Wisconsin rabbis are concerned that President Trump’s call for places of worship to open could create undue pressure, according to a statement issued May 28, 2020. The end of the Safer at Home order could also contribute to the pressure, they said.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential but have left out houses of worship. It’s not right,” Trump said on May 22, speaking to reporters at the White House. “So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship ‘essential’.”
The Wisconsin Council of Rabbis is open to all rabbis in the state and includes a cross-section of rabbis from all movements of Judaism. The membership includes many congregational rabbis.
“On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the extension of the Governor Evers administration Safer at Home rule, and more recently President Trump made a statement that all places of worship must open immediately,” the statement reads. “We are concerned that this could create undue pressure on some congregations to open sooner than they are ready to do in a safe manner.”
The rabbis said “we need to be more cautious regarding how and when we open to avoid potentially dangerous conditions,” according to their statement.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend,” Trump said on May 22. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”
It’s unclear what executive power he would use to make that happen, accordng to media reports.
In Judaism, one of the most important values is pikuach nefesh, according to the rabbis. It translates to “the saving or preserving of life.”
“This value supersedes most other Jewish values, customs and traditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our worship places and religious communities have had to make many adaptations to our practices in order to maximize the safety of our community members. It has not been easy, has challenged the strong sense of community we prize and has required all members of the community to accept a new reality for now, for we have been committed to keeping our people as healthy and safe as possible.”
The rabbis acknowledged the right of every congregation to make its own determination, grounded in its own needs of when and how to reopen.
“At the same time, we urge all congregations to open only when they are truly ready and to continue using technology for communal gatherings to the fullest extent possible. The decision on when and how to open must be based on solid health and safety information and guidance from qualified national, statewide and local health organizations and medical personnel, keeping long-term benefits in mind.”
The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee has also issued guidelines for faith leaders: “The medical/public health consensus is that the duration of the pandemic is long-term. We need to prepare for adapting our way of life, and our everyday practices for a year or more, not a few weeks.”
The context of all our choices will be risk mitigation, balancing risk and benefit, according to the The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. It advises that the strictest of federal, state, local or faith-based guidelines should take precedence.
“Everyone will be impacted. What are the tools of your faith that will help people be spiritually resilient?”