Chabad rabbi agrees that some outdoor minyanim can resume in Five Towns

Outlines rules for K'rias HaTorah


After 50 rabbis who lead communities in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway distributed a joint statement on Thursday [link hereauthorizing individual rabbis to hold outdoor minyamin "under specific circumstances, Rabbi Zalman Wolowik of Chabad of the Five Towns sent two emails to his community on Friday ecohing much of that statement and adding some additional halachic detail.

Here is Rabbi Wolowik's email, including bold qualifiers as they appeared in his second email.

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At the current point in time, our community has now maintained a consistently low incidence of new cases for an entire 14-day incubation period. This fact, according to many infectious disease specialists, indicates that the decreased prevalence of disease is real and sustainable for at least the short term. Additionally, due to our community’s adherence to the lockdown, virus infectivity rates have gradually decreased, and the reproductive rate of the virus is now estimated at a level wherein, if we maintain current protocols of social distancing, the level of infection will with G-d's help continue its downward trend.

Based on these facts, many doctors now advise that outdoor minyanim under specific circumstances, within strict social distancing protocol, and adhering to NY State legal guidelines, could be safely conducted. This information is relevant only to the Five Towns community at the present time, and is not to be applied to any other community.

The following are the halachic and medical guidelines for the outdoor lawn minyanim / daily prayer services.

1) I want to make it clear that each family must remain solely on their own property, and at least 6 feet away from any neighbor. We cannot currently allow minyanim to form in a single yard, parking lot, or street, even when wearing masks and practicing social distancing [pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order {202.18} prohibiting non-essential gatherings of ten people in one place] — whether in a public or private location. The only way a minyan could currently be allowed is for each family to remain on their own property (e.g. porch, front, or back yard), and join with others in their immediate vicinity — where participants can see each other without leaving their individual properties.

2) In order for a minyan to be halachically permitted we must insure that all 10 minyan participants must all reside in homes on the same side of the block, remain on their own outdoor properties, while being able to see and hear chazzan and torah reader at all times. Additionally, there may not be a public thoroughfare ie: street or sidewalk between the 10 minyan participants.

3) Only OUTDOOR minyanim are permitted. Under no circumstances may a minyan be held indoors, even in the event of rain, and even for a Yahrzeit. People may not gather on a single property or on the street. 

4) I encourage all to wear masks at all times when outdoors not to allow laxity in social distancing.

5) Individuals with underlying health issues, the immuno-compromised, the elderly (65+), or anyone exhibiting COVID-like symptoms, may not participate in a minyan. Children under bar mitzvah should not join.

6) All people on your lawn must be people residing at your home. Even if you are keeping 6 feet social distance non residents should not be on your lawn.

7) While the Torah is being read:

  1. The Torah must remain on 1 persons property and not switch locations
  2. All receiving an aliyah must be from 1 family.
  3. When there are not enough people to cover all the aliyas those in the family receiving the aliyahs should rotate in a way that no one receives 2 consecutive aliyahs. 
  4. When there is only 1 individual present on the property that the Torah is read, he should receive all the aliyahs.
  5. In any of these situations where there is not enough for 8 aliyahs (on Shabbat) Maftir is omitted and immediately after the 7th aliyah, hafotrah is read by the person who received the 7th aliyah. In this situation kaddish is omitted between the Torah reading and haftorah.

8) If someone disregards the above guidelines the minyan must stop immediately and the chazan or baal koreh may not continue until the situation is rectified.

9) If one cannot join such a minyan, you should attempt to schedule your prayer during the same time that a minyan is taking place. No one should be be considered at fault or feel social pressure for missing out on the opportunity of attending a minyan. As the above stated guidelines MUST be followed, this option will only benefit a small percentage of our community. I will G-d willing continue to keep you informed as the CDC updates become available.

My responsibility to be proactive and vigilant against any possibility of health risk extends to far more than just minyanim. We must all continue to exercise caution and to take precautions to avoid any health risk, and fully observe social distancing protocols in any and all of our interactions. As always, it is imperative that you follow the guidance of your Rabbi when it comes to all halachic decisions.

We continue to daven daily that this unprecedented situation comes to an end soon, and we should be able to return to our Shul and Schools very soon.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me directly.

May we merit to see the eradication of all illness with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our times.

Related links:

•50 rabbis in Five Towns say the crisis may be over, OK outdoor minyanim "under specific circumstances"

•Email by Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere

•Reopening guidelines from the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America

•Reopening guidelines from Agudath Israel of America

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Editor's note: This post was updated to reflect the connection between Rabbi Wolowik's statement and the statement of the 50 Five Towns and Far Rockaway rabbis.