Shul services can continue in new tier-4 rules

The United Synagogue is leaving it up to local communities to decide whether to remain open for collective prayer


Places of worship will remain open for collective prayer despite the imposition of tighter new rules to combat the spread of Covid-19 which are being imposed on London, the South-East and East of England on Sunday for at least two weeks. 

But weddings in those areas will only be permitted to go ahead in exceptional circumstances and with only six people present rather than the 15 allowed under tier-3 rules. 

The government announced that the capital and the other two areas would be put under new tier-4 rules after scientists became alarmed that a new mutation of the coronavirus was spreading more rapidly. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a press conference, on Saturday afternoon, said,  "Unlike the November national restrictions, communal worship can continue to take place in tier-4 areas."

London was placed into tier-3 only on Wednesday, which meant that wedding receptions could no longer be held although ceremonies could continue.

Under tier-4, funerals can continue with 30 people present but stone-settings are now restricted to six people.

In new guidance issued on Sunday, the United Synagogue, the country’s largest synagogal body, said that bnei mitzvah or brit milah ceremonies that form part of a regular service and shivah incorporated into maariv (the evening service) may continue.

But it is leaving it up to local communities to decide whether to remain open or not, while discouraging anyone over 70 from attending.

Jo Grose, the United Synagogue’s director of services, said, “We know some will prefer to close while other will remain open and Covid-secure.

“We will continue to support our communities whatever decision they take, adding a range of online programmes for those which close.”

The US would offer “daily online davening three times a day on weekdays on our Facebook page in addition to our popular Kabbalat Shabbat series. We will continue with our ‘Kaddish Pairing Project’ to ensure those who unable to attend a minyan can have kaddish said in memory of a loved one.”

Collective prayer had been banned under the four-week lockdown which ended in England earlier this month, despite the appeal of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and other religious leaders for it to be allowed to continue. 

There is no cap on the number of worshippers at a service in England as long as masks are worn and social distancing observed. 

Four days ago Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote to the president of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Conregations, Binyomin Stern, to say, “In recent weeks, faith communities across the country have, once again, steadfastly observed nationwide restrictions. I am immensely grateful for their support and cooperation. 

“ As the Prime Minister said on 23 November, this restraint has managed to slow the growth of new cases and ease the worst pressures on our NHS. Current restrictions in England ended on 2 December, and they will not be renewed. This means that communal worship and weddings can resume in our places of worship. 

“ The incidence of the disease is, alas, still widespread in many areas and that means that we must return to a regional tiered approach, applying the toughest measures where Covid is most prevalent. 

"But I am pleased that, in all tiers, communal worship will be able to continue.” 

Although now weddings have been curbed in the latest measures, and the planned relaxation over Christmas, severely cut back, ministers have heeded religious leaders in allowing collective prayer. 

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