One-third of American Jews pray to cope with coronavirus

Majority of religious Americans say houses of worship should be subject to the same coronavirus regulations as other organizations or businesses.

Jewish men attend morning prayer as they keeping distance from one another as part of measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, at a synagogue in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)
Jewish men attend morning prayer as they keeping distance from one another as part of measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, at a synagogue in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion
(photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)
Around one-third (36%) of American Jews say they have turned to prayer to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Pew Research Center report.
However, the percentage of Jews relying on prayer is more than twice as less than the 74% of Christians who did so.
When broken down by sect: 78% of Protestants, 84% of Evangelicals, 65% of Mainline; 88% of Historically Black and 66% of Catholics have used prayer to cope. The only groups who have used prayer less than the Jews are unaffiliated (23%), atheist (2%), agnostic (2%) and “nothing in particular” (35%).
The survey of 10,211 US adults was conducted between July 13 and 19 and has a margin of error of 1.5%.
When it comes to where they pray, the new survey found that 79% of US adults said houses of worship should be required to follow the same rules about social distancing and large gatherings as other organizations or businesses. Only 19% thought that houses of worship should have different rules.
Jews aligned with the general public: 80% agreed synagogues should have the same coronavirus regulations and 20% disagreed.
In Israel, the battle over keeping synagogues open and how many people should be allowed to pray in them, both inside and outside, has been raging since the first wave. Statistics presented by the Health Ministry in late March showed that 24% of patients were contaminated at places of prayer and that 5% caught the virus in yeshivot.
Then, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Religious-Zionist rabbis agreed that their constituents should take extra precautions, in some cases rabbis even expressed favor for shuttering places of worship. The argument was that protection of public health is an obligation and that the duty to save lives is above all other commandments.
Religious Americans expressed similar sentiments in the recent Pew survey. More than eight-in-10 attenders (28%) think their own congregation should either be closed altogether or open only on a modified basis (57%). Those who attend believe worshipers should stay two meters apart from each other (51%), wear masks (44%), limit the number of people in attendance (41%) and limit communal singing (29%).
Moreover, only 6% of American worshipers say that their congregation is open to the public in the way it was before the pandemic. Three-in-10 say it is closed altogether.
However, 79% said that their house of worship is streaming or recording its religious services so people can watch online or on TV. However, according to the survey, 17% of American Jews had attended virtual prayer services in July, as opposed to 33% of all Americans and 49% of Christians.
Pew respondents suggested they would feel comfortable returning to places of worship (75% of Protestants, 59% of Catholics and 56% of mainline Protestants). However, the survey suggested that far fewer (12%) Americans actually went to their houses of prayer in the month of July 
Still, more than eight-in-10 US adults say that when the outbreak is over, they will attend in-person religious services at about the same rate as they did before the pandemic. Far fewer say that when the outbreak is over, they plan to attend in-person services more often (10%) or less often (5%). 
Among Jews, the numbers are remarkably similar: Some 10% of Jews say they will go more often, 3% less often and 48% about the same. The rest of the Jews said that they did not attend services before and will not after. 
In Israel, however, worshipers are looking to return to normal by the High Holidays. 
Last week, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a meeting on “discrimination against synagogues with severe restrictions and the distortion of data on the infections that have occurred in them.” 
During that meeting, Committee Chairman MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) explained that while sanctity of life is one of the most important commandments of the Torah, “the ultra-Orthodox community has two very important things: the lifeblood of Judaism - prayer in synagogue, and the world of Torah and yeshivas.”
He said that “a solution must be found for synagogues and yeshivas.”
However, data shows that little has changed with regards to the safety of synagogues. The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center in early July listed synagogues as among the highest risk locations for catching coronavirus. To date, 50% of infections occur in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, and the cities with the highest rates of infection are either  majority ultra-Orthodox or Arab communities, or cities with large populations of those groups
A separate report by the Health Ministry showed that while around 66% of people contracted the virus at home, 10% at school, 6% at medical institutions and 4% at events or conferences, only around 2% caught it at synagogues
Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau defended his community at the Knesset meeting, saying that, “I can't say if there is a place in Israel where the guidelines are kept like they are in most synagogues in Israel. Ten people in the men's section, and when there is an eleventh, he goes up to the women's section. They keep the guidelines.”
He also said that the Health Ministry should not compare a synagogue with 20 seats, where a 10-person limit is logical, to a synagogue with 300 seats, where there is no logic in the restriction.
"The People of Israel are preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when many people come and we must do everything so that they will continue to come,” Lau said. “In open areas we cannot limit it to 20 people. Enforce it seriously, but please make conditions and implement them… Please find a way to provide a proper solution so that the Children of Israel will be able to pray in synagogues."