N.Y.C. Yeshiva Shut for Gathering in Defiance of Coronavirus Social Distancing Rules

Move comes amid concern over spiking anti-Semitic sentiment during the pandemic, with the N.Y.C. mayor causing controversy over warnings to 'the Jewish community'

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the USTA Indoor Training Center in New York, March 31, 2020
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the USTA Indoor Training Center in New York, March 31, 2020Credit: Frank Franklin II/ AP
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri

New York Police shut down a Yeshiva in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on Monday for operating in defiance of social distancing guidelines and lockdown rules during the coronavirus crisis.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that the school, Nitra Yeshiva, was “conducting classes with as many as 70 children.” 

“I can’t stress how dangerous this is for our young people,” he wrote. “We’re issuing a Cease and Desist Order and will make sure to keep our communities and our kids safe.”

A neighbor who had seen the children, mostly teenagers, playing on the roof of the building called the authorities, who descended on the location a short time later, according to a report in the New York Times.

The incident comes after weeks of tension between the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and New York City authorities. These tensions reached a peak last month after a crowded Orthodox Jewish funeral was held in Williamsburg and Mayor de Blasio tweeted, threatening “the Jewish community” with arrests. 

The tweet caused much uproar, with Jewish groups accusing the Mayor of generalizing about the community and fanning the flames of already heightened anti-Semitism during the coronavirus crisis.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said the U.S. Justice Department should look into the constitutional character of the police intervention.

"The next time NYC's mayor sends out a gleeful tweet about sending cops after Jews, the DOJ should investigate to make sure he's not violating constitutionally guaranteed religious liberties," Cruz tweeted.

The Anti-Defamation League has already recorded a “significant increase” in anti-Semitic social media posts since the coronavirus crisis began in March, particularly targeting Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey.

The organization’s analysis found that coronavirus-related anti-Semitic content often places generalized blame on the Orthodox community or suggests that Orthodox Jews should be forcibly separated from the rest of society, or refused medical treatment and that they be punished by law enforcement authorities.

At least one of the synagogues had already received a cease and desist order last week for defying coronavirus guidelines. 

Orthodox Jews have been in the spotlight in the city as reports of community members holding gatherings, despite regulations, have emerged over the past two months. 

However, Orthodox leaders, rabbis and Jewish organizations have consistently instructed members of the community to comply with the official guidelines. They have insisted that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are respecting the regulations and have been staying home for weeks. 

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