shofar - ram's horn
shofar - ram's hornBen Bresky

Our outdoor minyanim around the world seem to be flourishing, and that is important as our shuls and their memberships gear up for the upcoming High Holy Days—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur followed directly by Sukkos.

Of course, there are numerous concerns as we lurch forward. One of the most often-mentioned issues is about how our minyanim—both indoor and outdoor—are going to handle the blowing of the shofar.

As I have mentioned in the past, I receive many weekly and daily notices from many shuls. Those that I do not receive directly are sent to me by people I know (and many I do not know).

The main concern here is that blowing shofar might discharge droplets or forms of the coronavirus, spraying out of the shofar-blower’s mouth, through the shofar, and right out of the wide end of the shofar into the air of not only indoor minyanim but our makeshift shuls as well.

First, let’s be mindful of the fact that this year, shofar-blowing, by virtue of the calendar, has been reduced by 50%. In other words, virus out there or not, because the first day of the New Year falls out on Shabbos, we do not blow shofar at all. On Shabbos, as you know, we do not even touch a shofar. So, thankfully, we are only dealing with half this problem that we might have had to navigate had yom tov appeared on the calendar differently.

Here are a few of suggestions that popped onto my computer screen. One was to cover with a mask the top of the shofar that projects the air from the shofar-blower so as to reduce the amount of contaminants that might exit from the wide end of the shofar.

Another suggestion that I saw was for those davening indoors to have the shofar blown in another room so that there is no possibility of anyone in the shul inhaling or being exposed to any air particles that can be detrimental to one’s health. One rabbi that I consulted said this can be problematic because if the shofar is sounded in an adjacent room, the listeners might be hearing the echo of the shofar rather than the sound itself, which poses a possible halachic issue. The shofar blasts are not being deemed significantly or potentially dangerous in outdoor minyanim, and at this point it looks like that there will be many such minyanim this year.

We began the month of shofar blasts at the conclusion of the daily davening last week on the second day of rosh chodesh, which was Friday morning. In my outdoor minyan we sounded the shofar at about 7:45 a.m. The minyan I attend is about a block away from the Long Island Railroad tracks that run through part of Lawrence. About two minutes after we blew shofar, we heard the horn of a speeding train crossing through an in-town intersection. The sounds were not identical by any stretch, but they certainly were similar. That might be confusing for some.

And no, that does not solve any of the blowing-the-shofar issues that shuls are currently grappling with around the world, even those near train stations.

We are not there yet, but outdoor minyanim here on the east coast will have to make some decisions about going forward. Some are getting ready to disband and others are organizing and fortifying their little backyard outposts heading into the cooler weather of the fall.

As we set Rosh Hashanah in our sights, we will be between seasons. At that time of year it might be as warm as it has been the last few days but it is also possible to cross that line and step into some cool weather. Right now, a look at the long-term forecast says that here in New York it will be cooling down a bit, with daytime temperatures reaching 73°F and nighttime temperatures in the mid- to high-50s. It’s too early to say whether there will be rain or sun on those two days of Rosh Hashanah.

In terms of preference, I suppose you have to ask yourself what you prefer—davening indoors or outdoors on the holidays or even the Shabbosos over the near term. Perhaps instead of dealing with this choice from a perspective of personal preference, it is important not to lose focus and to be aware that this is a matter of safety more than anything else.

For now it seems that the best antidote—if you can call it that—is what they call socially distancing. That’s better than a mask or any other way you can manage to create an obstacle to passing this virus along through your community or anywhere else you may find yourself.

Amongst the many ways we can describe ourselves is that many of us on a daily basis are shulgoers. That is where we interface with others on a regular basis. That is, we go to shul in one form or another, morning, noon, and night. Thinking back just a few months ago when our shuls were shuttered and dark, its ominousness is still haunting. There was an extreme and even desperate helplessness that punctuated that period that hopefully we will never have to experience again.

And that is one of the reasons why outdoor minyanim at this time are so vitally important. It keeps us all connected but also importantly and effectively apart.

Finally, after all these years, it seems that many shuls are being mindful of the length of the Rosh Hashanah davening. This might be the opportunity to focus on the depth and quality of our prayers as opposed to watching the clock and wondering what time we will actually conclude the services.

Indeed, as many are aware, one of the most often-asked questions about our tefillos on Rosh Hashanah are concerned with what time we began davening in the morning and what time we ended in the afternoon.

No one knows what G-d’s plan is here, not even the doctors who always have the option of changing their theories from day to day. With the New Year approaching, we are a full six months into dealing with the pandemic and its unique impact on our communities. Yeshivas are opening and will hopefully be able to stay open. Our shuls are busy and will also, with Hashem’s help, be able to stay that way.

With the need to circulate strictly within what is now known as our own “bubble,” or, as it is referred to in Israel, “your capsule,” perhaps we should seize this opportunity to focus on the quality and meaning of our prayers instead of our usual concern about their length