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FTJC COVID-19 Policies

December 8, 2022

Dear members of the FTJC community, 

We’re excited for the winter season ahead with many opportunities to be together in community, including home-hosted meals (sign up here!), Torah learning, a latkepalooza, and, of course, weekly davening. These gatherings will offer a chance for us to welcome new members, bond over delicious food, and take joy in one another. 

As we make our way forward through this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that members of the FTJC community have many different, and sometimes incompatible, needs. After considering the feedback from the last community survey and many discussions with members, the board chose to pursue the following policy changes to bring our community into alignment with peer institutions throughout New York and the country while also offering a variety of ways to connect and participate.

Starting December 9, masks will be optional at all FTJC events and services. The front left quadrant of the HT social hall will continue to be a masks-required seating space for services, but chairs will no longer be spaced three feet apart; they will be set up as normal rows.

The board and ritual committee are working to offer an alternative, mask-mandatory space for those who wish to daven with our community on Shabbat mornings. The first of these additional Shabbat morning minyanim will take place on December 16. Masks will be required at this service. It will start at 9:45 a.m. in Classroom 2. (Diya will reach out to families with children about updated meeting spaces for Rimonim services!) For now, we plan to hold this minyan every other week; if there’s enough enthusiasm, we would be thrilled to hold it more often. Please think of this as our Late Minyan 1.0—we welcome your input and hope to keep making improvements. To share your ideas and feedback with us, email, subject: Late Minyan. 

Other aspects of our COVID policy will remain the same. 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 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.) We will provide masks at the door of Hebrew Tabernacle for anyone who wants one and takeaway boxes at indoor Kiddush. We will continue to offer some programming via Zoom or livestream.

We are also looking forward to resuming communal meals, including our monthly community Shabbat dinners at Hebrew Tabernacle. To reduce risk of transmission at those meals, we will require all attendees to take a COVID-19 rapid test beforehand. Watch your email for more details and information on how to sign up.

We hope the new policy will increase clarity and consistency and allow us to make room for each other in our diverse community as we enjoy davening, eating, and being with one another in spaces fostering kindness, respect, understanding, and patience. If you have any questions, please reach out to 

Shabbat shalom,
The FTJC Board 

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

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783