. Besides, getting involved in an environment that is distinctly not Jewish, let alone facilitating another religion’s ritual, runs its own implicit risks. Today you’re pulling their bell. Tomorrow they’re pulling your chain.