A Quebec Superior Court judge has agreed in part with the Chasidic Jewish Council of Quebec’s request to allow more than 10 people inside a synagogue to take part in communal prayer.
In a decision delivered on Friday, Justice Chantal Masse decided the provincial government’s order that a maximum of 10 people be allowed inside a place of worship applies “to each room in a building that has independent access to the street without sharing a common space with the other rooms.”
“If the court has one message to deliver to the (council) and to the entire Hasidic Jewish community it represents, as well as all the faithful who benefit from this decision, it would be to rigorously respect the rules of law that are sanitary measures, as constraining as they are, as they should be presumed to be valid,” the judge wrote in her 53-page decision.
Earlier this week, the council asked the court to rule on the matter because of the confusion generated two weekends ago when the Montreal police broke up several gatherings at synagogues that it believed contravened the government’s social distancing measures.
Lawyers representing the council argued communal prayer is important in the Chasidic Jewish faith and that many synagogues have large rooms that allow a group of 10 to pray together indoors while respecting social distance guidelines and wearing masks.
In a statement released after the decision was made public, the council wrote: “We are obviously very, very relieved by this judgment.” It added that the ruling will allow them to pray “in acceptable conditions.”
“Our belief in G-d has implications in our civil life. Authorities have the obligation to consider this when they put in place such constraining measures that prevent us, practically, from exercising our worship.”
Abraham Ekstein, a member of the council, told reporters it was “time to build bridges” after many Chasidic Jews were handed hefty fines by the police.
“It is a decision that confirms our interpretation of the government decree was the right one,” Ekstein said. “We were always acting in good faith. It is not a time to declare victory. We are all in a battle to ensure the safety of all and to protect. We are going to work hard to rebuild bridges and continue the dialogue we have had since the pandemic started with public health authorities to make sure all our members respect all the necessary measures.”
Ekstein made the comments in front of a synagogue in Mile End at the intersection of St-Viateur Ave. and Hutchison St. He said that, with Masse’s decision, up to 40 people can pray inside the synagogue at one time and that people could pray in shifts.
Three Montreal congregations — Sheves Achim, Amour pour Israel and Reshith Chochma — had joined the council in its request.
Lawyers for the government argued the stricter rules announced last month are intended to reduce the number of social gatherings.
Last week, the same judge ruled that the CAQ government’s curfew, intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19, was unfair to the homeless and cannot apply to them.