The Challenge Posed by Social Distancing to Jewish Mourning

Following the death of a close relative, observant Jews follow a series of practices that serve to allay the isolation inherent in grief. Immediately after the funeral, a mourner remains at home for seven days—known as “sitting shiva”—while friends, relatives, and community members come to express their condolences. For the next eleven months, the mourner must attend synagogue thrice daily to recite kaddish, which can only be said in a quorum (minyan) of ten men. Tevi Troy, recently bereaved of his mother, explains what COVID-19 has meant for his own grieving:

In Maryland, where I live, synagogues closed their doors last weekend to services and other community activities. In New Jersey, communities could not have communal prayer services in the home or even outdoors. In the interest of safety, similar changes are occurring throughout the country.

On this most recent Sabbath, before even stricter protocols went into effect, I fulfilled the obligations to my mother by praying at outdoor minyanim, including two that took place in my driveway. At the conclusion of the Sabbath, fifteen of us gathered around a streetlight, as the prayer ending the Sabbath takes place after [sunset] but before we are allowed to turn on lights. No one said anything, but everyone knew to keep a safe distance. Everyone had his own prayer book to minimize the chances of spreading disease through shared surfaces.

Even that option is gone now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines against gatherings of ten or more people, and our rabbis have suspended minyanim. From my previous service as a public-health official, I fully support the need for social distancing and I am adhering to the stricter guidelines, as is my community.

This past weekend, in one of my last recitations of kaddish for the foreseeable future, I thought of past generations of Jews who encountered even more difficulties gathering together—during pogroms, wars, or the Holocaust. The nearby friends, still at a safe distance, comforted me and joined me in prayer.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Coronavirus, Judaism, Mourning, Prayer

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem