Gov't publishes COVID-19 prayer service regulations for High Holy Days
Concern has been raised that fulfilling these conditions may be particularly difficult within ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and cities, which typically have high population densities.
By JEREMY SHARON
With COVID-19 infections at all-time highs, the government earlier this week published regulations for prayer services during the High Holy Days.The new regulations apply for the rest of the Jewish month of Elul and the High Holy Days.Prayer services are being permitted indoors as long as the synagogue or prayer space is at least 40 square meters in size. The maximum occupancy cannot exceed one person per four square meters, a large space permitting relatively few worshipers in such buildings.The maximum total occupancy of any building is 1,000 people, although few synagogues or places of prayer have the 4,000 sq. m.Occupancy will be further limited by the “traffic light” system of red, orange, yellow and green zones. Red zones with high COVID-19 infection rates will have more restrictions on the number of worshipers, while green zones will have fewer.Seating inside synagogues and other indoor spaces will be within groups in designated areas of the building, each of which will be allocated specific entrances to the building if it has more than one.Some form of physical partition must be placed between the designated areas for each group, and individuals within each area will need to be two meters apart unless they live in the same household.Communal prayer outdoors will also be possible. It also must be divided into separate physical enclosures, with no more than 20 worshipers in each area and with each enclosure separated by at least two meters.Inside the enclosures, there must be two meters between each worshiper and, if possible, at least one chair between them.Given the tight restrictions and requirements for large spaces both indoors and outdoors, there are concerns that fulfilling the conditions may be difficult within haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods and cities, which typically have high population densities.Menny Shwartz, a haredi communications strategist who has worked with the Health Ministry, said the issue within the ultra-Orthodox community differs depending on its different segments.The non-hassidic, so-called Lithuanian, community is mostly adhering to government guidelines and restrictions, he said. Open spaces could be found in haredi cities and neighborhoods despite the lack of green spaces, such as parking lots and other areas.The hassidic community has relaxed its adherence to the coronavirus restrictions, and although it abides by some regulations, it has allowed greater numbers of worshipers to gather for prayers and communal events than are allowed, Shwartz said.