Jewish groups welcome news that Shuls can reopen when lockdown lifted
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Jewish groups welcome news that Shuls can reopen when lockdown lifted

Chief Rabbi Mirvis says the recommencing of congregational worship will be 'widely welcomed by people of all faiths'

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 and major Jewish groups this week welcomed news that synagogues will stay open in England even in the strictest Covid-19 lockdown tiers when the new system kicks in on 3 December.

Cheering the government’s announcement alongside Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis were the United Synagogue and the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, which together represent more than 150 English synagogues and communities.

A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations said: “We are thankful to the government for allowing public worship to commence.

“As we stated in our recent letter to the Secretary of State for Communities Robert Jenrick MP, collective worship is pivotal to our way of life and religious existence. We are glad that this was taken into consideration.”

A spokeswoman for the United Synagogue said the organisation was “delighted” with the news that services will be held once the latest lockdown lifts.

“We expect that services will resume following the same careful restrictions we have had in place for some months, including masks and social distancing,” said communities director Jo Grose.

“We also look forward to resuming other aspects of community life in a Covid-compliant manner. In particular, we are exploring creative ways in which communities can come together outdoors.

“Of course, much of the detail depends on the Tier level in each area. We look forward to hearing what the government will announce and will be sharing updated United Synagogue guidance in the coming days.”

The government’s three-tiered winter strategy of local restrictions will allow congregational worship at churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, regardless of which tier they are in, albeit on condition that worship is Covid-compliant.

Health Minister Nadine Dorries urged caution, saying: “Confined spaces, multiple households, limited ventilation, and people raising their voices are all known to be risk factors when spreading Covid-19.” She added that Public Health England (PHE) was researching links between public worship and outbreaks of coronavirus.

But Mirvis said news of shuls reopening “will be widely welcomed by people of all faiths,” adding: “I am grateful to the government for their work with us on this issue.”

Rabbi Charley Baginsky of Liberal Judaism said their communities were autonomous and would make their own arrangements depending on their demographic local tiers. “We have been doing training and facilitating discussions on hybrid services, so that all of our communities feel as prepared as possible,” she said.

Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl welcomed the decision. “We have been in dialogue with the government and PHE about the data around places of worship,” she said.

“It is our understanding that where faith premises have made sure to meticulously observe social distancing regulations, there has been a minimal number of outbreaks associated with communal worship.”

She added: “While this is positive news, we continue to remind people to take great care in observing health guidelines, so we can all play our part to stop the spread and save lives.”

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