Rewriting the Rules

So much is happening each and every day in this crazy coronavirus world, there are important news stories you probably have missed, so I am using this week’s Shabbat message to highlight some headlines that may not have reached your screen.

In Israel, the COVID-19 crisis has been compounded by political and constitutional anarchy. The speaker of the Knesset refused to hold a vote for his replacement and shut down parliament in order to force a unity government to deal with the public health emergency. The Israeli Supreme Court responded with an order for the speaker to hold the vote, which he refused to do.

The deadlock between the two branches of government was only broken when the speaker resigned and a deal appeared to be reached between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz on a unity government. Netanyahu will serve as prime minister first for 18 months, followed by Gantz’s term. In the interim, Gantz will serve as the Knesset speaker.

A government of national unity is no doubt a good thing for Israel in a time of emergency as coronavirus cases and deaths increase, but there are other consequences to the deal. Gantz’s partner in the Blue and White faction, Yair Lapid, is upset with the new coalition and has announced that his party will go into the opposition. All of these developments have happened in the span of about 24 hours. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Meanwhile, with the beginning of the month of Nisan, our thoughts turn to Passover, which starts in only two weeks. At Adath we are planning some pre-Pesach virtual activities and thinking about how we can celebrate such a communal holiday in the midst of a pandemic. We will also hold a virtual Seder for the synagogue so stay tuned for details.

In Israel, a group of Orthodox Sephardic rabbis have issued a ruling allowing the use of Zoom or another streaming platform. They argue that in these emergency times it’s important for the mental health of isolated people to participate in a Seder. The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement has also given permission to stream Seders this year.

The Sephardic ruling is interesting because it reflects a difference in opinion in the Orthodox world on the use of electricity on Shabbat and holidays. Ashkenazi authorities have responded negatively to these leniencies because that community has always viewed electricity as a violation of the rules against work on holy days, while Jewish communities from the Middle East were more willing to be permissive.

As we can see from both the political and religious worlds, the COVID-19 crisis has brought people who normally disagree together, while it has also driven some allies apart. This pandemic is rewriting the rules of our society and culture right before our eyes. If you blink, you might miss something.

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