Conservative rabbis okay streaming on Shabbat, Reform movement sheds staff, color war goes online


The Conservative/Masorti movement has adopted a teshuvah (or rabbinic responsum) that would allow for the livestreaming of services on Shabbat and festivals, particularly during the High Holidays this fall.

The teshuvah was authored by Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Atlanta, and a member of the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS). It recognizes the traditional Shabbat restrictions on using electricity and technology but notes that a streaming alternative would lessen the pressure on synagogues to open their buildings too early, allow individuals to engage in prayers that must be said in a quorum, or minyan, and aid those who may suffer from isolation while forced to stay at home.

The ruling advises congregants to log on for Friday night services before Shabbat and leave the Zoom on. According to a news release, the guidance contains many caveats and honors the role of individual rabbis in deciding what is appropriate for their communities.

“We are dealing with unprecedented challenges in providing the Jewish people with opportunities for communal prayer, celebrating lifecycle events and staying connected to Jewish life,” Rabbi Stewart Vogel, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said. “We believe in the ability of our rabbis to face these challenges and want to provide you with resources to be able to do so.” 

Rabbi Rachel Ain of Sutton Place Synagogue is among the Conservative rabbis who have decided to allow worship services online on Shabbat and holy days. “[C]onvening our community during these moments, at the moment when they occur, has not only maintained our connections, but has provided our community members with the comfort that communal Judaism doesn’t pause, even if NY is on Pause,” she wrote in a letter to congregants.

Two weeks after announcing the cancelation of its summer programs in the United States and Israel, the Union for Reform Judaism has announced staff layoffs, JTA reports. Approximately 60 full-time employees, constituting 20 percent of the organization’s staff, were laid off. The organization also implemented a temporary 3-16 percent pay reduction, which began in April. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, took a 16 per cent pay cut as did the rest of the executive team.

“The impact of COVID-19 on all of our revenue streams has been crushing, and we anticipate it will take several years to recover,” Rabbi Jacobs wrote in an email to staff, board members, and community leaders. “Consequently, our organization must get smaller.”

The layoffs will go into effect June 30. Jacobs said the organization would also be furloughing additional employees. The furloughs, in which employees are not paid and do not work but are expected to return, will last from June 1 to Aug 31.

A majority of Israel’s public says the coronavirus crisis has positively affected relations between Jews and Arabs, according to an April survey by The Israel Democracy Institute.

As an example, Arab-Israeli doctors and nurses were honored in a recent video, viewed over 2 million times, titled “Partners in Fate, Partners in the Government.”

Of those surveyed, 56 percent of Jewish-Israelis and 64 percent of Arab-Israelis believe that relations have improved between Jews and Arabs in Israel during the coronavirus outbreak. However, when it comes to relations between charedi Orthodox and non-charedi Jews, the majority of those surveyed say the crisis has negatively affected it. Sixty-two percent of the public says that relations between the haredi community and the rest of Israelis were damaged during the pandemic, while only 17 percent of haredim and 28 percent of the remaining Jewish Israelis say that relations have improved during this period.

Attorney Lawrence Garbuz, the New Rochelle resident who became known as “Patient Zero” when he became one of the first people diagnosed with coronavirus in the U.S., shared his story for the first time this week on the Today show. “I’m thankful that I’m alive,” Garbuz, 50, said on the show Monday. “It’s been quite a journey.”

Israeli medical professionals are eligible for free flights on Qatar Airways, which are being given away as a way to thank front-line healthcare workers. The airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, said that “every single country in the world, including our neighboring countries, including the State of Israel, will be allocated numbers of tickets, depending on population and the size of the country…proportionately to the 100,000 tickets we are offering.”

Al Bakar made the comment in an interview with CNN about the giveaway, after journalist Richard Quest asked Al Baker about the eligibility of medical staff from countries to which Qatar is hostile, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. “There is no difference, no barrier in medical fields,” Al Baker added. “There are no boundaries.”

The announcement from Qatar comes on the heels of three other Gulf States seeking medical partnerships with Israel.

