Charedi shuls reopen for 'private prayer' - but bring your own siddur

Many insist on pre-booking and social distancing has to be maintained


While central Orthodox and Progressive synagogues remain closed, it has been a different story within the Charedi community, with many shuls open this week after the government permitted “private prayer” to take place in houses of worship.

Representatives of around a dozen congregations in North-West London met at the end of last week to co-ordinate plans to welcome back worshippers while maintaining the required two metres distancing.

According to the government’s latest guidelines, those taking advantage of the opportunity should not form “part of a group, led prayer or communal act”.

They should not kiss or touch sacred objects, nor there should be singing. A number of synagogues were insisting on pre-booking, with a choice of slots.

A notice sent to the members of the Sadigur shul in Golders Green warned in bold letters: “Do not come if you have not booked”.

Sinai, a Federation synagogue in Golders Green, emphasised: “If you attend outside of your allocated time or do not have an allocated time, you will not be granted access.”

Attendance is generally being restricted to men and boys over the age of 13, with the women’s section made available to them to ensure distancing.

One of Golders Green’s oldest Charedi communities, Munk’s, capped attendance to 25 people or households at a time. As organised minyanim were not yet permitted by the law, the lectern was “out of bounds” and the ark would be locked.

Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Greenberg and board member Jeremy Lebrett reminded members to wash hands with soap or sanitiser before entering and leaving and not to use communal siddurim or tallitot but bring them from home.

“We appreciate that these rules are fairly restrictive but they are necessary for your own safety and to comply with the law as it stands at the moment,” they wrote in a letter to members.

Another North-West London shul, Beis Mordechai, said it could accommodate 40, plus another 15 in the women’s section, while “keeping to government guidelines on social distancing”.

Not being able to use congregational prayer-books may pose a problem on Shabbat for those in the Charedi community who would not carry outside their home — even within the eruv.

In Gateshead, a source said benches had been removed from the main synagogue and plastic dividers installed.

Leaders of the Tyneside yeshivah town have regularly issued guidance to the community, including instructions on how to have an outdoor minyan while preserving health and safety.

Gateshead Council said it had “worked closely with the Jewish Community Council of Gateshead throughout the pandemic, giving advice and guidance on public health”.

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