LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A law firm specializing in religious freedom says a Los Angeles County public health order indirectly prohibits families from observing the Jewish high holy days.
In the initial Sept. 2 order, before the wording was revised, an example given by officials for prohibited gatherings included “having dinner with extended family and friends to honor the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur),” according to First Liberty Institute.
The county later revised the health officer order on Sept. 13 to prohibit “having a meal with extended family and friends for a religious or cultural holiday”, omitting the specific reference to the Jewish holidays.
Considered the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah begins Friday and Yom Kippur starts on Sept. 27 and ends the following evening.
“Although now hiding behind obscured language, the ban on celebrating the High Holidays with others remains,” wrote Stephanie Taub, senior counsel with First Liberty, which is based in Plano, Texas.
A letter signed by Taub and sent Wednesday to Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis and County Counsel Mary Wickham alleges the “county’s policy threatens enforcement against the upcoming holiday of a religious minority faith” even while the county “has not vigorously policed its stated ban on small gatherings with friends or extended family.”
The letter was also delivered to U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s office.
In response, a Los Angeles County spokesperson told City News Service the county recognizes that religious services “are central to many of our residents’ lives, especially in these trying times, and religious services have been allowed to be held online and outdoors with physical distancing and the use of face coverings, and they may continue to be held with those public health safeguards in place.”
Rabbi Yisrael Gelb, executive director of Augudath Israel of California, called the county’s protocol involving small gatherings “profoundly disrespectful and disappointing.”
“I plan on honoring the High Holidays as I do every year, by sharing a table with a local family in my congregation,” Gelb said. “We urge the county to reverse its policy and allow us to celebrate our most holy days in peace and safety.”