Orthodox Union Guidance Regarding COVID-19

This page will be updated, as circumstances evolve, with the latest guidance from the Orthodox Union regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.

March 9, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

Please join us for a national prayer call at 12:30 pm EDT. The call will include a joint recitation of Tehillim, as well as words of inspiration from Rabbi Reuven Fink, Rav, Young Israel of New Rochelle. Rabbi Moshe Hauer of the Orthodox Union will also be giving divrei chizuk.

Join the call at 773-377-9170 or stream it here:

March 8, 2020 8:00 PM EDT

Please Join a Yom Tefilla and National Tehillim Call -Ta’anit Esther, Monday, March 9, 12:30 PM EDT

As believing Jews, we must instinctively approach our every challenge with emunah u’bitachon, with faith and trust in G-d.

This perspective guides us to react to our current public health challenge with a calm and consistent approach, in line with the standards of care and caution prescribed by the responsible experts and authorities, including the CDC and state and local health departments. While at times – given our strong community culture – we must exercise a somewhat elevated level of caution, this too should be done carefully and proportionally, in consultation with responsible experts and authorities.

Our emunah also moves us to react to the current challenge with genuine and sustained tefillot. This is true at any and every time.

It is exceptionally true at this time of year, when we commemorate the miracle of Purim. That miracle came after – and as a result of – Esther’s request of Mordechai to gather the Jewish people together for three days of fasting and prayer. We commemorate this relationship annually by the observance of Ta’anit Esther on the eve of Purim, thus linking the celebration of our deliverance to the prayers that preceded it.

It is in this spirit that we repeat and emphasize our calls to individuals and communities to dedicate special efforts to pray on behalf of those already affected by COVID-19, and for its further containment. We must pray both for public health and for economic and social stability.

Specifically, we join the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America, and encourage individuals and communities to recite additional tefillot tomorrow, Monday, March 9th. We encourage all shuls, minyanim, and individuals to add specific Tehillim following the afternoon Mincha service, including chapters 20, 22, 121, 130 and 142.

In addition, in the spirit of לך כנוס את כל היהודים, Esther’s request to bring the entire nation together in prayer, and in an effort to include the homebound and quarantined, we will be hosting a national prayer call at 12:30 pm EDT. The call will include a joint recitation of Tehillim, as well as words of inspiration from Rabbi Reuven Fink, Rav, Young Israel of New Rochelle. Rabbi Moshe Hauer of the Orthodox Union will also be giving divrei chizuk.

Join the call at 773-377-9170 or stream it at OU.org.

We encourage you all to join and to share this invitation with others. May our efforts find favor with G-d, such that we and the entire world be spared further suffering and uncertainty.

March 6, 2020 12:00 Noon EST

A conference call with shul leadership from across the U.S. was held on Thursday, March 5 with Rav Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt – listen to the recording here.

March 5, 2020 6:00PM EST

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has been widely covered in the news media. The number of cases worldwide continues to grow substantially, with greater numbers of infected individuals and affected Jewish communities.

The situation is certainly serious, rapidly evolving and warrants an appropriate response. At the same time, it is critical to respond in line with expert advice and avoid creating a situation of panic.

The Orthodox Union is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with medical experts and rabbinic authorities to provide guidance and support with ultimate concern for the wellbeing of the community at heart. We have issued specific guidance to synagogues–please view it here

Regarding any public programs and events, the Orthodox Union and its programs remains in close contact and coordination with various local departments of health as well as the CDC. Should an event or program be cancelled for any reason, immediate communication will be issued.

All community members should be are encouraged to be especially vigilant to implement the following common-sense protocols:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue that is immediately disposed of or, minimally, into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances and in your car for use when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  • It is extremely important that if anyone has symptoms of illness, including fever, coughing, stomach bug or any other sickness, that they refrain from coming to shul or other communal gatherings, either during the week or on Shabbat. This is true even for a mourner saying Kaddish. Protecting and preserving communal health supersedes other considerations.

And while we take steps to protect our community and our communal spaces, we must not forget our relationship with Hashem and encourage all to include daily tefilot (prayers) for those affected directly by COVID-19 and encourage recitation of Tehilim as appropriate.

Due to the rapidly changing situation, we may issue additional general guidelines as the situation evolves. We encourage each individual community to look to local rabbinic and public health experts for guidance.

