New York state will begin to allow religious gatherings of up to 10 people, as well as drive-in and parking-lot services, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
During the coronavirus pandemic, gatherings of any size have been banned across the state. Houses of worship have been prohibited from holding congregate services, and allowed to be used only by individuals and with proper social distancing.
But as the numbers of people infected by COVID-19 continues to decline, Jewish leaders have been calling on the governor to allow shuls to reopen.
At his daily coronavirus press briefing Wednesday, Cuomo announced that starting Thursday, religious gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, provided that all participants wear a mask and social-distancing guidelines are followed. Drive-in and parking-lot services will also be permitted, and not subject to the 10-person limit.
“At this time of stress” said the governor, “when people are so anxious and so confused, I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting. But we need to find out how to do it, and do it safely and to do it smartly. The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected.”
Elected officials who had urged the Cuomo Administration to allow religious gatherings welcomed the governor’s announcement Wednesday.
“Prayer services are integral to every religious community,” said state Sen. Simcha Felder. “We worked diligently to allow minyanim in our shuls. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for announcing today that religious services are permitted.”
“Re-opening our synagogues to allow a minyan will allow religious people to once again practice together the faith that binds us all,” said Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein. “After both public and private conversations with the Governor’s senior staff explaining that group-based prayer is essential to religious people, I am glad that Governor Cuomo has taken this significant step towards allowing religion to be worshiped publicly in our state again.”
Cuomo also announced that he is convening an interfaith advisory council to discuss proposals to safely restore religious services. The council includes Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America; Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of Jewish Community Relations Council of New York; Maury Litwack of the Orthodox Union; and Evan Bernstein, vice president of the northeast division of the Anti-Defamation League.
Agudath Israel, which had lobbied the Cuomo Administration to re-open shuls, and had issued a statement Tuesday calling on the governor to do so, also applauded Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday, and said it was eager to see the continued, safe re-opening of houses of worship.
“With Shavuos and Kabolas HaTorah soon arriving,” Agudah said in a statement, “we look forward to the day when our batei knessios and batei midrashim will once again be lively centers of Torah and tefillah.”
Updated Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at 5:49 pm .