Yom Kippur passes peacefully as prayers held outside

As holiday commenced, top rabbis told followers to keep health rules

A synagogue is set up for Yom Kippur services, during Israel's second coronavirus lockdown, September 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A synagogue is set up for Yom Kippur services, during Israel's second coronavirus lockdown, September 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel spent the Yom Kippur fast day in lockdown due to the high number of patients.
People were asked to refrain from going to synagogue or to pray in open spaces in small groups of no more than 20 people and reports after the holiday revealed that the public largely adhered to those guidelines.
With the massive spike in COVID-19 infections in the ultra-Orthodox community, concerns were high that mass synagogue attendance over Yom Kippur would exacerbate the epidemic in that sector.
According to Benny Rabinowitz, a prominent ultra-Orthodox journalist and commentator, some synagogues were operating but with drastically fewer worshipers than usual, adding that many elderly people stayed at home entirely to avoid exposure to the disease.
Yaakov Veeder, a member of the Bnei Brak municipal council for the Likud party acknowledged that there had been many prayer services held outdoors, saying it was “not a normal Yom Kippur,” in that respect.
He said however that although synagogues that had remained open tried to implement a capsule system, parents struggled to control children from breaking the capsules.
Veeder also noted that some synagogues that had planned to be open and take delivery of special ventilation equipment from the government had not received it but likely staged the prayer services indoors anyway.
“People are not able to pray all day outside during a fast in this heat,” said Veeder.
He has been particularly critical of the Bnei Brak municipal authorities enforcement of COVID-19 regulations, saying that the city has never come off the red cities list of high infection rates and that the only way to reduce infection in the ultra-Orthodox capital is to hand over enforcement to the IDF.
Following the end of Yom Kippur, the grand rabbi of the Viznitz hassidic community, Rabbi Yisrael Hager, recited a special prayer for those sick with COVID-19 and all who had been unable to attend prayer services over the fast day at the Viznitz headquarters in Bnei Brak.
The rabbi warned the elderly and those with background diseases not to attend services on Saturday night, saying he would “not take responsibility for them,” although many hundreds of his hassidim are thought to have attended services over Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, 97, one of the two most senior rabbis in the non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox world, prayed in a capsule in the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak which he heads, and remained there the entire day until the end of the fast.
Just before the fast day started, 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.
Edelstein 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 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, had also appealed to his haredi constituency on Sunday after the Health Ministry showed a surge in Orthodox patients.
According to data published on September 27, there were 1,384 people diagnosed with coronavirus over the last weekend in Jerusalem and some 817 of them were ultra-Orthodox.
“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!”