Major Torah leaders: Keep coronavirus directives on Sukkot

Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein have instructed that people should pray in open spaces.

(L-R) Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky & Gershon Edelstein (photo credit: AHARON KROHN/FLASH90,SHLOMI COHEN/FLASH90)
(L-R) Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky & Gershon Edelstein
Two top haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis have sent a letter to their constituents calling on them to keep the Health Ministry’s coronavirus regulations over the Sukkot holiday, which starts Friday at sundown.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the two leading rabbis of the non-hassidic haredi world, have instructed that people should pray as much as possible in open spaces and that “anyone who can help make this possible will be greatly rewarded.”
The rabbis did not however issue an outright ban on prayer in synagogue, as the leading Sephardic ultra-Orthodox rabbis did on Tuesday in no uncertain terms.
They explained that it is forbidden to host guests in personal sukkahs over the holiday, in line with the recommendation of the Health Ministry. They also instructed that any time people are not with their nuclear family, they should wear masks and social distance.
“One of the things that most protects against infection is when people wear masks,” they wrote. “The benefit is substantial and should not be taken lightly.”
The rabbis encouraged people to be joyous on the holiday within their own household.
“The main thing is to trust in God, who is the leader and overseer,” they wrote. “No one will be harmed by the virus if God does not decree it. We should take advantage of Sukkot to strengthen our faith.”
They added that the time should also be used to increase the study of Torah, saying as they have on numerous occasions that “the Torah protects and saves,” a dictum Kanievsky has used to justify keeping yeshivas and schools open in the ultra-Orthodox sector.
Later, Kanievsky put out a video in which he tells his followers that they should be screened for coronavirus on the interim days of sukkot because it is “pikuach nefesh,” considered saving a life.
Edelstein also shared a video in which he said that “hosting guests [in your sukkah] is dangerous.” He told his followers not to invite guests and not attend if invited by others.
The letter comes against the backdrop of a surge in infection within the haredi community. On Wednesday, Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy briefed the press and said that the mortality rate in the community has been “on a steep increase,” since September.
Data shows that around 25% of those tested within the Orthodox community are positive for the virus.
Health officials have largely traced the increase in the haredi community to the opening of the yeshivas on the first of the Hebrew month of Elul and to mass prayer gatherings on Rosh Hashanah.
Alongside Kanievsky and Edelstein’s letter, several hassidic communities, which to a large extent abandoned wearing masks and social distancing regulations over the last few months, have announced a tightening of their observance of government instructions.
The Viznitz, Ger and Belz hassidic communities announced that they had canceled their Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations over Sukkot, gatherings traditionally attended by thousands of hassidim in the presence of the grand rabbi.
The announcements came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally spoke with the Viznitz grand rabbi earlier this week and asked him to cancel the celebrations.
The Viznitz community was strongly criticized for holding a “tisch” mass celebration after Yom Kippur, while the Belz community was criticized after it held a wedding in August for the grand rabbi’s grandson attended by thousands of hassidim. Many infected people were traced back to the wedding.