Health Ministry, NSC call for total closure of synagogues, gyms

Government to hold emergency meeting to deliberate on calls for total closure of synagogues and gyms, limits on beaches, parks.

David Rosenberg ,

Synagogue (stock)
Synagogue (stock)

The Israeli government is set to hold an emergency meeting at 11:00 a.m. Monday to deliberate on a new series of restrictions on public activity, as part of the ongoing campaign to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The Health Ministry and National Security Council are calling on the government to order the total closure of all synagogues, Kikar HaShabbat reported Monday, along with a number of partial restrictions on other activities.

If the plan is implemented, prayer services will be permitted on a small scale outdoors, as was the policy during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials from the Health Ministry and NSC met with senior Israeli leaders in the Prime Minister’s Office overnight, to discuss their plans to impose a string of new restrictions on public activity.

While the Health Ministry and NSC initially called for the total closure of yeshivas, a preliminary agreement has been reached which would allow yeshivas to continue to operate under the “capsule” method, whereby small groups of students are permitted to gather, physically separated from other self-contained ‘capsules’, reducing the ability of the virus to spread rapidly.

Other restrictions include limiting the number of people at restaurants to 20 at a time, requiring summer schools to use the ‘capsule’ method, and total closures of all gyms and event halls.

In addition, the Health Ministry is eyeing the possible closure of beaches and parks, or in lieu of full closures, strict limits on the number of visitors.

Shas chief and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri pushed back against plans to close synagogues completely, telling Kikar HaShabbat: “I strongly oppose the total closure of synagogues. It’s the only place where people completely follow the rules, sit at a distance from each other, and wear masks, don’t eat, don’t drink, and don’t dance.”

“There is no way in the world that I’ll allow in the Jewish state to totally close synagogues while businesses are allowed to remain open.”

“I can accept limitations and a reduced number of worshippers, but closing synagogues I will not accept in any way.”

On Sunday, the Knesset approved new restrictions on the number of worshippers at synagogues, banning prayer groups of over 50 people, while also limiting the number of people at weddings, event halls, and bars to 50 people as well.