Law versus Spirit? Rosh haShana/Yom Kippur during or (hopefully) after Corona peak.

As the real fear of having to spend the Yamim Noraim davening in small minyanim at shul ( for the lucky ones), in street minyanim in the extreme Israel heat, or at home seems more and more likely , I suggested yesterday to my wife that our street minyanim should be held early in the morning without the piyutim , Gra style.

For those unaware, the original Talmudic version of the Rosh haShana davening and in particular, chazan’s
Repetition, was much shorter than ours, and other than having 3 extended middle brachot rather than the shorter middle bracha of a regular shabbos and Yom Tov, shofar on Rosh haShana and Vidui on Yom Kippur, was pretty similar to a normal chag.

Over the years, and rather controversially at first, many additional piyutim ( poems) were added by great people and the introductory piece מסוד was written to ask permission to deviate from the normal prohibition against adding to the Amida before saying these piyutim .

These piyutim became an essential part of the traditional davening for most of us, to the point that so many of them, like Unetaneh Tokef and Vechol Maaminim, have come to represent the essence of these special days to us .

Yet As recently as the Vilna Gaon, there were authorities that refused to accept these novelties in the body of the amida and simply left them out, and although the mainstream halachik view has accepted and even encouraged their inclusion, it is clear that they do not have the same halachik status as the original 9 brachos themselves , or the mitzvot of the day such as reading the Torah, shofar ( on Rosh haShana), and Vidui on Yom Kippur.

As such, i figured that given the difficulty and possible danger of being outdoors in the sun for 7 hours in the extreme heat , this year could possibly be a year for all of us being “Gra’niks” , doing the essentials together early while the heat is still relatively bearable, and spending the rest of the day saying/singing piyutim with our families and learning.

Of course, I would never make such a decision on my own, and noone would listen to me anyway, but
I just saw a post by Rav Ysoscher Katz drawing attention to a ruling by Rav Schachter below , who uses similar, though admittedly not the same logic, to suggest that shuls that are limited to a maximum number of people hold multiple short minyanim without the piyutim.

In a perhaps typical litvak/chasid debate, Rabbi Katz takes issue with this, on the basis that pure halachik considerations are not the only factor here, but the spirit of the day is equally important, and the damage done to that by such a drastic action, is not worth it- he says he would rather do everything in his home with the family in the absence of the minyan.

Rav Schachters ruling is based on allowing more people to be able to daven with a minyan in shul, and not on allowing minyanim that are already in the street to be shorter and more barable in the heat, and it is unclear whether he would view the comfort factor in the same light.

Yet the extreme heat we experience in Israel during this time of year is not simply a mild discomfort, but can cause extreme suffering, certainly not in line with the simchas Yom Tov which is required on Rosh haShana , as well as sunburn ( where there are not sufficient shady solutions), and dehydration, and can even be dangerous.

On Yom Kippur while fasting, this is even more the case .

As for Rav Katz’s considerations , i tend to believe that the compromise solution of saying piyutim with the family later can allow us to fulfill both minimal halachik and spiritual requirements, if indeed there is a clash here, a discussion I shall avoid for purposes of this post .

Would love to hear thoughts on this .

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