Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but an influenza pandemic is threatening to change the way we observe the High Holidays.
National Public Radio reported Tuesday that houses of worship are adjusting their rituals in light of the threat from the H1N1 virus.
According to NPR, Catholic priests are being urged by their superiors to use plenty of hand sanitizer before offering communion. An imam is telling worshippers at his mosque not to embrace one another, which, in their tradition, is a way of exchanging
And Judaism?
Well, the story quoted one rabbi from Brookline, Mass., who is suggesting that his congregants not touch the Torah, even with their tallises, on Rosh Hashana, and instead of shaking hands, to merely bow to one another.
“Or the Obama fist bump could really be very good,” he added.
Welcome to worship in the 21st
H1N1 is indeed, very serious. Between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, the Centers for Disease Control reported 196 deaths nationwide that were related to influenza.
As the flu goes, this virus is trickier than many. It’s a relatively new influenza virus, which means people will likely have no natural immunity to protect against it.
In Israel, 21 deaths have been attributed to the virus. In this country, Jewish summer camps were riddled by cases of H1N1.
We support precautionary measures to prevent its spread, but we can’t help but feel a little saddened by this development.
The High Holidays not only comprise a period of self-reflection and atonement, they pose a chance for families and friends to come together — something that is harder to do these days with relatives living so far from one another.
If we can’t renew a friendship with a handshake, forgive a relative with an embrace or draw closer to the Torah by touching it without our tallis then pressing the fringes to our lips, some of the power of the season is lost.
But that is a price we might have to pay.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis discussed how to deal with H1N1 on its listserve, and the
Orthodox Union chose not to make a statement about H1N1, saying it was matter for each congregation to deal with as their consciences and good sense dictates.
We agree, and we wish all our readers Shana Tov. May it be a sweet and healthy year for all.