The Chief Rabbi has urged the prime minister to let synagogues remain open during the latest lockdown, arguing there’s “no scientific rationale” for the decision.
Places of worship are due to be shut for a month from Thursday, except for private prayer. But in a marked change of tone from the lockdown earlier this year, a number of senior religious leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, have said they “strongly disagree with the decision to suspend worship during this time”.
Writing to Boris Johnson and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, the leaders of Orthodox Judaism, the Church of England and the Catholic church, along with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Pentecostal representatives said, “scientific evidence shows that social solidarity and connectedness are key to people maintaining motivation to comply with COVID secure measures and to maintain good mental health.”
“There is no scientific rationale for suspension of Public Worship where it is compliant with the guidance that we have worked jointly with government to establish.”
The letter claimed that faith leaders had demonstrated places of worship can be “made safe from Covid transmission”, writing that there is “no scientific justification for the wholesale suspension of public worship.”
However Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had previously said that it was “imperative” to close synagogues again, following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday.
In a statement on Sunday, the Chief Rabbi explained that allowing synagogues to stay open for private prayer could tempt shul-goers to daven together, which would be a breach of coronavirus regulations and a “desecration of Hashem’s name”.
But the latest letter made the case for common worship benefiting the health and wellbeing of faith communities who care for others.
“Much has been made of the adverse impact on mental health of volunteer and paid carers during this pandemic. Common Worship is an important way of sustaining the wellbeing, and ability to serve, of people of faith who volunteer. The benefits of public worship are scientifically well attested”.
A number of United Synagogue rabbis had already decided to write to their local MPs, complaining about the government’s decision to close places of worship for organised services during the lockdown.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill Synagogue, in his letter to Dr. Matthew Offord, MP for Hendon, said: “I am baffled that the government is insisting on limiting usage of places of worship once more. Having finally created a well-oiled-machine, to have to shut down again, doesn’t seem to conform to scientific evidence and will negatively impact the many members who benefit from this vital religious lifeline.”
The Federation of Synagogues, comprised of many member and affiliate synagogues and Jewish communities, has also written to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, expressing their “concern” at the closing of places of worship for communal prayer.
The letter says: “It is our belief that our synagogues can continue to function as places of communal prayer without introducing any significant risk in transmission of the virus, by continuing to require congregants to wash their hands upon entering the premises, sit apart from each other and wear face masks.
Calling on the government to rethink their policy, the letter added: “We would like to impress upon the Government that for Orthodox Jews, communal prayer is indeed an essential activity.”
The Board of Deputies had previously asked the government for data on the spread of coronavirus to explain the decision to stop religious services in the new lockdown in England.
There have been 541 Jewish funerals carried out after contracting coronavirus, an increase of seven funerals from the previous week.
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