Amid coronavirus, Israeli rabbis say stay out of synagogues on Yom Kippur

The Health Ministry reported Saturday that 8,315 new cases were diagnosed the day before, out of 62,035 people screened, which is a 13.4% positive rate.

An ultra-Orthodox (haredi) man prepares for Yom Kippur, praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, September 26, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
An ultra-Orthodox (haredi) man prepares for Yom Kippur, praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, September 26, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Hours before the onset of the Yom Kippur fast day, religious leaders and the Health Ministry are calling on their constituents to stay out of the shul, wear masks and social distance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke today with the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef and Rabbi David Lau.
The rabbis noted that there was a common call to obey Health Ministry rules, and that one should pray outside as much as possible in short prayers.
"I want to reinforce what you have said to the public: Make sure to keep the rules, wear masks, social distance and pray in an open space as much as possible," Netanyahu said. "Anyone who still enters the synagogue must pay extra attention to the rules of the Health Ministry."
For the first time, top Lithuanian rabbis also called for compliance with the guidelines.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Gershon Edelstein, the rosh yeshiva of the Ponevezh Yeshiva and the spiritual leader of the Degel HaTorah Party in Israel, called on his followers to keep the instructions of the Health Ministry and to pray “either in courtyards or in their homes.”
“Pray in the minyan [quorum] that takes place in the open air while maintaining the required distance and wearing a mask,” the rabbi instructed. “Care must be taken to hold the minyan in a shady and ventilated place to prevent, God forbid, the danger of dehydration during fasting.”
He called this year’s Yom Kippur “a trial delivered by God” and said that the souls of those who stand up to the challenge will be blessed.
Moreover, following an hour long meeting between Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and the Grand Rabbi of the Viznitz hassidic community Rabbi Yisrael Hager on Friday, the rabbi instructed his hassidim not to come to prayer services on Yom Kippur if they do not feel well or think they do not feel well, according to the B’Hadrei Haredim ultra-Orthodox news website. 
The rabbi also reportedly gave a series of instructions to Viznitz community leaders for how the elderly and high risk group should behave. 
The mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, appealed to his haredi constituency on Sunday after the Health Ministry showed a surge in Orthodox patients.
According to the most recent data, published on September 27, there were 1,384 people diagnosed with coronavirus over the weekend in Jerusalem and the total number of sick patients stands at 7,226.
Of the newly diagnosed, some 817 of them are ultra-Orthodox.
The Health Ministry reported Saturday that a total of 8,315 new cases were diagnosed the day before, out of 62,035 people screened for coronavirus, which is a 13.4% positive rate.
On Sunday morning, it showed another 5,855 were diagnosed on Saturday - 12,6% of those screened.
Some 749 people were in serious condition, including 196 on ventilators – a peak. The death toll stood at 1,450.
“I turn to you with an emergency call,” said the mayor, himself an Orthodox Jew. “The data coming to us from the hospitals is very worrying. We see a severe outbreak as a result of Rosh Hashanah prayers.”
He said he was “anxious over the thought that a further outbreak could result from Yom Kippur prayers.
“Someone like me understands the desire to pray in the familiar, air-conditioned, regular synagogue,” he continued. “But this year we must give it up - for our parents, for our children, for us… I call on you, from deep in my heart, please, pray outside and save lives!”
On Saturday night, both Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Netanyahu called on the public to stay out of synagogues.
“As the prime minister of Israel, who goes to synagogue to pray every Yom Kippur, I am asking you citizens of Israel not to go to synagogue this year,” Netanyahu said in a video he released on Saturday night. “Pray outside and protect yourselves.”
“I call on the citizens of Israel: Do not take an example from the demonstrators tonight,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Saturday night. He said the protesters took advantage of the delay in the Knesset “to harm their health and the health of those around them. With God’s help on Tuesday, we will pass the legislation and the demonstrations will be limited.
“We are on the eve of Yom Kippur. Let’s take care of each other, follow the closure guidelines,” he concluded.
A recent Health Ministry report provided to The Jerusalem Post showed that some 25% of haredim who are screened for coronavirus test positive, and around 10%-15% of Arabs.