The Jewish Chronicle
Buildings or not?
An interesting scenario is emerging about the way in which prayer is being practised.
At one level, there is the Chief Rabbi’s call for a “paradigm shift” (There are lessons to be learned from this year of devastation, JC Essay, 26 March) and his observation that the essence of a religious community is not a building but its people.
At another level, in the Church of England, the future of many church buildings is already being put at risk by the cost of their upkeep and the reduced numbers of those attending.
During the pandemic, many services and communal meetings for both Jewish and Christian communities have been held remotely online and in both cases, while this shift may have reduced the quality of engagement, anecdotal evidence suggests it may have increased the numbers of people re-engaging with their religion.
Is the future of worship for these groups going to irrevocably change?
The Chief Rabbi is normally bang on but, with respect, his Pesach message missed the mark.
Whilst the ‘hybrid’ approach of face-to-face and zoom activities is a game changer, the shul must be at the centre of a community: regular face-to-face interaction is essential for the well-being of individuals and communities need committed foot soldiers to ensure governance remains robust.
As the Torah says, “Build for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them’’.
The Chief Rabbi strikes a resonant note when he encourages the community to continue to consider meeting online when “normality” returns.
He is too gracious to mention the relief many curmudgeons like me will enjoy at the prospect of holding a priestly pass to avoid gatherings which might prove noisy, crowded, narcissistic, too long or too far away.
That’s before even thinking about the table plan, the temperature, the traffic, or, heaven forfend, the parking.
But there’s a particular upside to people politely opting to meet via Zoom: the environmental gain, particularly if overseas travel is involved.
It’s odd that Rabbi Mirvis does not refer to the modern mitzvah of reducing carbon emissions which is perhaps the best reason of all for taking his advice and grasping what he rightly calls a “historic opportunity”.