Second Lockdown: Chief Rabbi announces closure of all shuls

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Second Lockdown: Chief Rabbi announces closure of all shuls

All United Synagogue communities will close their doors from Thursday after the government said services could not be held during the four-week lockdown until 2 December.

Mill Hill United synagogue under Covid restrictions, including social distancing and masks (Credit: Marc Morris)
Mill Hill United synagogue under Covid restrictions, including social distancing and masks (Credit: Marc Morris)

The Chief Rabbi has announced the closure of shuls under his auspices.

All United Synagogue communities and other independent synagogues under his auspices, will close their doors from Thursday after the government said services could not be held during the four-week lockdown until 2 December.

Private prayer can take place in places of worship under the new rules but this is not a feature of Judaism in the same way as in other faiths.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis made the announcement on Sunday, writing on Facebook that while many will “share my sense of profound pain, following the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday, that places of worship must once again close for congregational prayer, you will also share my desire to take whatever further action is necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

While heralding the work of community leaders during the course of the “unprecedented challenge” of the pandemic, he said the “directive from the government confers an imperative upon us to close our synagogues from Thursday.”

“As I have noted at a previous time, it would be tempting to use the permission granted for individual prayer to open our shuls so that we can daven privately in the presence of others.”

He added, “however this is significantly outweighed by the potential” for harm, “because those present for individual prayer might be tempted to daven together in a minyan, which would be a clear breach of the law and a desecration of hashem’s name.”

He said “it is my fervent prayer that our shuls will very soon be able to safely re-open once again.”.

The United Synagogue issued detailed guidance sent to all of its communities’ rabbis, rebbetzens and chairs.

In a letter sent by Steven Wilson, its chief executive, Jo Grose, its communities and strategy director, and Rabbi Nicky Liss, chair of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, the US said it is an “extremely painful exercise for us to be undertaking for the second time”,  and it is “aware of the hurt this will cause our community members”.

Outlining changes, the US confirmed “in-person shul services are not permitted to take place”, and communities are not allowed “to facilitate any off-site minyanim”. It also said there must be no “in-person programming”.

Nurseries based in synagogue buildings are allowed to remain open and “essential voluntary and Chesed activity” can continue.

It announced that funerals are permitted to take place and can be attended by a maximum of 30 people, while stone settings can continue with up to 15 people, with social distancing enforced. Shiva houses can no longer take place in-person and should instead move online.

Along with the cancellation of all shul services, weddings are not permitted “unless in exceptional circumstances”, while physical barmitzvah and batmitzvah ceremonies are postponed.

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