Friday, March 20, 2020

ALL Alcohol Based Sanitizers are PERMITTED on Pesach this year

As Pesach is just around the corner, a few matters for your consideration.

First, we will be offering "seder in a box" from Premier caterers here at B'nai Shalom this year.  You have the choice of the ritual items only or a full meal.  Haggadot will be provided, and a link to a Passover Seder Video that you can stream on your I-Pad in case you need help "leading" your seder.  This is all part of our electronic supports during the Corona Virus Pandemic, encouraging both social distancing and ongoing observance of our traditions.

Second, I will be announcing this Shabbat that we will be allowing mourners' kaddish to be said during our live streaming minyanim.  That means, should we still be physically closed for Pesach, we will have remote participation minyan with kaddish for Yizkor on the 8th day of Pesach.  Please plan accordingly.


Third, regarding the CDC advice to maintain a sterile environment, especially including frequent hand washing with soap and water and hand sanitizer.  The scientific community is being quite clear: soap and water is best.  In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol in order to be effective. Most alcohol is made from grain, and traditionally forbidden to be owned or to derive any benefit from it during Pesach. The demand for Pikuach Nefesh - to save human lives - OVERRIDES that prohibition. 

To save human life, you MAY (even MUST) use alcohol based hand sanitizers, even if they are KNOWN to be derived from grain.  Halakhikly, it is possible to argue that the destruction of the grain into an inedible form of alcohol creates a d'var chadash which is not even akhilat kelev. Since it is inedible to a dog and unrecognizable as grain, the emergency situation provides room for leniency during this time of extreme need sha'ah dehak.  Nevertheless, ALL SUCH PRODUCTS ARE BEST PURCHASED IN ADVANCE OF THE HOLIDAY, AND INCLUDED IN YOUR SALE OF CHAMETZ.  In this way, you will be benefiting from the grain product of a non Jew, who themself is permitted to own it. 

This is not a leniency that operates in an area with no corona virus, nor is it a precedent for the future.

How To Join us Online on Shabbat

Please follow the slide show at this link to learn what is permissible on Shabbat for users of electronics.

  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
  • Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.

Please note that this leniency and system are only promised to continue until the CDC relaxes social distancing.

Please note that "counting in a minyan" will be handled as a separate issue.

FOR ADVANCED USERS:  Zoom has a sound setting that isolates one voice at a time, or tries to.  Congregational singing doesn't work so well that way.  If you want, directions to change advanced sound settings in Zoom have been prepared by Don Batschelder for your consideration.

Stay safe and well.

Rabbi Tobin

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

UPDATE: Shabbat Morning Service Online

As the curfews and other social distancing protocols increase in our area, I reach out to offer words of comfort and support.  As a caring and loving community, we will come through this together.  What follows is information about our Shabbat services online, and other important information.

First, please know that this is a human, global concern.  The tradition explains it with a story:  “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: It can be compared to people who were in a boat and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat. His fellow passengers said to him: ‘why are you doing this!’ He said to them: ‘What do you care? Am I not drilling under me?’ They replied: ‘Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!’” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6, ed. Margaliot, pp. 91-92). The entire world is in the same boat. If we do not help each other, we are in danger of sinking the entire boat. 

Second, please know that we are joining together online regularly now for all of our possible social needs during this time of distancing.  We are using for our online services, meetings and more. Please go to and sign up for a free account. 

All services, weekday and Shabbat, will be online until further notice, and yahrtzeits can be observed in this way. 

I will be hosting a zoom learning session this Thursday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. to study the permitted use of electronics on Shabbat during this emergency.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 547-344-607).  Here are the links for services:
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
  • Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.
Third, we are calling the entire membership.  When a call comes from a member of B’nai Shalom, we are checking in to see how you are, because we care.  If you need help with a grocery run, pharmacy, or are just lonely tired or bored stuck in your house, we are happy to keep you company on the phone. If you need help with anything, please call the synagogue office at 973-731-0160 or Rabbi Tobin’s cell phone 973-518-3534.  We would love to help.  If you want to volunteer, please let us know.

Fourth, join in healing prayers.  In addition to everything the CDC is recommending from a science point of view, take a few moments for prayer.  If you, or someone you know, falls ill - consider adding them to our “misheberach prayers for healing” at minyan.  Email me at with your information, so I can join you in those prayers.

Fifth, we will not host a second night seder this year.  We will send an email regarding upcoming programs and events later this week, but in the meantime you should plan for as small a Pesach as you can consider.  While we won’t have a public seder, we are working on supporting those who normally come to us on the second night.

And finally, for now, it is a time for patience, calm and generosity. We will all be feeling the financial hardships and anxiety of the moment. But whatever you are facing, there will be so many more who are worse off than we are.  Consider supporting our efforts with a donation, or support the work of our local Jewish Federation,, Magen David Adom, or any of your favorite local, national, international and/or Israeli charitable organizations that address health, hunger and wellness. The need will only grow in the weeks ahead.

We don’t know yet when the Synagogue will begin to return to more normal activities.  Given the seriousness of the pandemic, we are not in a rush. And in the meantime, we will stay close as we care for each other in our sacred community.
Kol Tuv, ... all good things.

