Religious Services Can Resume in New York with 10 or Fewer People, Cuomo Says


(JTA) — After two months of shuttered synagogues and empty pews, religious services will be allowed to resume with restrictions in New York state beginning on Thursday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his daily news conference Wednesday that religious services may begin if limited to 10 or fewer participants with social distancing and masks in place.

Cuomo stressed that caution must be exercised to make sure the religious gatherings do not become an opportunity for the virus to spread further, pointing to the case of an Orthodox synagogue in suburban New York City’s Westchester County that was found at the center of a cluster of cases in March.

“The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected,” Cuomo said. “We know from New Rochelle, Westchester, the first hot spot, that religious ceremonies can be very dangerous.”

The Center for Disease Control had issued guidelines last week for the reopening of restaurants, bars, child care centers, schools and mass transit. The guidelines did not include guidance for reopening places of worship.

New York’s guidance comes as some Orthodox communities grapple with conflicting guidance over resuming services outdoors. Rabbis in communities from Texas to Cleveland to New York’s Long Island have agreed to disagree over how to move forward as states begin to lift restrictions.

Earlier this month, leaders of the Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization for Orthodox synagogues, released guidance on reopening synagogues after a webinar with Dr. Anthony Fauci. The organization pointed to outdoor services as a possible first step in resuming prayer but urged caution in considering any resumption of services.

“The issuance of this guidance does NOT imply that any reopening should be done at this point,” the guide says in bold print.

In Massachusetts, rabbis said they would not reopen immediately even though the governor included houses of worship in the state’s first phase of reopening.