Health Ministry: Synagogues to reopen for prayer soon

The Ministry of Health is expected to authorize a return to prayer in synagogues by the weekend as the Western Wall plaza is reopened to worshipers.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

All houses of worship in Israel – synagogues, churches and mosques – have been closed for over a month due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Health Ministry officials hinted that synagogues would be allowed to open “in a few days,” Israel Hayom reported.

The ministry wants to open the synagogues by Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, subject to social distancing and limits on the number of parishioners allowed within the houses of worship to 20 people.

Health officials say that the opening will be done cautiously and subject to regulations. The decision to open synagogues requires various approvals and so may still be rejected.

Synagogues were the source of many of the outbreaks at the start of the pandemic and were ordered closed by the Health Ministry, headed by ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism Party.

Despite the decision coming from a minister of health who is also religiously observant and repeatedly warned about the dangers of the pandemic, police were forced to shut down synagogues in areas where some faithful refused to comply.

A problem with re-opening synagogues is whether or not to allow prayer in mosques during the Muslim month of Ramadan.

The Health Ministry is unlikely to allow indoor prayers only to Jews and there are fears that opening all houses of worship might see faithful throng to mosques beyond the numbers allowed.

Meanwhile, the Western Wall reopened Tuesday to worshipers as coronavirus restrictions continued to ease following the drop in the rate of new infections.

The plaza at the Western Wall was divided into separate areas to hold groups of up to 19 participants in the open air who can hold communal prayers. Social distancing and face masks were required. A total of 300 worshipers will be able to be in the area at any given time.

The government on Monday canceled the restriction on going more than 500 meters from one’s home or workplace to pray, but kept in place the limit of no more than 19 people for prayers in an open space.