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FTJC COVID-19 Policies

We hope these policies provide clarity and consistency, making room for each other in our diverse community as we enjoy davening, eating, and being together in spaces fostering kindness, respect, understanding, and good health.

Everyone who is eligible and able must be fully vaccinated and boosted.

Those who have COVID symptoms or test positive for the virus should stay home; all members should follow CDC guidelines on how to handle positive cases and exposures. (Families should follow NYC Department of Education guidelines on cases and exposures for children; if you can test to stay in school, you can test to stay in shul.)

Masks are optional at all FTJC events and services. We provide masks at shul for anyone who wants one. The front left quadrant of the Fellowship Hall will continue to be a masks-required seating space for Shabbat morning and Yom Tov morning services.

If you have any questions, please reach out to gathering@ftjc.org

Guidance on At-Home Rapid Tests on Shabbat and Holidays

Rabbi Guy Austrian

April 8, 2022

At-home rapid tests for COVID-19 are now more available and affordable and are an important tool to keep ourselves and others safer. As many of our community members get together for Shabbat meals and child playdates–and with the Passover holiday approaching–I’ve been asked to share some guidance about using at-home tests on Shabbat and Yom Tov. 

My intention here is not to write a full halachic analysis with sources and citations, but simply to share broad guidance, with links to resources with greater detail. This guidance is not meant as FTJC communal policy, but only as a framework to help people make their own decisions about private gatherings.

A number of rabbis have recently published responses to this question, including:

Rabbi Dov Linzer (English video)

Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon (Hebrew article)

Rabbi Ethan Tucker (English audio)

Rabbi Mychoel Zylberman (English audio)

All of them take a broadly similar approach, permitting where there is a need relating to physical or mental health or the experience of Shabbat.

There are a number of halachic concerns that the actions involved in an at-home rapid test fall into categories of melachah, activities prohibited on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Among these are:  Tzove’a (dyeing) – When the liquid solution is absorbed into the test strip, it causes colored lines to appear. Sechitah (squeezing liquid from a cloth) – When using certain test kits that involve dipping the swab into a tube with liquid solution, one squeezes to extract as much of the liquid as possible from the swab. Kore’a (tearing) – When opening the packaging, one has to tear the foil wrapper around the cartridge or cardboard that holds the test strip.

Although these actions resemble melachah, many do not actually qualify as the prohibited activity, or don’t involve a core (“Torah-level”) prohibition but only a lesser (“rabbinic-level”) form. Further, some of the actions happen only indirectly, or temporarily, or without wanting to keep the product of the action.

Meanwhile, the purpose of taking the at-home rapid test may be in service of other mitzvot, for example:

  • to protect the physical health of oneself and others by preventing the spread of the virus,

  • to protect mental health by alleviating or ending isolation, or by reducing the anxiety that some may feel about gathering,

  • to have oneg Shabbos (the pleasure of Shabbat), understood to come mainly, but not only, through food and drink at Shabbat meals.

So in principle, it is preferable to take an at-home rapid test before or after Shabbat or Yom Tov, when there is no compelling need to do it during Shabbat or Yom Tov (for example, one is merely curious or impatient to check one’s status, or when a friendly chat could just as pleasantly take place outdoors).

But it’s certainly permitted to take an at-home rapid test during Shabbat or Yom Tov, when there is a need such as the protection of physical or mental health, especially when one wants to gather with others for indoor meals, child playdates, or similar higher-risk gatherings that enhance the observance and pleasure of Shabbat and Yom Tov, and especially when seeking to include people who may have higher-risk factors for COVID-19.

When making plans for home-hosted meals on Shabbat and Yom Tov (including the Passover Seders), hosts and guests may wish to communicate about their particular context and relative risk levels and comfort levels. They may also want to consider the length of time elapsing between a test and the meal, which increases for a lunch, and especially for the second night and day of a two-day holiday. If there is any concern that anyone present has elevated risk factors, or if even one person would be made less anxious or more able to be included, then everyone may certainly be asked to test closer to the time of the meal.

When taking an at-home rapid test during Shabbat or Yom Tov, it’s preferable to perform the actions using a shinui – a “change” or “difference” from the way one normally does them; for example using one’s knuckles or non-dominant hand. This practice lessens any potential melachah and helps us to keep our consciousness suffused with Shabbat and Yom Tov. 

One more practical consideration. If a guest tests positive during Shabbat or Yom Tov, but is not using their phone, it may be difficult to notify others that they are not coming, or for the host to send a package of food. If a host tests positive, it may be difficult to notify others not to come. I am sure that creative ways will be found to navigate these situations with compassion, understanding, generosity, and good humor.

Wishing everyone health, safety, joy, and good company as we continue to move through this evolving pandemic and into the Passover season–chag kasher v’sameach.

Rabbi Guy Austrian

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784