Moving Past Hand Shaking
March 13, 2020
By Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein

Creating Sacred Boundaries at the Tim of the Coronavirus

We Jews love to shake hands.  At Congregation Shir Shalom, we shake hands before services, we shake hands after services, and shake hands during services.   One of my favorite Friday night rituals that we have as a community is going around after Lecha Dodi, the prayer welcoming Shabbat into the room, and welcoming one another into the room as well.  There is a palpable difference before and afterward.  Suddenly, we feel like one community, prepared to fully be present with one another.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, Moses desires to have this type of shared moment not with another human being, but with God.  It is after the incident of the Golden Calf, and their relationship is feeling fragile.  Moses wants to commune with God directly and God agrees, but with a caveat, Moses will not be able to see God’s face for.   As God relays, “no human can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

Placing Moses in the cleft of Mount Sinai, with his back toward the outside world, God’s presence passes behind him,  thus demonstrating the loving bond they had with one another that Moses so desired, without putting him in any danger.  So, too, at a time when Covid-19 has all on red alert, rituals like hand shaking need to be adapted. 

When I first mentioned this at services a few weeks ago, there was a reluctance to change our normal modus operandi.  We wanted to be able to welcome one another in the way we are accustomed. But, we quickly realized there are other means to achieve the same goal.  Some people suggested elbow touching, others slight tilts of our heads in one another’s direction, or perhaps even foot touching.  Or, as one article this past week suggested, using the “Spock Salute,” Leonard Nemoy’s adaptation of the way the High Priest would hold his hands with the fingers divided in a “V” shape in the popular TV show Star Trek.

We, in the Jewish community, recognize the seriousness of this current epidemic.  How blessed we are to have Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein in our Jewish community leading the local effort.  Stay strong, stay vigilant, and as God demonstrated in the Torah portion, find creative means to achieve the same goals of letting one another know how important we are in each other’s lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

In the News: A Jewish teenager from the Seattle area has built a website that is keeping the world updated on the COVID-19 pandemic.  Click HERE to read the article from The Times of Israel.

CDC resources: Click HERE for updated Workplace, School, and Home guidelines for every American and community to help decrease the spread of coronavirus.

Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein is the spiritual leader at Congregation Shir Shalom.

Moving Past Hand Shaking - Jewish thought of the week graphic