From weekly Shabbat services to high holy days, life for most Israeli Jewish communities revolves around regular in-person gatherings. When the Israeli government announced a strict lockdown on March 9, 2020, these came to a screeching halt. The government banned gatherings of more than two people except for funerals and circumcision ceremonies. As a result, all synagogues were forced to close and religious prayers which were once public were forced to adapt to the new normal of the COVID-19 lockdown.

This did not just cause mass upheaval in the religious life of many Israeli Jews but also in their psychological well being, as religious gathering meets the "belonging need" outlined Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which follows immediately after "physiological and security needs" in terms of importance.

This need requires stable interpersonal relationships with frequent interactions, which the thrice daily minyan prayer gatherings provide many Jews (at least 10 men or women typically gather for these). These prayer gatherings facilitate a sense of belonging and purpose and is at the core of community life for many Israeli Jews.

Professor Rivi Frei-Landau of the Culturally-Sensitive Clinical Psychology Program at the Open University of Israel wrote for a psychology journal about how Rabbanim (Jewish community leaders) adapted their religious rituals during COVID:

Balcony prayers deemed okay.

Inspired by the pandemic balcony singing and cheering in Italy, the Rabbanim decided that the thrice-daily Minyan prayer meetings would be allowed to be conducted amongst neighbors on balconies as long as the neighbors made eye contact with each other.

Independent religious learning groups (Chivruta) went virtual using video conferencing.
Passover celebrations were broadcasted virtually.

Passover is an important family gathering for many Jews and allowing it to be conducted virtually was quite controversial.

Frei-Landau’s research on the adaptation of Jewish religious rituals sheds light on a few of the many ways that religious communities have had to adapt their practice to meet the social-distancing requirements imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, her research will prompt further research in other religious communities as to how to best adapt and utilize existing communal and religious structures to serve communities around the world spiritually and promote mental health in the face of disasters.

Daniel Kohl is a current master’s student in the Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership program at Wheaton College (IL). He grew up in the Middle East and prior to his master’s degree, he received a bachelor’s degree in Economics & Business from Westmont College.


Frei-Landau, R. (2020). “When the going gets tough, the tough get—Creative”: Israeli Jewish religious leaders find religiously innovative ways to preserve community members’ sense of belonging and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(S1), S258-S260.