The New York City Sheriff’s Office says a Jewish wedding attended by thousands of people in Brooklyn on Monday night was in compliance with state COVID-19 restrictions, despite pictures and video showing crowds of men packed together with no social distancing or masks.
Law enforcement watched from a distance as Shlomo Halberstam, the 18-year-old son of the head of the Bobov Hasidic sect, married his bride, who has not been identified, in the outdoor parking lot of the Congregation Shaarei Zion synagogue in Borough Park before the celebrations moved inside.
Footage from the indoor ceremony showed father of the groom Bobov Grand Rabbi Bentzion Halberstam, 65, celebrating in a white satin robe as hundreds of maskless men from the Hasidic Bobov community clapped from their seats.
According to PIX 11, guests traveled from as far as London and Israel for the prominent wedding, the latest in a string of large ceremonies held by the Brooklyn Hasidic community despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While the sheriff’s office and the NYPD was aware of the ceremony, PIX 11 reports, recent court rulings loosening the restrictions on religious ceremonies meant officers kept a step back.
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The wedding took place in the parking lot, but then continued inside where video shared to social media showed hundreds of men were packed together and not wearing masks
Pictured, father of the groom Bobov Grand Rabbi Bentzion Halberstam, 65, celebrating in a white satin robe as hundreds of maskless men and boys from the Hasidic Bobov community clapped
Jewish leaders in Brooklyn last year joined forces with the borough’s Roman Catholic bishop to mount a successful legal challenge against the COVID-19 limitations on their services.
According to new state regulations in the wake of a November Manhattan federal appeals court ruling, Gov. Andrew Cuomo can no longer implement to 25 percent capacity in red zone areas.
Borough Park is now in a yellow zone where religious ceremonies can be held with 50 percent capacity but social distancing must be in place and masks worn if that is not possible.
COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES IN NEW YORK CITY
According to city guidelines, houses of worship/funeral homes may hold indoor religious services in one room with congregant/attendee capacity limited to 50% of the maximum occupancy for that room.
Any attendees from different households must maintain 6 feet of physical distancing.
If unable to do so, attendees must wear a face covering.
Gov. Cuomo had previously tried to bring back in stricter measures in neighborhoods such as Borough Park as cases in the area rose.
Yet it led to protests from the Hasidic community who joined with the borough’s Catholic bishop to sue the state.
Despite Borough Park having moved back to a yellow zone where 50% capacity was allowed the federal appeals court in Manhattan struck down Cuomo’s executive order in November because it ‘discriminates against religion on its face’.
The synagogue in question has a capacity of 1,800, meaning it would be authorized for 900 people in attendance under the coronavirus distancing rules.
‘Our assessment at this time is that the event was compliant with relevant guidelines,’ New York City Sheriff Joe Fucito told the New York Post.
However, law enforcement also reported that ‘fences set up with tarps attached, limiting view’ were erected around the parking lot of the synagogue and there were ‘multiple entrances’ into the indoor part of the celebrations.
The sheriff in New York, not the NYPD, has been tasked with taking the lead on enforcing social distancing rules since August 2020.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appoints the sheriff, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the situation from DailyMail.com.
The NYPD, which also helps with Covid-19 rules enforcement – though the sheriff takes the lead – referred to a previous statement it’s made about enforcing coronavirus rules when asked for comment from DailyMail.com.
‘Our goal is not to summons. Our goal is safety. If further action is warranted, we will take it,’ according to the statement.
‘The NYPD will continue to support its partners at the NYC Sheriff’s office whenever they conduct COVID related business and gathering enforcement.
The synagogue was also contacted for comment but had not yet responded.
The large Brooklyn ceremony on Monday had allegedly been planned in secret in an attempt to thwart government officials, according to an Israeli news site, which published an article about the wedding praising the congregation’s planning of the event.
‘Conditions make it very difficult to hold mass events, but the Bobov Hasidic group, one of the largest Hasidic groups in the United States, did everything to make the wedding take place on the better side, properly for the wedding of the youngest son of the grand rabbi for whom many anticipate a bright future,’ it said, according to JTA.
‘It is a difficult task to organize a mass wedding in such tumultuous days. Even if you have managed to find a respectable venue, the heart is not at peace, because at any given moment you are exposed to the danger of whistleblowing and the police forces will be on their way to the place and the celebration subsides. If in Israel there are concerns, in the United States of America all the more so.’
