Over 20 synagogues shut down as government enforces lockdown regulations

“Unfortunately, there is a feeling among the religious population that the instructions are aimed, God forbid, against Judaism,” said President Reuven Rivlin.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

Police cracked down on religious gatherings that were operating in violation of coronavirus regulations as Jews marked the beginning of the week-long holiday of Sukkot.

In Bnei Brak, 22 synagogues were shut down over the weekend.

One of the synagogues raided on Saturday was operating out of the Ponevezh Yeshiva while students were away for the holidays, Ynet reports.

Around two dozen worshippers received 500-shekel fines, while the yeshiva’s administrators received fines of 5,000 shekels.

Officers also raided two mass gatherings in the area where people celebrated the holiday.

In the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, many synagogues reportedly operated as usual, some even placing “guards” outside to warn others of approaching police.

Current regulations allow prayer gatherings of up to 10 people indoors, or up to 20 people outdoors, provided they stay two meters apart and wear masks.

However, some uncertainty arose as to whether a sukkah, a traditional hut built for the Sukkot holiday, would be considered an indoor or an outdoor space.

The Health Ministry decided Thursday that a sukkah which was at least 50 percent open would be considered an outdoor area in which up to 20 people could pray.

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Israelis are also forbidden from hosting non-nuclear family members over the holiday, with a possible fine of 500 shekels for anyone caught in a sukkah that is not their own.

The regulation prevented President Reuven Rivlin from making his traditional visit to Israel’s chief rabbis on Sukkot.

Rivlin spoke with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau over the phone Sunday morning and extended best wishes for the holiday, thanking him for his many efforts to ensure the health directives are followed.

“Unfortunately, there is a feeling among the religious population that the instructions are aimed, God forbid, against Judaism,” Rivlin said.

“We are in a Jewish and democratic state, and Judaism is for us a straightforward and fundamental issue. The instructions are not against religion, but to protect ourselves, as we are commanded,” he said.

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a special meeting regarding the spread of the coronavirus in the ultra-orthodox sector with the mayors of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Ilit, Rechasim, Betar Ilit, and Elad.

Netanyahu said there would be no easing of restrictions and ordered that the local authorities be strengthened in dealing with the fight against the coronavirus.

He asked the mayors to issue public calls for very strict adherence to the Health Ministry rules and directives, and not to gather.

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