Arrests after police break up Strictly Orthodox wedding receptions in New Jersey

Hundreds of guests attended the weddings in Lakewood in breach of coronavirus regulations



New Jersey police have arrested two Strictly Orthodox men for breaking social distancing laws by holding large events, including a wedding, at their homes.

Eliyohu Zaks was arrested on Friday after the Lakewood Police Department said that he held a wedding at his home attended by more than 50 people, in contravention of the state’s coronavirus regulations.

Shaul Kuperwasser was arrested after a large crowd gathered at his home on Thursday.

Lakewood, which has a large Charedi community, has become a centre of coronavirus cases in New Jersey.

Earlier in the week, police broke up two large Chasidic wedding receptions, while on Thursday evening Lakewood police were forced to intervene to close the city’s local yeshiva and force its students home.

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy said in response to the Lakewood violations: “We simply cannot have this. We have got to ensure compliance no matter what the circumstances are.”

Yosef Rappaport, a Chasidic activist in New York, explained to the JC why authorities are keen to ensure that large Chasidic weddings are cancelled.

“When there is a wedding, there are people from all corners of the Jewish world,” he said.

“When you talk about a Chasidic wedding, there are hundreds and hundreds of people going through, saying mazel tov, shaking hands, kissing. This is not something that is planned for, it is to something that is taken into account by the people who deal with public health.”

There have been repeated violations of coronavirus regulations in neighbouring New York.

On Friday, around 200 Chabad-Lubavitchers prayed outside of the group’s headquarters, in an illegal service that spread over two blocks and onto the street, which New York police said they did not break up for fear of infection.

On Saturday night, queues were spotted outside a popular Chasidic clothing store in New York, while it was confirmed that the Kiryas Joel Satmar Rebbe, Aaron Teitelbaum, had been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Yosef Rappaport said that there was were high “risks for spread from one ultra-Orthodox community, even if by and large, everyone takes the necessary precautions.”

“You can’t have hermetically sealed compliance by everybody, even those who have social awareness. This is our world.”

“I am afraid for the worst,” Rappaport said. “I am afraid that coronavirus ran through the community weeks ago.”

But some Chasidic groups have been working to practice social distancing while keeping their communities running.  

One Williamsburg community has been practicing “social distancing” minyanim via their balconies, while some wedding parties have involved driving around Chasidic areas of New York in convertibles rather htan hosting receptions.

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