Government forbids garden minyanim; councils to decide on other outdoor religious gatherings

Ministry issues guidance to cover the High Holy-Days


The government has made it clear that private garden minyanim can no longer take place but has left the door open to local councils to decide on other outdoor religious activities in the wake of tougher social distancing rules that came into force in England on Monday.  

New guidance was issued on Monday evening by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government specifically to cover the High Holy-Days, Succot and Simchat Torah. 

Garden services where up to 30 people can attend have become popular over the past few months in Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods and activists have argued that it is safer to pray outdoors than inside. 

But the new guidance emphasises that it is “against the law in England to gather with more than five other people in private gardens”. 

It adds that local authorities will “make decisions on applications for prayers in public places, including those on private land which is not attached to your place of worship”. 

Organisers would have to carry out a “full risk assessment” first and work alongside police and local authorities to put safety measures in place. 

The same guidance should be followed for events “arranged to facilitate more people being able to hear the shofar outside of services” or to perform the ritual of tashlich when there are more than six people. 

Participants would have to provide contact details to the organiser “to support the NHS Test and Trace service designed to track and help prevent the spread of Covid-19”. 

A number of planned gatherings for blowing the shofar in parks or for tashlich were cancelled by synagogues last week after the government announced it was tightening restrictions after the surge in new coronavirus cases. 

There remains no limit on the number or worshippers in a synagogue as long as social distancing is maintained and masks worn indoors. 

In what is probably the first time the UK government has issued instructions on shofar blowing, it says the shofar should “not be blown towards worshippers”. 

A small choir may sing in shul but other worshippers may not join in. 

The government says it realises it will be “upsetting” for people not to extend traditional hospitality on Succot but no more than six people should be in the succah. (More than six are permitted only  if the household is bigger or includes someone who is part of the household’s support bubble). 

It also advises that “sharing of food between households or support bubbles should be avoided – any should be pre-wrapped, and members of different households should ensure friends and family use their own dishes and cutlery”. 

Synagogues can erect communal succot where numbers depend on safety measures but the guidance rules out “succah crawls” between houses. 

It also says that people should not share their lulav and etrog with others. 

On Simchat Torah, there should be “no dancing” and Torah scrolls should “not be handled by more people than is strictly necessary”. Hands should be washed before the scroll is passed from one person to another. 

“We know this might be disappointing but it’s important to remember that the virus is still with us and we need to do all we can to protect ourselves and our family and friends,” the guidance says.  

Barnet Council, which has the country’s largest Jewish population, last week ruled out minyanim in parks and outdoor spaces as well as private gardens. 

It remains to be seen whether the council will reconsider and allow  some outdoor gatherings if they comply with the new government guidance.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive