Cuomo threatens to shutter synagogues
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference regarding the coronavirus crisis on Oct. 5, 2020. (Source: Screenshot)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he will meet with leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community on Tuesday in the hopes of getting them to agree to the enforcement of regulations aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19. The meeting comes as Cuomo has ordered all New York City schools, public and private, in areas with significant upticks in the numbers of coronavirus cases to close for the time being.

Cases of infection in New York state, according to government officials, are primarily localized to Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, along with isolated spots in Nassau County. Numbers are also increasing in ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations in Rockland and Orange counties.

Officials say that people in those areas have reportedly not been wearing masks in public, or if they are, then they are wearing them incorrectly. They have also dismissed social distancing and been holding large events that cause the virus to spread.

Whether synagogues "or whether talking about black churches or Roman Catholic Churches, the community must agree to the rules," insisted Cuomo.

They must agree to be a "full partner" in enforcing the laws, he continued. "If you do not agree to enforce the rules, then we will close the institutions down."

Cuomo said he wasn't certain that he would get the full support and agreement from community leaders because he's already heard from some religious leaders that they believe their community is advocating a "herd immunity" or saying that "masks are hoax."

Showing a photo of mass gathering of Chassidic men during his Monday press briefing, Cuomo said: "You've all seen pictures like this for weeks. What did you think was going to happen? What did you think was going to happen?"

When a reporter noted that at least two major Sukkot-related concerts were planned in Brooklyn this week, the governor said: "You can't have a concert mass gathering today, you can't. I don't care what ZIP code you live in."

However, New York Satmar leaders said that the photos used by Cuomo were from gathering back in 2006.

Noting that he has a "30-year relationship with the Orthodox community going back to my father [former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo]," the governor said that "tomorrow, I will have to tell them — if you are not willing to live with these rules, I will have to close the synagogues. — This is the last thing I want to do. Forget the politics; I don't care about that anymore. Personally, I don't want to have this conversation; you are right on the line of government intrusion."

The governor also took issue with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the ongoing pandemic, claiming the city isn't doing enough when it comes to law enforcement.

"Everybody knows the laws. They are not being enforced; they have to be enforced," the governor said as he was wrapping up his presser. "If you don't enforce the law, the virus will spread."

Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, director of New York government relations at Agudath Israel of America, said "we consider the closing of our yeshivahs as a tragedy of the highest proportion. As of now, most of our schools are closed now due to the holiday. We hope that with our community's cooperation, we will get the numbers down sufficiently to allow our schools to open as soon as possible after Sukkot."

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