Ritual During A Pandemic

Let’s be very basic: What is ritual? Ritual provides a model of reality, showing how to interpret the world as is, as well as a model for reality, clarifying how life ideally should be.

Ritual brings these two aspects – the “model of” and the “model for” – together.

Ritual is about order and sameness. There is comfort and security in knowing that ritual stays the same, no matter what.

When things are down, ritual says, “Yes, this is how things are right now, but here is how things will be soon.” When things are bad and disrupted, that’s exactly, precisely when ritual is most important. It’s especially in those periods when we are ‘betwixt and between’ that ritual is crucial, say, when we are grieving and at a loss; that’s when we need ritual the most. If there ever were disruption in our lives, this is it. During this time when so many of our daily activities are changed, when our daily lives are different beyond recognition, how much the more so do we need regularity and sameness.

My position is: We’re not going to give in to the chaos. The rituals that are meaningful and give structure to our lives must continue to do so at this time.

I know that many rabbis are changing the rituals during this time. I respect all of their decisions. But I disagree.

One person said to me: “I was down and then I saw you opening the Ark in the sanctuary for Alenu.”

Another person said: “During those days when I was cloistered inside, the only communication I had was with the zoom minyans. Those services were the anchors of my days and nights.”

So what is Temple Beth Sholom “doing” for the High Holidays? The same services we have always done.

Will the services seem completely different? Of course. They will all be zoomed and streamed. The media will be different.

But the medium is not the message. The medium just conveys the message. And the message is: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Shabbat, and Sukkot, and every day, are all times to engage in our rituals which point the way to community and meaning in life.

Zoom you soon.
Rabbi Scolnic