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On Kissing the Tzitzit Through a Mask

Kissing the tzitzit (prayer shawl) through my anti-COVID-19 cloth facemask is a strange sensory experience and quite disconcerting. The ritual kissing of the tzitzit during the morning recitation of the Shema's third Scriptural paragraph has, it seems, also been affected by the rules and regulations imposed upon synagogue worship during the era of the Coronavirus.

In New York, where I am still stranded because of the pandemic, if we are to gather in the synagogue at all, we must reduce our numbers to twenty-five percent of the capacity of the room. We practice social distancing between the seats. We require the wearing of masks. We read Torah with the chazzan (Torah reader) reciting all of the aliyah (call-up) blessings himself, so that the rest of us will not come close. We do not shake hands. We leave quickly at the end of services like masked, expressionless phantoms, not socializing except for a hurried, terse "Shabbat shalom". There is no public Kiddush (celebratory drink). We just go back to our in-home isolation.

Of course, if I daven (pray) alone at home, I do not have to wear a mask. But davening by myself has, for me, always been an unsatisfying experience. In the absence these days of functioning daily minyanim (quarum of 10), I find myself at home being less and less inclined to thoroughly recite the entire service, and I have taken shortcuts.

I have to worship in a group for chizuk, (reinforcement). God is sanctified in the midst of the assembled Children of Israel. I, too, have all my life felt "religious" and engaged in something "holy" when participating in the life of the Jewish community. Even the majority of our prayers and blessings are expressed in plural language. The few that are composed in the singular form, come with the understanding that Jews all over the world are reciting them as well, in their proper ritual place and time. All Israel are connected one to the other. To me, it is impossible to be Jewish in isolation.

The mask is a barrier. The tzitzit are to remind us of all of the mitzvot of the Torah and to not stray from the path of righteousness with our bad inclinations to the contrary. Kissing the tzitzit through a mask made moist through exhalation makes the tzitzit feel spongy and impotent.

Sometimes, I feel during this period of COVID-19 that God Himself is hiding His face. Could it be that God, too, has to wear a mask? 



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Saturday, 02 March 2024

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