Orthodox Jews in Montreal Rap Quebec Government for COVID-19 Closure of Houses of Worship
Orthodox Jews in Quebec have called on the authorities in the Canadian province to end COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship, insisting that the closure of synagogues was forcing the community to “make an untenable choice between the exercise of their fundamental rights and respect for the law.”
In a statement on Sunday, the Hasidic Jewish Council of Quebec (CJHQ) excoriated the government for imposing what it depicted as “outright bans on religious practice in places of worship.” More than 90,000 Jews from a range of backgrounds reside in the Montreal area.
On New Years’ Eve, Quebec premier François Legault’s government announced that houses of worship would be closed for an indefinite period as part of the effort to beat back the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19. All mosques, churches, temples, synagogues and other religious buildings have been shuttered for all events except funerals, which are limited to 25 guests.
The CJHQ statement accused the Quebec government of having instituted the closures “without having consulted the main stakeholders, without presenting any scientific data justifying their decision and above all, without respecting the constitutional obligation that it has to ensure that their measures will not have a discriminatory effect on a group of citizens.”
It continued with a warning that the government’s position was exacerbating inter-communal tensions.
“The consequences can be very serious, further weakening the integrity of Quebec’s social fabric, breaking this relationship of trust between the various players and undermining our cohesion, so necessary in these difficult times,” the CJHQ said.
The group reminded the government that it had been at the forefront of the effort to vaccinate Orthodox Jews in Montreal against the virus, organizing several mobile vaccination clinics over the last year.
Over the weekend, media outlets in Quebec reported on Orthodox Jews gathering for Shabbat services in synagogue despite the ban.
“It’s a matter of opinion, and I don’t want to give you my opinion. You can do whatever you want. It is a free country and it is freedom of religion,” one Jewish man told broadcaster TVA Nouvelles outside a synagogue in the Outremont neighborhood.
Since the emergence of the Omicron variant, Quebec has reintroduced tough measures restricting social contact, including a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., resulting in widespread criticism of Legault’s government.