It added that the location was kept secret until immediately before the wedding began and that guests were asked not to take any video of photos.
Guests were warned not to take video but it was still shared on social media on Tuesday
The synagogue is allowed to hold 50 percent capacity but masks are supposed to be worn
The article was removed on Tuesday and replaced with a version that claimed the wedding was instead held in a ‘very limited manner’.
According to JTA, Halberstam during the post-wedding celebrations commented on ‘the “mosers” who inform the authorities about celebrations and the opening of synagogues’.
Moser translates to informer but also carries a threat of physical violence.
Activist Abby Stein, who is related to the Halberstam family but was not at the ceremony, was among those sharing the videos to social media as she warned of the danger of the event.
The Congregation Shaarei Zion synagogue in Borough Park where the wedding was held
HASIDIC RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES PLANNED DESPITE COVID-19 GUIDELINES
AUGUST 2020: Banquet halls in one Brooklyn neighborhood allegedly continue to host large Haisidic Jewish weddings despite the state’s cap of 50 people at social gatherings at this point in the reopenings.
At least three catering venues in Borough Park appeared to be hosting weddings with more than 200 guests on one night in early August alone.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called out Borough Park after 16 new coronavirus cases there were linked to a local wedding.
OCTOBER 5, 2020: FDNY found 500 people gathered inside a warehouse in Borough Park, Brooklyn.
They were attending a play to mark the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
NYPD was called but did not break up the event and issued no fines.
They said the indoor religious gathering was in line with the 50% capacity limit as the warehouse could hold 2,000 people.
OCTOBER 2020: The state caught wind of a wedding in Williamsburg planned for a grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum.
This wedding was expected to attract 10,000 people but was brought to a halt and changed to a virtual ceremony once heath officials stepped in.
NOVEMBER 8: A Hasidic wedding in Brooklyn slipped under the radar of city officials as it crammed 7,000 maskless people into Yetev Lev temple in Williamsburg.
‘I always loved, and still like, watching these,’ Stein wrote on Twitter. ‘I just wish it wasn’t under such dangerous circumstances.’
‘I wish I was shocked,’ she told the Post when asked about the lack of social distancing and masks.
‘This was one of the biggest audiences I’ve ever seen at the synagogue,’ Stein also told the Daily Beast.
She was a member of the Hasidic community before she came out as transgender five years ago and her relatives in Borough Park are in the Bobov sect.
Stein explained to the Daily Beast that details on the wedding would have traveled through word of mouth synagogue announcements, or Yiddish newsletters as she estimates that half the community does not use the internet.
‘A wedding gives very warm and fuzzy feelings, and I’m not trying to take that away, but I think health comes first,’ Stein added.
‘There’s no doubt this is not the safest way to celebrate. I don’t want to diminish it. It’s a beautiful celebration. In normal times, a community can live on that. It’s the talk of the town for a week before, and everyone’s excited. But religiously, there’s no argument to have more than 10 people.’
The large wedding looked to be significantly more crowded than previous ceremonies than the NYPD had moved to close down.
Yet Stein says that the Bobov community had initially adhered to the pandemic health guidelines.
‘They were one of the first communities to shut down fully,’ she said. ‘But what happened is pandemic fatigue in an isolated community. It’s not intentionally to be bad and not care about health, but they will find an excuse like herd immunity, or not talk about it and decide not to live in lockdown.’
Hasidic leaders in New York defied many of the city’s restrictions against the pandemic by hosting secret, yet large, ceremonies that they made efforts to hide form authorities.
In October, officials called a halt to a 10,000-guest wedding at another Brooklyn synagogue.
Last month, the same congregation held a large funeral for a rabbi with as estimated 5,000 people in attendance.
Tensions between the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and city officials erupted in protests in Borough Park in October when shutdowns began because of the rising coronavirus cases in the neighborhood.
And yet Hasidic communities have been among the hardest hit in the city.
‘Back in April was really bad. At the peak, they had three or four pages of just names in the main Yiddish newspaper, sometimes hundreds of people dying each week,’ said Stein.
‘This is a community that really doesn’t like to be told what to do, and if you try to they’ll only fight back against you.’
In Borough Park, there were 250 news cases of coronavirus confirmed between January 10 and January 16.
It currently has a 10.68 percent positive test rate compared to 7.06 percent statewide.