UK Federation of Synagogues asks gov't to keep synagogues open

The UK is about to enter a second national lockdown, lasting a month.

Nitzan Keidar ,

Stamford Hill, London, home to a large Orthodox community
Stamford Hill, London, home to a large Orthodox community

As the United Kingdom prepares to enter a second national lockdown, beginning on November 5 and extending until December 2, religious groups are protesting the decision to ban virtually all religious services during that period, pointing out the important place prayer has in sustaining morale and alleging that there is no evidence pointing to communal worship as a significant cause of raising infection rates.

The Federation, an organization representing orthodox synagogues across the country, has sent a letter to government leaders, asking that they reconsider their decision and permit synagogues to remain open.

“We wish to express our concern regarding the closure of synagogues,” they write. “Judaism attaches paramount importance to the preservation of life, more than any other religion. Our community has experienced the terrible effects of the coronavirus no less than any other community in the United Kingdom, and we have been meticulous in adhering to government guidelines. Therefore, our synagogues were closed throughout the ‘first wave’ of the epidemic.”

The Federation also pointed out, as have other religious groups, both Christian and Muslim, that new sources of infection have not been traced to places of worship in the past few months, writing that, “With goodwill and cooperation from everyone, we have seen that synagogues can continue to function well, without posing a significant risk.”

The letter adds that, “It is clear that the government feels it must limit social interaction, but we have gained the impression that the latest guidelines fail to take into account the varying beliefs of religious groups in Great Britain, perhaps due to a lack of understanding of some of the key concepts associated with Orthodox Judaism.”

Indeed, places of worship have not been ordered to shut down entirely – they are permitted to function for the purposes of holding funerals, broadcasting acts of worship, and allowing for “individual prayer.”

The Federation concludes: “It is precisely at such a time that we realize how limited we are as human beings, and realize the need to pray to the Creator of the world and ask that He should have mercy on us. We thank the government for its consideration and understanding of Jewish needs throughout the year.”