“Many are still staying away, people who are immunocompromised or with various conditions.”
Last Shabbat, Chaya Goldish woke at 8 a.m. for the first time in almost a year. She hadn’t been to synagogue since March and was eager to arrive early.
It was the first sabbath since the pandemic that New York restrictions on worship services were lifted. Goldish lives in what authorities deemed a “red zone” of Brooklyn with high COVID-test positivity rates.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that houses of worship in “red zones” were limited to 10 attendees regardless of the facility’s capacity. “Orange zones” with moderate positivity rates were capped at 25. Businesses deemed essential could remain open in these zones without the capacity limits as places of worship.
In a November 25 ruling, the US Supreme Court blocked government restrictions on houses of worship in New York. The decision, which split 5-4, was the first in which Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed last month following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gave the conservatives a majority.
The conservative justices were convinced by the argument that pandemic restrictions should not be stricter for religious institutions than for secular ones.The decision resolved two cases at once: one brought by Agudath Israel of America, an organization representing Orthodox Jews, and one brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.
“This is the first time in my memory that we have assumed the role of plaintiff before the high court,” Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel director of public affairs, told The Jerusalem Post.
“What impelled us here was the singling out by New York’s governor of Orthodox neighborhoods as virus spreaders, repeatedly calling pointed attention to the residents’ religion, when other neighborhoods with even higher virus transmission rates were not given the same ‘red zone’ status. Our rabbinic leadership felt that we needed to speak up and defend our, and all Americans’, religious rights.
“As observant Jews, we are fully dedicated to the ideal of preserving the good health of ourselves and others. Nothing in our suit was contradictory to that. Our argument was strictly about the harsher treatment of houses of worship. What are sufficient safety measures for a supermarket or liquor store should be sufficient measures for a shul or church or mosque,” Shafran continued. “We expect shuls to keep all the COVID regulations. We just want religious institutions to be treated fairly, no differently from secular ones. That is part of the guarantee of the Constitution’s First Amendment.