The United Synagogue, the largest network of Orthodox communities in the United Kingdom, is closing all of its affiliated synagogues due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis announced that “our Torah obligation to protect the sanctity of life transcends all other considerations.”

“Whilst the synagogue office can be opened from time to time for administrative purposes, the site should be understood to be closed,” said United Synagogue president Michael Goldstein, reported The Jewish Chronicle.

He added that “the community should not facilitate, support or publicize any minyanim or services in members’ homes. Sifrei Torah should not be loaned for these purposes. We understand the implication of this on individuals who wish to say Kaddish. It also means, sadly, that we will not be able to hold bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs or other [simchas]. The Chief Rabbi and Beth Din have made an exception for weddings. However, restrictive regulations will be in place.”

Goldstein said because of the coronavirus, “our focus will sadly shift, temporarily, away from our synagogues and back solely to our homes. But although shul is central to our existence as Jews, so are our homes, where we can also pray.”

“We will find new ways to create community. Whether through online shiurim [lessons], acts of kindness, a virtual Kabbalat Shabbat [before candle-lighting] or live-streamed weekday Maariv service, together we will keep our communities going through these difficult times.”

United Synagogue plans to send out information about how to engage in online learning and virtual meetings, with an IT support and communities team available for assistance.

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