A FEDERAL judge has given the green light for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, above, to move forward with new COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings at synagogues and other houses of worship
According to The New York Times, the ruling in Brooklyn came after Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organisation, sued Cuomo over his latest executive order detailing an array of new restrictions to address rising COVID-19 cases in neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.
Lawyers for Agudath Israel, an umbrella group with affiliated synagogues around the country, had argued that the new rules were unconstitutional. Orthodox Jews, it claimed, are disproportionately affected, because they are prohibited from driving during religious holidays and cannot travel to synagogues in neighborhoods with fewer restrictions.
The man pictured above was one of hundreds of Orthodox Jews and Trump supporters who gathered in Brooklyn on October 7 to protest the new restrictions. Many, as this video shows, were not wearing face masks.
In a tweet after the ruling, Agudath Israel called the decision a “crushing disappointment” while reminding its followers to adhere to health guidelines.
The organisation added in a Facebook statement two days ago:
“This ruling is disappointing, to say the least,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel. “Of course we understand the importance of taking precautionary measures against COVID-19, but there are ways to do so without totally disrupting our ability to use our shuls. Looking ahead, we will continue to do all in our power to defend our constituents’ rights, while at the same time promoting all appropriate health protocols.”
Agudah Chairman of the Board Shlomo Werdiger expressed his regret over the ruling, and called upon Governor Cuomo and other governmental officials to be more solicitous of the community’s legitimate religious needs.
“Whether the issue relates to our shuls, or to our yeshivos, or to anything that is essential to us as a religious community, we appeal to our elected officials and executive agencies to work with us collaboratively in developing policies that both ensure good health and allow us to practice our faith. It shouldn’t be necessary to have to fight these things out in court.”
Finding that the rules did not violate the free exercise of religion for Orthodox Jews, judge Judge Kiyo A Matsumoto asked:
How can we ignore the compelling state interest in protecting the health and life of all New Yorkers?
After an emergency hearing on Friday, the judge declined to temporarily block Cuomo’s executive order ahead of three Jewish holidays over the weekend. She said she sympathised with the order’s impact on the Orthodox Jewish community, but rejected the argument that Cuomo had unconstitutionally targeted a religious minority.
When announcing the executive order, Cuomo set new capacity limits for houses of worship. In zones with the highest infection rates, houses of worship would be limited to 25 percent capacity or a maximum of 10 people, while those in a less severe hot spot could have 50 percent capacity.
Judge Matsumoto, noting that the order also shut down non-essential businesses and schools in the hardest-hit zones, found that the religious burdens caused by the restrictions were outweighed by the need to stop:
The most significant health crisis in living memory.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filed a similar lawsuit against Cuomo, arguing that the restrictions would effectively force at least two dozen churches in Brooklyn and Queens to close. After a separate hearing on Friday, a different judge also declined to block the executive order.