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Wednesday, March 4, 11:00PM EST

The new novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has caused illness that have been widely covered in the news media. The number of cases worldwide has grown substantially, with rising numbers of infected individuals and affected shuls and Jewish institutions.

The situation is certainly serious, and warrants an appropriate response. At the same time, it is critical to respond proportionally, in line with expert advice, and avoid creating a situation of panic.

In consultation with poskim and public health experts, we are sharing the following guidelines to assist our communities.

Tefilla
As maaminim bnei maaminim (believers), we must turn our attention to Hashem for assistance. We renew our call to include daily tefillot (prayers) for those affected by COVID-19, and for the further containment of this virus.

In addition, we urge all those lighting Shabbat candles before the advent of this Shabbat to again include chapter 130 of Tehillim in their candle lighting recitation, and encourage shuls to insert Tehillim on Friday night between Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat.

We have a sacred duty to open our hearts to Hashem to ask for mercy on behalf of the people here and around the world already affected by the virus, and for the containment of the virus’ further spread.

Infection Control Precautions
At all times, notwithstanding the current concerns, the practice of proper hygienic precautions and infection control measures should be a constant priority.

It is important to remember that over 30,000,000 people in the US this season have gotten the flu, with between 16,000-30,000 deaths, including over 100 children. Flu vaccination is still indicated! By not getting or transmitting flu, you will not only save lives, but you will greatly help doctors who will have fewer patients to evaluate with unknown respiratory illnesses.

All community members should be encouraged to be especially vigilant to implement the following common-sense protocols:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue that is immediately disposed of or, minimally, into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances and in your car for use when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  • Custodial staff should be extremely diligent about cleaning our shuls and checking dispensers for hand soap and hand sanitizer to ensure that they are filled at all times.
  • Remember: these are important practices, regardless of coronavirus. If you have not already done so, get the annual flu vaccine, unless medically contraindicated.

Staying Away From Communal Gatherings if you are ill
If you have not traveled to an area where COVID-19 is prevalent or been in close contact with a traveler, and you develop respiratory symptoms, it remains likely that you have a seasonal illness like the flu rather than COVID-19.

However, it is extremely important that if anyone has symptoms of illness, including fever, coughing, stomach bug or any other sickness, that they refrain from coming to shul or other communal gatherings, either during the week or on Shabbat. This is true even for a mourner saying Kaddish. Protecting and preserving communal health supersedes other considerations.

Canceling Shul for Minyanim, Zachor and Purim
At the current time, the OU is not recommending that communities cancel minyanim, Shabbat services or Purim gatherings unless directed to do so by a community’s local health department. This recommendation is fluid and comes with the following caveats:

Following local Health Department guidelines. If the health department in your community recommends closure, cancellation or quarantine of any community member or institution, these recommendations must be adhered to without question or exception.

Infection control protocols must be in place and community leadership must be confident in their implementation.
Those who are actively sick must stay away from communal gatherings.

If a community is unsure that these protocols will be implemented effectively, the OU recommends that the shul leadership consider its options in consultation with Rabbinic and local public health authorities.

Mikva
Hygiene is especially important in the mikva environment and infection control protocols must be undertaken with even greater care.

The OU is not recommending mikva closures at this time.

The leadership of each mikva has a sacred responsibility to ensure that the standards of cleanliness and hygiene are upheld to the highest degree. The prohibition of access to those who are sick or in any sort of quarantine status is of even greater importance when it comes to the mikva, and mikvaot are encouraged to adopt protocols prohibiting anyone with a potential contagious medical condition from using the mikva.

Megilla
We share with you the guidance provided to the RCA by Rav Hershel Schachter, Shlita. “In a situation in which it is impossible to have an in person mikra megillah due to pikuach nefesh considerations caused by coronavirus, it is permissible to hear mikra megillah via a live phone call or video. We follow the rule that sha’as had-chak ke-di’eved dami; in a sha’as had-chak we allow le-chatchila what is usually only accepted bidi’eved. The beracha of ha-rav es rivainu however should not be made unless there is a minyan present where the megillah is actually being read.”

It cannot be stressed enough that these are constantly evolving guidelines. We encourage all community members to monitor the CDC website at www.cdc.gov for updated information.

We are also including templates for signage that may be helpful for your institution to post sharing some of these and other CDC mandated guidelines. Please feel free to add your own logo to these flyers and post them appropriately.

We hope to issue additional general guidelines as the situation evolves and we encourage each individual community to look to local Rabbinic and Public Health experts for guidance.

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