Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau called on Jews to observe a fast day day next week in response to the growing coronavirus epidemic.
In an open letter to the public, he wrote:
"This is a time of troubles for [the sons of] Jacob (Jeremiah 30, ed.).
"The Jewish people are suffering, as is the entire world.
"At this time, we must engage in soul searching. As believing Jews, we know that the Hand of Providence is behind this and that it comes to tell us something, Our Sages said: 'Man does not lift a finger on earth unless it has been decreed in the heavens'.
"The situation is serious. We feel the flaming sword the world over and at this time, in addition to complete obedience to the guiding lines of the health authorities, we must also try to be more careful in observing the commandments between man and man, as well as those between man and G-d."
The Chief Rabbi announced: "On Wednesday this week, it will be the eve of the month of Nisan. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, in Nisan, the world was created, so that it is the eve of the new year, a day of prayer and supplication. I ask that anyone who is able to, take it upon themselves to fast, even for half a day, And whoever has difficulty fasting or a health issue should take upon themselves to refrain from speaking (called a 'fast of silence', ed.)"
In Wednesday's afternoon service, the Chief Rabbi said to recite the "selichot," prayers for Yom Kippur Katan, which have been the way Jews have asked for salvation since ancient times. When praying alone, he added, the 13 Attributes of G-d, which are part of the prayer, should be chanted as if reading from the Torah scroll.
The Chief Rabbi ended his letter with the heartfelt prayer: "And may our benevolent G-d listen to our prayers and respond to them, delivering us from all harsh decrees, saving, with His abundant merices, His people of Israel and people in need the world over."