Orthodox synagogues in B.C. granted exemption to hold small, fully masked indoor services

A ban on the use of electronics on the Sabbath means that Orthodox Jewish congregations in B.C. have been granted an exemption that will allow small indoor services.

A health ministry spokesperson confirmed that all Orthodox synagogues have been allowed to hold in-person observances to mark Purim this week, as well as the Sabbath, as long as they follow strict COVID-19 protocols.

“We recognize some faiths cannot meet virtually,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

“In this case, the synagogues observe traditional Jewish law which prohibits the use of electronic devices, including computers, on the Sabbath and in-person services were the only option.”

The conditions of the exemption include limits on the number of people, masks for every participant throughout the service, minimum two-metre distances between people who are not members of the same household and a time limit of one hour.

At Chabad of Vancouver Island in Victoria, for example, the maximum capacity has been set at 25 people and the windows will be kept open throughout the service.

B.C. has prohibited in-person religious services since November in an attempt to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. Some Orthodox congregations have been holding outdoor services in the meantime.

Three B.C. churches — Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, Abbotsford’s Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack — will be in court in March to challenge provincial health orders suspending in-person religious services.  

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