UK chief rabbi: ‘Synagogues will not open for a long time’

May 15, 2020 by JNS
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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis projected on Thursday that all houses of worship affiliated with the United Synagogue—the largest network of Orthodox communities in the United Kingdom—“will not open for a long time” and urged “extreme caution” against synagogues doing so otherwise in that it would enable a “hub for the virus to reappear.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Kingdom speaks at a Holocaust Memorial Day event on Jan. 23, 2018. Credit: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mirvis called for the closure of all United Synagogue facilities on March 19, stating that “our Torah obligation to protect the sanctity of life transcends all other considerations.”

However, it came later than some other countries, with the United Kingdom hit hard by COVID-19.

To date, nearly 34,000 deaths have been recorded with 233,151 cases of infection.

“The Jewish community may need, in some respects, to hold back for a time, even if guidance would permit going further—indeed, we may have a religious obligation to do so,” wrote Mirvis in The Jewish Chronicle. “When the government determines that faith communities may return to congregational worship in some form, we will have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.”

He continued, saying, “whilst we desperately want to rush back to our shuls and communal buildings, that deep desire must be tempered by the knowledge that our settings could quickly become a hub for the virus to reappear,” he continued. “We must proceed with extreme caution, taking account of a whole range of factors, including the intensely social atmosphere in and around our communities, age profile and availability of space, as well as the evolving national picture.”

Mirvis noted that returning to normalcy “will be a phased process of many months,” and that “we will not be able to open our synagogues fully for a long time.”

“We will need to meticulously consider which activities to run, who can attend and what the maximum number will be,” he stated. “Events such as Kiddushim may not be possible for some time.”


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