By Chaya Nessa Krycer, Featured Writer for DOJLife.com
Although no-one can say which is the most integral mitzvah for Jewish survival, many men consider minyan to be their special mitzvah. After all, minyan gives a man a chance to stop everything he’s doing and join at least nine other men to praise and thank Hashem. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, there had been no minyanim for some time. But, now that minyanim have restarted, there has naturally been quite the hubbub of excitement mixed with anxiety. However, one response stands out from all the others.
On jta.org, an article was posted with startling accusations. According to Shira Hanau, the rabbanim of Dallas always achieved an extremely united front. However, thanks to coronavirus, the Dallas community is now split, allowing each congregation to do as it pleases, without any of its previous solidarity. It is evident that the old adage “with every lie there is a grain of truth” is correct in this case as well. The truth? That Dallas rabbanim were united before coronavirus. The misrepresentation? The usage of the past tense ‘was’. Because the Dallas community is just as unified as before.
Some of you, unable to contain yourselves may be shouting “But can’t you see? Each congregation is taking separate and distinct precautions! Doesn’t that prove we are divided, and the chasm of our community is so great I can swim in it?” My response is this: Different is not divided. Contrary to what your Language Arts teachers may have taught you, the two are not synonymous. If one child is given an apple and the other a pear, would you say that one child is being discriminated against, that the children cannot possibly eat their snacks together? Of course not. If one child likes pears over apples, who‘s to stop him from eating a pear?
The same goes for our shuls. If each shul were identical to the other, we would only need one, in the geographic center of the Dallas community. However, each shul is different and distinct. Out of the six shuls that reopened (DATA of Plano, Ohr HaTorah, Sephardic Torah Center, Shaare Tefillah, Ohev Shalom and Toras Chaim), each is diverse in their building accommodations, members, and needs. Congregation Toras Chaim has a smaller congregation. It is, therefore, feasible to maintain indoor minyanim as each person can easily be located eight feet from another person without breaking the social distance laws, allowing for a maximum of 15 men.
In contrast, Ohr HaTorah on an ordinary Shabbos had 150-200 men attending each minyan. It is, therefore, not puzzling that they decided to host outdoor minyanim instead. In DATA of Plano, the rules about facial masks and gloves are lax, as the minyanim are outdoors and all the congregants remain a considerable distance apart during davening.
In Toras Chaim, each person must have his own mask and bottle of hand sanitizer (donated by Dallas Hatzalah), as the congregants are in closer, albeit safe range. To attend an Ohr Hatorah davening, one must be a shul member to take part in the weekday parking lot or Shabbos backyard minyanim. In Toras Chaim, one must simply confirm before arriving, to ensure that the total number of participants does not exceed fifteen. These are the primary contrasts between the three above mentioned shuls. Shaare Tefillah, like Ohr HaTorah, is hosting outdoor minyanim and Sephardic Torah Center, like Toras Chaim, is inside.
Ironically, during my research, I found many similarities, as well. According to Rabbi Zakon and Rabbi Rich, half of their congregants reacted with anxiety and had qualms about the safety of restarting minyanim. The other half were excited and eager to join. For all congregants, those coming to minyan and those remaining at home, all three of the shuls have many various zoom shiurim to help keep the community connected.
Lastly, and most importantly, the majority of their congregants followed the ruling that each rabbi established. To sum it up, every shul is doing its utmost to sustain maximum safety. And for all the skeptics out there, the various precautions taken were discussed and debated, at length between the community rabbanim. They unanimously agreed to do what was best for their individual congregations. They agreed to follow the guidelines of our gedolim and doctors (as depicted in the Roadmap for Reopening by Agudath Israel and the OU), and the laws placed by our country and state. Together they chose to close, and together they chose to open. Different, but not divided.