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Community leaders in urgent talks with government over legality of outdoor events on Rosh Hashanah

Shuls need to know whether the new restrictions on gatherings in England apply to open-air religious ceremonies

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Urgent discussions are understood to be under way between Jewish community representatives and government officials to clarify whether outdoor religious ceremonies and services can go ahead on Rosh Hashanah in the wake of new social distancing rules. 

From Monday, no more than six people from different households will be permitted to socialise indoors or outdoors in England. 

However, there are exemptions for funerals, weddings and other religious ceremonies. 

The tougher measures, which can result in fines of £100 for an initial breach, are being introduced in an attempt to curb rising coronavirus cases in many parts of the country. 

Up to 30 people will still be able to attend weddings ceremonies and receptions, funerals and other religious life cycle events. 

There remains no limit on the number of people who can attend a service in a place of worship provided it can maintain social distancing – masks must be worn indoors. 

But the position is unclear on outdoor ceremonies. A number of synagogues had been considering blowing the shofar outdoors, and others gathering for tashlich, the ritual of casting sins into the water. 

West London Synagogue has now cancelled its tashlich meeting and will stream a smaller event instead. 

Over recent weeks, many outdoor minyanim have been taking place in private gardens with up to the permitted maximum of 30 people. 

But the new rules have thrown these into question.Tamara  Djuretic, director of health in Barnet, where coronavirus cases have risen sharply over the past few days, told one enquirer it was “ highly unlikely” that permission would be given. 

In a letter to his local MP, Matthew Offord, one Jewish Hendon resident  writes:  “I am sure you will agree that it is madness to force safe, outdoor prayer services to indoor spaces with reduced social distancing.  

“There is no logical reason for this and I am concerned that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish new year festivals, will become a repeat of what happened [at] Purim that led to such disproportionately hight rates of infection in my community.” 

Briefing rabbis and rebbetzins on Thursday, the United Synagogue said it was "looking unlikely that communal shofar blowings in public spaces such as parks will be permitted. We know that this will be disappointing to many communities who had planned these events."

Instead, the US has suggested organising slots when the shofar could be blown outside on a shul site or in the car parks of schools and community centres. Alternatively, the shofar could be blown in the street for a group of six people.

"Likewise, communities will not be able to go ahead with any planned communal tashlich programmes," the US said. "Members should be encouraged to say private tashlich throughout the afternoon of the second day of Rosh Hashanah or on any day until Hoshana Rabba, except for Shabbat."

The JC has asked the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for clarification. 

Barnet Council said it had been told the government was considering "further advice for communal celebrations during Rosh Hashanah and will update very shortly".

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