Chief rabbi calls on government to reopen synagogues

Chief Rabbi David Lau tells Netanyahu that faithful don’t understand how shopping malls can reopen, yet houses of prayer remain closed.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Chief Rabbi David Lau wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday, calling on the government to reopen synagogues as part of the easing of the lockdown on the country that was imposed to stem the coronavirus infection rate.

“Public prayer occupies an important place in Jewish life,” Lau said, noting that when the country was under a Health Ministry-mandated quarantine, he issued religious rulings that complied with the health orders to close synagogues and hold prayers only outdoors in small groups and with social distancing.

“The [religious] public, with full responsibility, complied and followed these guidelines. A return to the routine of shopping centers, restaurants and more with the lack of response to the synagogues causes many to wonder,” Lau wrote.

The rabbi reminded Netanyahu of the central role of the synagogue in Jewish life as the place where people connect with God. He also noted the painful reactions from the faithful as they watched the government ease restrictions on places of business, but not houses of prayer.

“It is imperative to issue clear instructions on this issue as soon as possible to bring the worshipers back to the synagogues,” Lau said.

As the coronavirus epidemic spread, the government ordered all houses of prayer–synagogues, churches and mosques–to close their doors, and leaders of all three religions complied. It was discovered that a major source of the outbreak had been synagogues, especially during the Purim holiday when people crowded together before regulations on social distancing and wearing masks were put into place.

In the predominantly religious city of Bnei Brak, which was hit hard by the crisis, a prominent local rabbi said the pandemic appeared to be a sign from God, the Kikar Hashabbat website reported.

“It was due to our sins that we were chased out of the synagogues and study halls, as a servant who came to pour his master a drink and spilled the jug on his face,” said Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who had questioned the need for health regulations at the beginning of the crisis.

“It seems that this is a sign from heaven for the sin of degrading the holiness of the synagogue by having phones on during prayers, and speaking on them,” Kanievsky said.

He called for mobile phones to be banned from synagogues, as using them on the premises contributed to “desecrating the holiness of synagogues and study halls.”