Chief Rabbi discusses ‘phased’ reopening of places of worship

Government-led talks included six representatives of other faith groups; worship could start with individual prayer only


Faith leaders including the Chief Rabbi, have met the government to develop plans for the “phased and safe” reopening of places of worship when it is safe to do so. 

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis attended the first virtual meeting of the ‘Places of Worship Taskforce’ on Friday, hosted by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and attended by six other representatives and leaders of faith groups from around the UK. 

It was agreed that faith leaders would work together to agree when prayer would be permitted at houses of worship, perhaps initially in the form only of individual prayer on site.

The Chief Rabbi asked the government to give priority to considering how weddings and stone settings could be held again. 

The meeting followed a government announcement earlier this week that it intended to reopen places of worship in ‘step three’ of its lockdown easing strategy. This is expected to occur no earlier than the 4 July. 

The Chief Rabbi, writing exclusively in the JC last week, suggested that United Synagogues may not be able to reopen “for a long time”.

Rabbi Mirvis wrote that the Jewish community may need to “hold back” on the reopening of synagogues, even when government regulations permit a return to congregational worship.

Mr Jenrick stated during the meeting that places of worship would only be reopened when the government was confident that they can be used safely and without putting the public at risk.

Mr Jenrick said: “During this pandemic, significant spiritual moments such as Easter, Passover, Ramadan and Vaisaki, when families, friends and congregations traditionally gather together, have been celebrated at home.

“Today’s first meeting of the Taskforce was very productive,” he continued. “We will now work together with all faith communities to understand how we can open places of worship as a priority, while continuing to prioritise safety.”

Faith Minister Lord Greenhalgh, who also attended the meeting, highlighted that, “Practical issues, such as the size of both physical buildings and congregations are significant, but we are determined to find a way to safely reopen places of worship as soon as possible, ensuring that people are not put at undue risk.”

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