American Orthodox Jewish groups call for observance of social distancing
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American Orthodox Jewish groups call for observance of social distancing

Statement issued amid reports of continued large gatherings by Haredim despite rapid spread of coronavirus in US

Orthodox Jewish men use 'social distancing' as they pray outside the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, March 20, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, before leaders of six major organizations released a joint statement urging worshipers to 'avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions' to help stop the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Orthodox Jewish men use 'social distancing' as they pray outside the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, March 20, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, before leaders of six major organizations released a joint statement urging worshipers to 'avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions' to help stop the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

JTA — In a powerful joint statement, the leaders of six major American Orthodox Jewish organizations called on their members to follow social distancing rules, including limits on daily group prayers and weddings.

The statement was released Friday, just hours ahead of Shabbat and after days of reports of continued large gatherings in some Haredi communities.

“We have heretofore urged not only full compliance with all health guidelines issued by federal, state, and local governments, but have gone beyond those pronouncements in urging our communities to remain at home and avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions,” said the statement, signed by the heads of Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Union, the National Council of Young Israel, the Lakewood Vaad, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Rabbinical Alliance of America.

“We have taken the unprecedented and deeply distressing step of shuttering the central fixtures of our lives — our shuls, yeshivos and schools — and certainly to eliminate other gatherings,” the statement also said. “We have done so because as observant Jews we have an obligation to place supreme value on protecting human life.”

Many Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, communities in New York were slower to adopt new social distancing measures than the rest of the city, but after news broke early last week that 100 people in the heavily ultra-Orthodox Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn had tested positive for the virus, Haredi institutions began to close en masse.

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