New York Bans Services at Houses of Worship

Signs announcing the closure of Bobover beis medrash in Boro Park last month. (Avraham Elbaz)

New York state’s ban on gatherings has now been extended to include services at houses of worship.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had previously closed all nonessential businesses and banned gatherings of any size, but congregate services at houses of worship were explicitly permitted, albeit discouraged.

Most houses of worship in the state had closed voluntarily since the coronavirus outbreak, but several remained open, with social-distancing measures.

But last Tuesday, the state Health Department issued a letter to religious leaders saying houses of worship may no longer conduct services, though individuals may use houses of worship with proper social distancing.

Similar text now appears under the state’s current guidance, last updated Thursday morning.

The full text of the relevant passage reads: “Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited. Houses of worship may only be used by individuals and only where appropriate social distancing of, at least, six feet between people can be maintained. Further, individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency. If possible, religious leaders should consider alternative forms of worship, replacing in-person gatherings with virtual services, such as phone or conference calls, videoconference calls, or online streaming.”


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