Israel halts festive celebrations on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar
Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, began on Sunday at dusk and will end on Monday at nightfall.
For Jews, Yom Kippur is a time for reflection and repenting. Jews traditionally fast on this day and hold intense services in synagogues. Restaurants, cafes, cinemas, public institutions and transportation are all shut down. As required by law, radio or TV stations stop broadcasting.
This year, Yom Kippur comes during a three-week nationwide lockdown to halt a renewed COVID-19 outbreak, the second such lockdown in a bid to curb the rapid spread of the virus.
Under the rules of the current lockdown, Israelis are only permitted to pray in open areas in the vicinity of their homes in groups of no more than 20 people.
However, after pressures by the ultra-Orthodox parties in the parliament, the cabinet decided that synagogues could stay open for limited prayers with social distancing on Yom Kippur. The decision was made despite warnings from health experts, who said the move could lead to further infections.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israelis to avoid the traditional big gatherings in synagogues during Yom Kippur. “Whoever does enter a synagogue should be extra careful regarding the Health Ministry rules.”
Netanyahu asked rabbis to tell the worshipers “to strictly follow the rules, wear masks, maintain social distancing and pray in open areas as much as possible.”
In an address to the nation, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on people to light a candle in memory of the Israelis who have died from COVID-19.
“They were all loved, all known, all had names and faces,” Rivlin said. “May we be forgiven for the sin of weakness and inability, for not doing enough, for not managing to save them. Because of that, lives were lost.”
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)