Rabbi Robert Tobin

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Online Minyan at Bnai Shalom

March 15, 2020
Dear Members of B’nai Shalom,

We are friends and family, facing the challenge of rapidly spreading COVID-19 “Corona Virus” in our area and the world.  How do we stay close, when we need to be physically apart from each other? How do we build community, when obligated by our tradition to protect life by distancing? How do we join in minyan, and say memorial prayers, when we can’t gather?

Beginning this evening, we will hold evening and morning services electronically online and by telephone. One of us will lead the service from the chapel, and the rest of us will participate from home.  If you have a computer with a camera and microphone, or if you have a smart phone, follow this Weekday Evening Minyan link at 8:00 pm or this Weekday Morning Minyan link 7:00 am for weekday services.  If you want to just “dial in” on a telephone, then dial 929-205-609. The access code via telephone for morning Minyan is 450 192 936 while the access code for evening Minyan is 304 491 162.  You will be connected live to the service, be able to speak and be heard by the prayer leader. 
Beginning this Friday night, Shabbat Evening services will be held at 6:00 p.m., and conclude prior to candle lighting time.  Please use the Weekday Evening Minyan link and call in numbers for those services. I am actively working on creating the best way for Saturday morning services to be handled in a similar manner: please stay tuned.
We will add special prayers for healing and strength at these troubled times, where you can add the names of those in your heart. 

Since the prayer leader is not “in a minyan,” he/she will not say certain prayers, including the kaddish, but we will, of course, say memorial prayers at the Ark (El Malei Rachamim) in memory of any yahrtzeits you may be observing for past loved ones.  In this way, with the yahrtzeitcandle in your home, your obligation for memory is lovingly fulfilled. 
If you need any assistance with this new process please feel free to contact Gary Rothschild in the Synagogue Office (973-731-0160 x202, Gary will be available via email and telephone during business hours as well as during Minyan times to help walk anyone through this process with any issues that they may have.

Stay safe, and stay involved.  We care about you and are in this together.
Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Robert Tobin

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Corona Virus Letter to B'nai Shalom Synagogue March12, 2020

Dear Members of B’nai Shalom,

I write you in prayer and good wishes as God’s good creation faces the global COVID-19 “corona virus” pandemic. Please know that your well being, both physical and spiritual are my deep concern. 

I believe that God gave us minds and hearts to pursue science, and that medical safety and treatments apply those miracles of God that are in our hands. The Torah commands, you shall not sit idly by the blood of your neighbor (Lev. 19:16). How much the moreso, your own and your neighbors!? Therefore, the directions of the CDC and your physician have the force of halakhah, Jewish Law and should be considered Torah Misinai, equivalent to the Torah given to Moses. It is not a choice, but a commandment to pursue public health safety to the fullest.

Given public protocols for social distancing, the synagogue’s leadership is actively exploring our policies and procedures for programming in the building. A detailed communication will be sent this Wednesday, March 18, after several important conversations will have happened.  Of course, news may happen faster than that.  In the meantime, please refer to our e-happenings for our most up-to-date information and protocols.

As your rabbi, there are several religious and educational items I wish you to know:

  1. Regarding the mitzvah of hinukh education: If the West Orange school district closes, our Religious School will shift to on-line distance learning. We are training the students this afternoon in these protocols. Monday talmud is already live streamed on the Bnai Shalom Morris and Miriam Hammer Campus facebook page.
  2. Regarding the mitzvah of nihum aveilim, please do not make shiva visits during this time period, instead make phone calls and/or write messages. 
  3. Regarding the mitzvah of bikkur holim, please do not visit hospitals, nursing homes and rehabs unless absolutely necessary. Again, please call to express your love and support.
  4. Regarding services, daily and shabbat services are ongoing at this time, and under review.  During this time period, you are exempt from the requirement of public prayer.  Should you attend services at the synagogue, please know the following:
A.             There will be no “Torah Procession” during this time.
B.             Please wish prayer leaders and honorees a hearty “yishar koach,” verbally, without handshaking, high fives or hugs.
C.             I have authorized live streaming of our services on Shabbat, (which we are working on).  While we have had passive video/audio feeds active on Shabbat for many years for security reasons, access to this data on Shabbat is new.
·       The bimah/ark will be in the camera view, and private access will be provided only to those in need of it. 
·       The minyan only counts those in the room.
·       Staying connected to the service and community in this way is important, and the mitzvah for prayer and learning is still fulfilled in this way.
·       This ruling does not extend to any other use of electronics on Shabbat, and a community learning about this topic will be scheduled in the near future.  
·       Please look to the synagogue announcements, which will provide instructions how to access the live stream.

These policies are almost certain to be modified in the days ahead, and I encourage you to remain aware of our correspondences.  

Remember, thoughtful prayer is an important part of facing uncertainty. It is normal to feel fear and anxiety at this time.  Prayer is an important way to connect with God, and with others in the community, while affirming our common destiny and the purpose of our lives.  I encourage you to safely participate in our minyanim, and to consider prayers for healing and comfort for those who are ill.  A lovely resource for this can be found at My Jewish Learning dot com.  

With continued prayers for your physical and spiritual well being,

Rabbi Tobin

Remember:  if you are exhibiting symptoms or suspect that you have been exposed to the Corona Virus COVID-19, please remain at home and call you medical provider for assistance.  Coronavirus questions are being handled by the health experts at the NJ Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.