As the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to disappear, numerous members of our communities are looking at the prospect of praying at hom over the upcoming High Holidays—probably for the first time in their conscious memories.

The emotional upheaval of this change needs to be addressed. But my purpose here is to write about the practicalities: which aspects of our prayers remain unchanged, and which will be effectively different than usual. As a general note: whenever we are unable to pray with a tzibur (congregation) in the literal sense, we are advised that it is auspicious to pray at the same time as the congregation.1

Hatarat Nedarim - Annulment of Vows

It is customary on the day before Rosh Hashanah to stand before a court of three men (some prefer that the court consist of ten men) and request annulment of vows made in the past. The question now is whether this can be done remotely.

There areauthorities who allowed this to be done via a letter to the court.2 To address the court via phone or video connection is certainly an improvement over a written request, and may be acceptable according to all opinions. Conversely, it appears to me that the quorum of three members of the court needs to be in one location, and cannot “convene” by means of an electronic forum.

So, if your local synagogue has Hatarat Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah, you can ask one of the shul-goers to put you on speakerphone so that the court can hear your request and annul your vows.

(In some communities, the request for annulment is recited by several men together, and the court will annul their vows collectively. In such a setting, the above solution may not suffice, since you may not be heard at all by the court—unless they are advised in advance to listen out for your voice.)

The court used for the purpose of Annulment of Vows may be relatives. So, if your family unit includes another three men, you could perform Annulment of Vows at home.

Piyutim Poems

There are many piyutim (poems) added to the High Holidays prayers. The piyutim were instituted to be recited collectively, but one may recite them individually, too, with the exception of the pieces designated for the chazan (e.g., Hineni heOni before Musaf). Uttering G‑d's name within a piyut is fine, since it is being said in the context of prayer or praise of G‑d.

When praying alone, the piyutim should not be recited within the Amidah, but can be read after Shacharit and Musaf. You may also repeat Aleinu as part of your Repetition of Musaf. The paragraphs of Hayom harat olam may also be said, followed by the appropriate passage beginning Areshet sefateinu. But don't recite the above paragraphs during the first series of shofar blowing (of 30 sounds. known as Tekios diMeyushav).

(In many communities, Hayom harat olam is always included in the Silent Amidah, even on Shabbat. It follows that when praying alone it should be recited as usual.)

Texts for Rosh Hashanah Services at Home (PDF)

Kriat Hatorah Reading of the Torah

It is recommended that you read through the appropriate Torah reading3 and haftarah4 for the day.

Rosh Hashanah Torah Readings

Shofar

The shofar is sounded before Musaf and during Musaf (in some communities, during the Silent Amidah as well as during the Repetition). When praying alone, the shofar can be blown only before Musaf but not during the Amidah.5

You may need someone else to blow the shofar for you. Where possible, this should be done after the first quarter of the day (the final time for saying Shema) has passed.6

If the shofar-blower cannot come until late in the day, may you eat before hearing the shofar? The case for leniency is greater this year, since we do not blow the shofar on the first day, which is Shabbat. Thus, the shofar-blowing is merely a rabbinic mitzvah. Additionally, many communities always have a kiddush reception right before shofar-blowing.7

Learn How to Blow Shofar

One Hundred Sounds

There is an ancient custom to hear a total of one hundred blasts of the shofar on the day of Rosh Hashanah.8 This may be done without a minyan too, blowing the extra 70 blasts at any time during the day.9

Tashlich

We normally go to the waterfront on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah (or the second day, when the first day is Shabbat). If your isolation regime allows you to go out by car, you can do this during the course of the following week—or even until Hoshanah Rabbah (the final day of Sukkot)!

More on Tashlich

Kol Nidrei

At first glance, this is simply another procedure for annulling vows, which cannot be done without three adult men to form a court. However, some give it the status of a prayer, which allows for recital even while alone.10

Why Is Kol Nidrei So Special?

Viduy (Confession) of Repetition

The Confession (Ashamnu, Al Cheit, etc.) is included in the Silent Amidah at Maariv, Shacharit, Musaf and Minchah of Yom Kippur. Neilah also includes a confession, albeit using a different text than Al Cheit. In shul, the Confession is repeated after Maariv and during the Repetition of each of the other prayers. So, in all, we recite the Confession ten times during Yom Kippur. One praying alone is advised to repeat the Confession at each point, as if he had been in shul.

Yizkor Remembrance for the Deceased

This prayer does not need to be said with a minyan, and can therefore be recited at home, too.

Yizkor at Home

Birkat KohanimPriestly Blessing

This blessing is only given in the presence of a minyan. However, the Talmud clearly states that the people out in the fields, who are unable to attend synagogue, are included in these special blessings, and the same surely applies to those “sheltering in place.”

The Priestly Blessing

Shofar at End of Neilah

If you have a shofar, you can blow it at the right time, once Yom Kippur is over. But there is no need to arrange for someone to come and blow shofar for the housebound at the end of the fast.11

Why We Blow Shofar After Neilah