Avoid praying at Western Wall to prevent coronavirus spread, Israeli chief rabbis say

Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis ask observant Jews to avoid busy synagogues and visiting elderly relatives



Israel’s chief rabbis called on Jews to avoid visiting the Western Wall, to hold smaller weddings, and avoid visiting elderly relatives to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzak Yosef, ordered religious Jews to follow the advice of the Israeli Health Ministry in separate decrees made on Thursday.

“No halachic instruction exists that would overrule the instructions of the Health Ministry,” Rabbi Yosef wrote. “Every order produced by them is a halachic order for all intents and purposes.”

He said that following a police request religious Jews should “avoid visiting the Western Wall and holding mass prayers there” adding that prayer should be held near homes until the pandemic subsides.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees maintenance and running of the site, has said that it will not close access to wall.

However, on Thursday it divided the plaza in front of the wall into sections with a maximum capacity of 100 people.

In February, around 1,000 people gathered at the wall for a mass prayer and shofar blowing to ask for protection from coronavirus.

Both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis encouraged engaged couples to hold their weddings as scheduled, but in a responsible fashion and with a smaller guestlist.

The advice followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement on Wednesday that gatherings of over 100 people would be prohibited, including weddings and religious services.

Rabbi Lau wrote in a separate decree that the commandment to visit the sick and elderly was suspended because of concerns that visits would risk exposing such individuals to harm.

He instructed Jews to “find other ways to assist those lonely persons who have no one else who sees their distress.”

Rabbi Lau ordered synagogues to provide sanitary gels for the faithful and said that women would still be required to immerse themselves in mikveh baths unless they have been asked to self-quarantine.

His Sephardi counterpart asked large synagogues to avoid holding busy services and divide congregants so as to prevent contagion, as per Health Ministry guidelines.

The religious edicts came before Mr Netanyahu announced that Israeli schools and universities would be closed.

Israel has introduced among the strictest measures to slow the spread of the virus globally, including ordering mandatory 14 day quarantines for all Israeli arrivals and barring entry to non-Israeli arrivals unless they can guarantee an ability to self-quarantine for the required time.

As of Friday morning, there are 126 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel and one death.

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