Only about one in five people in this country favor allowing churches and other houses of worship to hold in-person services even when the government has issued a stay-at-home order, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. More than three in four (77%) oppose such a religious exemption. Across the country, lawsuits have been filed by religious organizations who wish to hold service against local governments with social distancing measures in place.

Vice President Mike Pence recently came out in support of opening up churches. “We can do the social distancing,” Pence says. “People can, you know, sit a couple of seats apart. I’m sure churches and synagogues may consider adding additional services to be able to spread people out.” Just over one in four Republicans (28%) say they favor allowing in-person religious gatherings, compared to one in five Democrats (20%)

Conde Nast Traveler magazine has named Katz’s Deli in Manhattan in its list “11 Best Food Gifts or Quarantine Care Packages.

Moishe House is offering an online color war as an “alternative opportunity for people from around the world to come together in the spirit of Jewish summer camp.” The global network of communities for young Jews says “Expedition Nai” will be “the world’s largest virtual color war.” Almost 800 players from 191 cities in 28 countries have accepted the challenge, submitting more than 2,500 videos and images in response to weekly prompts posted online.

“Color war is a quintessential part of summer camp that builds community and brings people together in friendly competition,” said Lisa Klig, director of Moishe House’s own Camp Nai Nai Nai. Prizes and points are earned for submitting responses to virtual challenges. The challenges, Klig said, “were designed to be inclusive, accessible and to generate creativity, an opportunity to engage in Jewish identity, and a sense of relief from the day-to-day experience of quarantine.”

The competition ends on May 22.

A doctoral student at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University has developed a face mask that allows deaf people to see the lips of those who are wearing it, according to Hamodia.

Carolina Tannenbaum-Baruchi, whose parents are both deaf, has teamed up with a high school robotics team from Dimona to develop the “Read My Lips” mask, which has a clear plastic front.

She enlisted the “Roboactive #2096” team at the Zinman Darca High School in Dimona for help on the project. “Right now the mask costs us 15.5 shekels ($4.40) to make,” robot team mentor Maayan Levin said. “We want to lower the price and especially to make it available to the hearing disabled population at cost price.”


The Deputy Director-General of Israel’s Health Ministry Itamar Grotto has warned that the country should be prepared for a second wave of coronavirus in the summer as additional restrictions were loosened amid the pandemic, the Jerusalem Post reports. “I truly hope that we do not see additional rises,” he said during an interview on Army Radio, referring to the number of cases. “I trust the public. I think that it may be trusted to understand what is demanded.”

Grotto clarified that the country must “prepare for the possibility that something will appear in the summer. We are building a number of scenarios, one of which involves staying in the same conditions until the winter.”

The daily number of coronavirus cases that have surfaced throughout the country has steadily declined throughout the past couple of weeks, with May 1 marking the last time in which over 100 were identified within the same day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved a “coronavirus payment” for newly discharged lone soldiers who are facing financial difficulties during the pandemic, according to the Jerusalem Post. Under the plan, a grant of up to 4,000 shekels ($1,130) will be granted to lone soldiers who have been discharged from the army in the past year and found jobs since their release. They will have to show two payment slips from an employer.


New York City-based celebrity dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot, will join the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Engage webseries on Sunday at 3 p.m. to lead a livestream program, “30-Minutes to Meat-Free Cauliflower Bolognese.”

Ohev Sholom – the National Synagogue will sponsor Kabbalat Shabbat Services led by Shulem Lemmer via Zoom on Friday at 6:45 p.m.

Nefesh B’Nefesh will offer a webinar on “Aliyah Planning for Empty Nesters and Retirees” on Sunday at noon.

The Drisha Institute for Jewish Education will sponsor a virtual lecture by Dr. Samuel Lebens, a philosopher at the University of Haifa, on Monday at noon. He will discuss “Revelation Revealed” – the belief in Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, a key tenet of Jewish faith, and the main theme of Shavuot. The event will also be live streamed on Facebook Live @drishainstitute and

The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies will co-sponsor a “Pre-Shavuot Virtual Yom Iyun (Day of Learning)” on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

UJA-Federation of New York has compiled a guide to help the Jewish community find advice, resources and volunteer opportunities for learning during the virus outbreak. UJA and the Jewish Board also have listings of volunteer opportunities.