Friday, May 22, 2020

A Postscript Clarification

Mayor Lori Lightfoot;- 'Chicago not ready!'
I got a lot of push-back yesterday. I was disappointed with the Agudah position on re-opening Shuls - splitting with the OU/RCA/ CRC. Whose position is that Shuls should stay closed a bit longer.

There was some misunderstanding about my views. So I want to set the record straight. This split was not an acrimonious one. I was informed late yesterday that one of the signatories to Agudah’s public statement went to the trouble of making that clear. Their disagreement had nothing to do with the respect they have for each other. Each side understands and respects each other’s point of view.

As i have always maintained it is true that in Chicago the relationship between the Right and the Left (or more accurately – the Center) has always been very positive. There have been many occasions that they were on exactly the same page regarding community issues. The most notable one being the unity they expressed at the beginning of the pandemic. Something that made me proud to live in this city.

That some may have taken my comments yesterday as anything other than that, would be a serious misreading of what I meant. And a mistake on their part. That was never the issue for me. Let me reiterate and make clear why I was (and still am) upset by all this. I have not changed my opinion.

First there is the step back from unity that now requires both sides to issue their own public policy positions. When I saw the logo of Agudah appearing on a public notice without the CRC logo, I was disappointed.

It was also disappointing that the notice was described as the view of 'Chicago rabbis’ followed by a long list of rabbis from the right. The implication that it was all of Chicago’s rabbis. Which was true before the split when public policy statements were issued in unity.

A profuse apology was issued by one of the authors of the Agudah statement. He admitted his error, and acknowledged that it was not the entire rabbinate issuing this policy statement. Only the undersigned rabbis (who are more to right).  Although I believe the apology was sincere, I believe it represents a subliminal view about the religious right that sees themselves as the more authentic. Which kind of underscores what I said yesterday about an attitude about ‘Frumkeit’. But I digress.  

And then is also the health issue.

Let me first get one thing out of the way. The fact is Agudah is doing nothing inherently wrong by opening up Shuls in their limited way. They will be following the new guidelines issued by the state as directed by health officials in this new phase of the pandemic. They will be insisting that participants adhere to those guidelines as well. Which will include an expulsion from any Shul by anyone who violates those rules.

The CRC has decided to wait a bit longer to see what this more open environment will produce. There has been some fear expressed by health officials that as we begin to open things up people will begin to congregate. And even if they wear masks and try to observe social distancing there will be violations. Some inadvertent and some not.  That might cause a spike in this highly communicable and deadly disease.  

Furthermore, Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not ready to completely enter phase 3 yet and will not allowing restaurants to open - even though the state is allowing it. That is because the number of new infections are higher in Chicago than they are in other parts of the state. And thereby has not yet met the standard for entering the new phase.

Even though the Agudah has good intentions and is eager to get things back to normal - I have sided with the CRC. It is always better to err on the side of caution. So aside from the break in unity there is also the danger that opening up Shuls when community spread in Chicago is still going on. A situation more serious than the new more lenient state guidelines might indicate.

One of the reasons that I believe Agudah is making a serious mistake here is precisely because of how careful they are being about those guidelines. Careful for the right reasons. 

I took a closer look at what is entailed by those guidelines. There are so many details to be considered that it will be a miracle if they are not somehow violated. If not by those responsible for the conditions in the Shul, then by the attendees. So many things have to be perfectly executed for this policy to be effective. The chances for violation and the virus being spread communally by an asymptomatic attendee are real. 

There is no reason to jump the gun here.

One may ask, if the danger is so great how can we ever open up a Shul? Is there not some point where we will have to take a calculated risk for purposes of public prayer?  

The answer is yes, there will be such a time. I think that is the position of the CRC (and the OU/RCA). But not now during the transition period. Especially with the knowledge that Chicago still has a relatively high infection rate. So that even though what Agudah is proposing is legal and relatively safe, it will still be a lot safer to wait a while longer to see if there is any spike in infections or deaths.

Those who ask why it can’t be the CRC that concedes to Agudah’s policy if both are reasonable - and find unity that way should understand that it is better to find unity around the more cautious position of the OU/RCA/CRC. And open things up a little later. And in unity.

It would have been nice to see a unified new policy statement with the logos of both Orthodox institutions on it instead of two different letters stating completely different polices. The respect each side has for the other notwithstanding. That did not happen. And I am disappointed.