U.S. Synagogues May Reopen by High Holy Days After Coronavirus Closure, Fauci Says

In a call with American rabbis, the Trump administration's top epidemiologist says relaxing restrictions would depend on social distancing and testing

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Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health arrives for the daily coronavirus task force briefing, Washington, April 22, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health arrives for the daily coronavirus task force briefing, Washington, April 22, 2020Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday that synagogues in the United States may be able to be open for the High Holy Days in the fall – but only if certain conditions are met in terms of testing, contact tracing and social distancing, in order to ensure that prayer services don't contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

Fauci spoke with rabbis from across the country on a conference call organized by the Orthodox Union. He expressed optimism that religious activities could be renewed before the end of the year, but noted that synagogues would not be able to operate in the same way as prior to the pandemic.

It would be a "good idea" to do minyan prayer once every five days, as opposed to every day, he said, pointing out that he did assume to understand what this would mean “from a spiritual standpoint.”

He expects the virus to still be around in the fall, perhaps as part of a "second wave" of infection, he said. For that reason, there will still need to be restrictions on mass gatherings and people will have to practice social distancing, he added.

The High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – start on September 18 and September 27 this year.

The reopening of synagogues over the coming months could be gradual, suggesting that synagogues in areas that were hardest hit by the virus may need to return to operation later than those in other parts of the country, Fauci said. He added that members of the population who are more vulnerable to the virus, such as elderly people and people with underlying health conditions, could be the last to join services.

Fauci praised synagogues that have encouraged people to wear masks while attending.

The vast majority of synagogues in the United States have been closed since mid-March, when restrictions on large gatherings began to be implemented in states across the country.

Many synagogues have been offering online services and holding virtual prayer meetings. There is still no clear timeline for when in-person religious activities will be permitted once again in America.

Fauci asked those on the call to “include me” in their prayers, as he attempts to lead the country’s response to the coronavirus, which has already killed some 74,000 people in the United States.

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