Orthodox synagogue in Los Angeles holds Friday night services despite state ban

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — An Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles held Friday night services despite California’s ban on religious gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Congregation Etz Chaim, a group of about 70 families that meets in a house in the Hancock Park neighborhood, reopened though most other Orthodox institutions in Los Angeles have committed to staying closed, the Forward reported.

Etz Chaim’s decision to reopen came the same day that President Donald Trump called on governors to open houses of worship. In states that have started to reopen businesses, Trump said, “they have places ‘essential’ that aren’t essential, and they open. And yet the churches aren’t allowed to open and the synagogues and — places of faith — mosques, places of faith.”

The synagogue’s religious leader, Rabbi Chaim Baruch Rubin, told the Forward that he believes Trump’s statement gave him the permission he needed to reopen. Rubin added that local police assured him that they would not arrest anybody for participating.

“Sometimes the state law becomes so ridiculous, so adverse to God’s law, without any rationale,” Rubin said. “When you have public safety as a primary concern, I agree with that. But when you allow sports activities, and massage parlors, and marijuana distributors and liquor stores, and every activity that is non-essential, or not as essential as prayer, then quite frankly, the law is useless.”

The synagogue will have a modified seating plan to accommodate only about 30 worshippers, will require masks and will not have a kiddush.

Over a dozen Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles signed a letter saying they would stay closed an additional two weeks after the state permits gatherings of 10 or more.