Orthodox Jewish leaders in the UK have issued a rare and stinging criticism of those in their own community who breached the Government’s social distancing rules to hold a Lag B’Omer bonfire in the streets of London.
The most senior rabbis in Stamford Hill, which has the largest Orthodox community in Britain, condemned a “flagrant breach” of lockdown rules, describing the scenes as “completely unacceptable”.
It is vanishingly rare for Charedi leaders to criticise the Charedi community publicly, and almost unheard of to do so in such strident terms, reflecting the deep sense of anger that the Rabbinate feels towards those breaking lockdown rules.
In yet further evidence of the strength of feeling, the public declaration on Friday included castigation from every corner of the Charedi world, given that it was issued from rabbis from all of Stamford Hill’s main synagogues.
The intervention followed nationally-broadcast scenes on Tuesday of hundreds of Charedi families and friends disregarding rules to gather in the streets around large fires and celebrate Lag B’Omer, which senior rabbis call irresponsible.
Declaring public gatherings to be “a flagrant breach of the guidance,” the rabbis said it “puts lives at risk, causes a lamentable Chilul HaShem (desecration of the word of God), and does tremendous harm to K’lal Yisroel’ (the Jewish community).
It is signed by every member of the Rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), the main religious authority for the Stamford Hill community, and co-signed by senior rabbis from the community’s largest synagogues.
UOHC honorary officer Shlomo Sinitsky said: “Some of the scenes that we have seen were completely unacceptable and not authorised by any religious authority.
“We understand that these past weeks have been an extraordinarily difficult time for people, and that people are weary, but this simply should not have happened. People’s sacrifices have brought the virus under control, and we cannot risk losing that. The rabbonim urgently tell people to stick to the guidance.”
Acknowledging the terrible toll the coronavirus had already taken on Orthodox families, the rabbis said: “The virus has not gone. The threat remains. The risk of further infections and a second wave hangs over us.”
They added that they were “deeply concerned that after two months of lockdown, some have started to be lax in observing the guidance… It is absolutely incumbent on everyone to continue to follow the Government rules”.