At Jerusalem’s Western Wall, a subdued, socially distanced Tisha B’Av
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At Jerusalem’s Western Wall, a subdued, socially distanced Tisha B’Av

‘To our sorrow, the plague is intensifying and we need heavenly mercy,’ chief rabbi says

  • Jewish men pray at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Jewish men pray at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Jewish men pray at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Jewish men pray at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Tisha B'Av eve at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, June 29, 2020 (Screenshot)
    Tisha B'Av eve at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, June 29, 2020 (Screenshot)
  • A Jewish man prays at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    A Jewish man prays at the Western Wall on the eve of Tisha B'Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Religious Jews marked Tisha B’Av Wednesday evening at the Western Wall under strict coronavirus restrictions, which limited attendance to 1,000 worshipers throughout the evening, in fenced off “capsules” of up to 20 people each at the plaza.

The fast of Tisha B’Av, which mourns the destruction of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, began on Wednesday evening and lasts for 25 hours.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation livestreamed Tisha B’Av prayers from the Western Wall to those who were unable to attend.

The chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel ruled ahead of the fast that those with the coronavirus should not avoid food and drink.

The ruling applies even if the patient is feeling fine or is in the recovery period of the illness, Rabbi David Lau said in a statement Monday. Those who have recovered from coronavirus and still feel weak also should not fast, he added.

Lau’s ruling also insisted that people should wash their hands well and use hand sanitizer, which is usually prohibited on Tisha B’Av. He also suggested that since most prayer services will be held outside due to the limit on numbers that can gather in a synagogue, most of the kinot — the sad poems read on the fast day — should be recited at home. Israel is in the midst of a punishing heatwave.

“To our sorrow, the plague is intensifying and we need heavenly mercy,” Lau said.

Synagogues and yeshivas, which were shuttered in late March, served as major vectors for the transmission of the coronavirus during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and when the government finally decided to let them resume operations in May, it was with numerous caveats.

After the reopening, synagogues were limited to a maximum of 50 attendees, a number which was reduced to 19 in early July, amid the pandemic’s second wave, before being whittled down to 10.

The ultra-Orthodox community suffered disproportionate rates of infection during the first wave of the pandemic and, at one point in April, around three-quarters of cases in Jerusalem were in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

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