Chief Rabbis split on closing synagogues for Yom Kippur

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Lau says close synagogues, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef says keep them open with reduced numbers

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men arrive to pray on the banks of the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv during the ritual of Tashlich on October 07, 2019. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men arrive to pray on the banks of the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv during the ritual of Tashlich on October 07, 2019.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau is now backing closing synagogues on Yom Kippur if medical professionals believe that this is the correct step to take
At the same time, his colleague Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef is still of the opinion that synagogues should remain open in accordance with the previously adopted plan for prayer on the High Holidays, as long as they strictly adhere to hygiene and social distancing regulations.  
Yosef’s position was however contradicted by his own brother, Rabbi David Yosef, a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, who has called for synagogues to be closed on Yom Kippur and for prayers to be conducted only outdoors over the fast day.
The rabbinic dispute comes as new COVID-19 cases in the Jewish state hit 7,000 on Tuesday, with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on which day-long prayer services are usually conducted in synagogues, starting on Sunday night.
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians have been loath to support closing synagogues at all, and for Yom Kippur in particular, arguing that if other mass gatherings take place, especially the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prayer in synagogue should also be permitted.
On Tuesday, Lau told Netanyahu that closing synagogues while allowing the protests and other gatherings to continue would lead to mass violations of the synagogue closure order.
The Ashkenazi chief rabbi is now however supporting closing synagogues regardless of the government’s position on the protests if medical professionals support such a policy.
In guidelines issued by Yitzhak Yosef on Wednesday, he said that large synagogues should reduce the number of worshippers allowed into the prayer hall, divide up the area into capsules separated by thick plastic sheeting, and open all the windows.
He also said that women should pray at home if there was not enough space in the synagogue, and that women should not come to synagogue in great numbers this year.  
He did not say however that there was a need to close synagogues.
David Yosef said in a video message on Wednesday that the COVID-19 outbreak in Israel had reached “awful levels” and said “therefore, please, close all the synagogues and study halls immediately,” and “to pray and study only outdoors.”
“These things have already happened in previous generations and the great Torah leaders gave these instructions,” he continued, citing the passage in the Torah commanding people to “greatly protect your lives.” 


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