Outdoor prayer service
Outdoor prayer serviceGershon Ellinson/Flash90

As the High Holidays approach, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) has sent a personal letter to the heads of local authorities, asking them to begin preparations for the prayer services on the holy days ahead in the light of increasing rates of contagion for the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

In her letter, Shaked noted that the Interior Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry will be assisting local authorities and synagogues in complying with government regulations, in order to safeguard the health of those who come to pray.

Shaked also requested that local authorities begin to prepare for holding prayer services outdoors – which will necessitate the provision of canopies to provide shade, air-conditioning, and so forth – and also that they draw up lists of communal spaces (both indoor and outdoor) that can be used to hold prayer services, such as schools, kindergartens, and community centers, so that larger congregations can be divided into several smaller ones instead, which may decrease the rate of contagion.

“We currently find ourselves in a time of renewed spread of the coronavirus which may lead to our having to hold prayers in a different manner to regular years – as was the case last year,” Shaked wrote. “Therefore, we must make all necessary preparations in advance.”

Just a day before (on Sunday), a meeting of senior government representatives discussing the increased rate of contagion came to a very different conclusion with regard to the optimum way to regulate public gatherings.

At their meeting, it was decided to allow events halls to continue to operate, at up to 75% capacity with a ceiling of 500 people admitted. The officials noted that previous strategies that involved severely curtailing the numbers of participants or banning events entirely had led to the events being forced “underground,” to venues that were entirely devoid of adherence to government regulations.