The High Holidays are the most celebrated holidays for Jews around the world. Let’s come together by staying safely apart and rededicating ourselves to keeping everyone healthy.
Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic will impact the upcoming Jewish holidays once again. As we approach the High Holidays, the COVID-19 pandemic is experiencing a resurgence in Ontario consistent with the beginning of a second wave. Currently, there are no vaccines or cures for COVID-19. As such, preventing the spread through physical distancing, avoiding gathering indoors or outdoors in large numbers, masking, and hand washing remain the most effective ways of preventing illness and death.
- COVID-19 can be spread by people infected with SARS-CoV-2—the causative infectious agent of COVID-19—with or without symptoms, which is why adhering to public health measures is essential.
- COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets in the air, which are highest in close proximity, but can be transmitted over longer distances, especially through singing, chanting, shouting, or in places with inadequate ventilation.
- Physical distancing is necessary for all in-person interactions including: one-on-one meetings, group conferences and celebrations, outdoor gatherings and for anyone who enters your home.
- Individuals should NOT pursue COVID-19 testing to justify close gathering or congregating with those outside of their families/social bubbles—testing should only be done for those who are symptomatic or for those who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Our aim is to provide a review of practices that will help us collectively stem the current second wave of infection. Our hope is that together, we will be successful in minimizing further pain and suffering and loss of lives. Secondarily, keeping our schools, synagogues and workplaces open is vitally important, and relies on our ability to limit disease spread.
At this time, it is critical for the health and safety of our families and community that physical distancing and mask wearing are very strictly adhered to in all public spaces such as synagogues and grocery stores. These directives should be followed in order to limit transmission of COVID-19.
The following policies have been developed by Toronto Jewish community health experts in partnership with the Kol HaCOVID Task Force. They are intended as best-practice guidelines that align with current local, provincial and federal public health recommendations available at this time. Adhering to these guidelines will reduce, but not entirely eliminate, the risk of COVID-19 for individuals, their family members and the larger community. These guidelines are supplemental; they are not intended to overrule any provincial and municipal Public Health requirements, and will be updated as new information becomes available. Please also refer to the updated Toronto Public Health website at www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/ for further resources and additional information.
Jewish Family Life during the High Holidays
- People travelling and visitors from out of country: Any travellers coming from out of country MUST be quarantined for 14 days, by law, and without exception. Any violation of this law severely undermines the community’s health, and our efforts at containment. Anyone that ignores this law is putting their own lives and lives of others in danger, and because this is a federal law, there are fines or imprisonment for non-compliance.
Exemptions to quarantine for certain professions or businesses do not imply that these individuals are not infected or infectious, and are intended to allow for certain people to conduct essential activities. Anyone with an exemption must still adhere to self-isolation when not engaging in these essential activities, and ensure masking, distancing and hygiene at all times.
Those travelling from outside Canada cannot bubble or quarantine with those who have not travelled. Similarly, those travelling from outside Canada cannot bubble or quarantine with others from outside of their immediate household with whom they did not travel. If you host visitors who are not self-isolating from you or your family while visiting, you are violating quarantine laws. If you have a quarantined guest who is not self-isolating within your home, they must not attend synagogue or communal activities and you may not send your children to schools.
Instructions for mandatory quarantine can be found here: www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/2019-novel-coronavirus-information-sheet.html
- Your home: Only the people who reside in your home should enter your home. It is imperative not to bring help into your home unless essential for personal support or unless done for short periods of time while avoiding close contact. This includes nannies, housekeepers and any other staff. Please be aware that individuals in our community have contracted COVID-19 after exposure to outside helpers who have been infected.
- Meals:Indoor meals should only involve members of your household who live under the same roof. There is no way to safely have meals with people outside of your household, unless shared outdoors, at separate tables with separate serving utensils and the space to maintain at least 2 metres of physical distance between members of different families/social bubbles. Most sukkahs will not be able to facilitate the necessary physical distancing for this to occur, and therefore “sukkah-hopping” should be avoided. Handwashing before and after meals should be performed thoroughly (i.e. with soap and water, or with hand sanitizer).
Synagogue/shul during the High Holidays
- Many facilities are now open and should be following Public Health guidance regarding the number of attendants, and other procedures. Layering of Public Health measures are needed to protect individuals and communities—this means that masking AND distancing AND conducting activities outdoors is preferred.
When congregating in large numbers, masks should be worn both in indoor and outdoor settings.
Shul attendees should be seated at least 2 meters apart unless sitting with family/members from the same social bubble.
- Loud chanting and singing, even with masks, unfortunately, should be discouraged. There are numerous examples from around the world where this has led to so-called “COVID-19 super-spreading events” where many people get infected. Cantors, who must project their voices, should practice extra cautions including increasing physical distancing as much as possible. Congregants who wish to sing along during services should do so softly.
- There is no known safe way to blow a shofar during COVID-19. Accordingly, we recommend that it be done outside and directed away from congregants. For those who feel it necessary to blow the shofar indoors, guidance can be found here.
- Handshaking, kissing, hugging, etc. is strongly discouraged as this close contact can transmit COVID-19. Additionally, kissing of the Sefer Torah should not be performed.
These are challenging times for everyone. These guidelines align with best practices available at this time and are intended to reduce COVID-19 transmission to family members and the community with the intention of saving lives. These recommendations are based on up to date public health policies and government laws as applied to Jewish practices.
This is a quickly evolving situation and guidelines and recommendations that are made may change from day to day. We will do our best to keep you updated.
In the merit of our collective efforts to keep each other safe and healthy, may we all be blessed with a healthy and sweet new year. Wishing everyone a Shana Tova U’metuka.
Chaim Bell MD PhD FRCPC
Professor of Medicine and Health Policy Management & Evaluation, University of Toronto
Chief of Medicine, Sinai Health
Lisa G. Berger MD FRCPC CCFP(COE) FCFP
Associate Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health
Isaac I. Bogoch MD SM FRCPC DTM&H
Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, University of Toronto
Infectious Diseases Physician, Toronto General Hospital
Ari Greenwald MD, FRCPC
Assistant Clinical Professor, McMaster University
Emergency Room Physician, Hamilton Health Sciences Centre
Medical Director of Hatzoloh Toronto
Reena Lovinsky MD FRCPC
Infectious Diseases Physician, Scarborough Health Network
Andrew Morris MD SM FRCPC
Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, University of Toronto
Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship, Sinai Health
Barry Pakes MD MPH CCFP DTM&H FRCPC PhD
Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
Public Health Physician
Nathan M. Stall MD FRCPC
Research Fellow, Departments of Medicine and Health Policy, Management & Evaluation, University of Toronto
Geriatrics and Internal Medicine, Sinai Health