Agudath Israel of America filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking an injunction against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that limits synagogue attendance in ‘red’ areas with high coronavirus morbidity, Yeshiva World News reported.
The lawsuit claims that the order, which limits synagogue attendance to ten people, represents unconstitutional discrimination against a religious group, as it does not prohibit similar secular gatherings.
Agudath Israel said that Cuomo’s order discriminates against religious Jews, “depriving them of their religious worship and holiday observance.”
The suit further states that in a a synagogue the size of co-plaintiff Agudath Israel of Madison, “the capacity limits would require over twenty such services on Friday morning to serve the entire congregation. That is simply impossible.”
The suit seeks to compel the court to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of Cuomo’s order ahead of the Simchat Torah holiday and for the court to declare the order unconstitutional.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, stated: “Social distancing, masking, and all health precautions must, of course, be observed. However, we think that it is possible to stay safe and at the same time have more than ten people in a Shul building that is meant to hold hundreds.”
Agudath Israel Board Chairman Shlomo Werdiger called the lawsuit a “last resort.”
“We would have been able to accomplish much more for these critical public health needs had the governor’s administration worked together with us more closely beforehand. We look forward to working with them next time. Unfortunately, the Governor’s new executive order makes it impossible for us to practice our religion, and we really had no choice but to seek relief in the courts.”
The lawsuit follows several days of large-scale protests in haredi neighborhoods in Brooklyn against Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio over coronavirus restrictions which were issued this week.
On Monday, Cuomo blamed large gatherings in the hasidic community for the spread of COVID-19, highlighting selichot prayers in Satmar-Kiryas Joel and event in Chabad-Crown Heights as examples of “social distancing violations”.
Cuomo had warned that if the Jewish community does not cooperate with the state on enforcing physical distancing, services at houses of worship will be prohibited and all gatherings will be subjected to “greater enforcement”.