The Rabbinical Alliance of America—Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis—calls on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to immediately terminate the draconian restrictions and lockdown orders recently placed on Jewish communities in New York.

From the start of the pandemic, the Rabbinical Alliance of America has fully supported the recommendations of the medical community and governmental restrictions and limitations placed on our freedom as a health measure in combating the spread of Coronavirus, thereby saving lives. Throughout this global crisis, the RAA has urged its member rabbis to close their synagogues and schools, which normally bustle with activity from dawn to dusk servicing all members of the Jewish community, in strict compliance with the requests of the authorities. The RAA continues its full support of the requirements for social distancing and mask wearing as a means of controlling the spread of the virus until the pandemic fully passes. 

Despite this support for active health measures, the Rabbinical Alliance of America strongly feels that the current enforcement measures placed on the Jewish community are dangerous and discriminatory. The Orthodox Jewish community is being deliberately selected and blamed as a scapegoat for the spread of this unstoppable virus. The Orthodox Jewish community has not been the only to see a rise in Coronavirus infections yet it has been very publicly singled out as guilty of spreading this deadly disease. These accusations are reminiscent of the anti-Semitism faced during the Middle Ages and cause great pain to the Jewish community. They risk igniting the already rising anti-Semitic sentiment in New York and around the world. When openly criticizing the community to the media, the governor and mayor failed to acknowledge the hard work of Orthodox Jewish volunteer organizations that serve as first responders, such as Hatzalah, Misaskim and Shomrim, to a name a few of those who place their lives in harm’s way to fight the pandemic. These hard-working Orthodox Jewish volunteers are unsung heroes who give freely of their time in order to make New York safe again. We must also appreciate the high amount of blood, plasma and antibody donations that have come from members of the Jewish Community. We are sure that the governor and mayor have no ill intent but the perception and reality of these statements need to be explained to the public and appropriate meaningful apologies must be made.

The current lockdowns severely hurt those most vulnerable, in particular children and the elderly. When schools are closed, children suffer emotionally and developmentally. Small business owners are facing bankruptcy because they cannot open to customers. The working public cannot earn a living. A lockdown must be the last resort because of the high price it entails in terms of human suffering. As rabbis, we cannot stand by idly and watch our communities suffer when other, less severe measures have not been tried first. We protest these lockdowns in the name of our children, our elderly, our financially struggling congregants, and our community members desperate to maintain some dignity and emotional stability. We protest the closure of our schools and synagogues, the precious life-bloods of our community. Safety, yes. Complete closure, no.

Rabbi Mendy Mirocnik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America stated, “This entire debacle could have been averted had the mayor and governor engaged the community in a meaningful conversation empowering the community as partners in the war on the pandemic as opposed to dictating a series of punitive measures for noncompliance. Effective dialogue and communication are key to a good working relationship. Compromise involves understanding the role that public prayer services and holiday observance play in the spiritual and economic well-being of the community. The costs of a lockdown vary by community and culture. Targeted health measures, based on dialogue and understanding, would build trust and ensure compliance. By ignoring this reality, we are faced with frustration, hurt and harm. The trust is broken and must be rebuilt, which ultimately hurts public health.

“We pray that the governor and mayor see their wrong and take all necessary steps to repair the broken relationship with the Jewish community. Only when elected officials work hand in hand with the community can we make New York a great place for all its residents once again.”