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Over 400 US rabbis back tough New York social distancing measures

Statement by liberal advocacy group supports measures put in place by governor and mayor, accused by some Orthodox community members of singling out Jewish areas

In this October 4, 2020, file photo, two women walk with children during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP/Kathy Willens)
In this October 4, 2020, file photo, two women walk with children during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP/Kathy Willens)

JTA — More than 450 American rabbis from across the religious spectrum signed a statement backing measures by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The statement, organized by the New York Jewish Agenda, a liberal Jewish advocacy group, expressed its support for New York’s use of “data-driven, geographically-based efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

The reference to “data-driven” efforts is aimed at pushing back at claims that Cuomo and de Blasio are singling out Haredi Orthodox Jews with their most recent efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

In April, the advocacy group organized a letter protesting what it said was de Blasio’s “scapegoating the Jewish community” with a series of tweets harshly criticizing the violating of social distancing guidelines at an Orthodox funeral in Brooklyn.

This week’s statement emphasized that the current orders, spurred by a sharp uptick in infections, are not driven by bias.

“We condemn the lack of compliance with public health directives and recent violent reactions from some individuals within the Orthodox Jewish community to enforcement of those mandates,” the statement said.

The New York Jewish Agenda began seeking signatures on Wednesday after violence broke out in protests in Brooklyn.

Groups of protesters gather in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park to denounce lockdowns of their neighborhood due to a spike in COVID-19 cases on October 7, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

An online press conference on Friday featured rabbis from across the religious spectrum citing religious mandates to abide by the restrictions, as well as Jacob Korbluh, the Jewish Insider reporter targeted this week at one of the protests.

Some of the most restrictive orders put in place this week by Cuomo are in areas of New York City that have been especially hard hit by the virus, several of which are Haredi strongholds.

Agudath Israel of America, a Haredi umbrella group, is suing to stop the restrictions, in part because they coincide with three major Jewish holy days.

Separately, a letter to Cuomo by a law firm representing a congregation in Monsey, New York, says that the distinctions Cuomo has drawn between “essential” and “non-essential” enterprises are “discredited” and unconstitutional.

The letter, from Ronald Coleman on behalf of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg of Netzach Yisroel congregation, argues that Cuomo is not imposing similar restrictions on other “hotspot” areas and says there is no scientific justification for the regulations. The letter says that unless Cuomo withdraws the restrictions, the congregation will file suit.

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