Skip to main content

Israel’s synagogues close doors for first time over coronavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had avoided a complete nationwide lockdown, but with new COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, new directives have closed the nation's places of prayer.

For the first time in the history of the state of Israel, synagogues have been ordered to close their doors. As of this writing, tightened emergency regulations to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus include synagogues and all other inside public praying spaces.

The decision was made in the early morning hours today following a six-hour conference-call cabinet meeting. The new instructions on synagogues took effect at 5:00 PM Wednesday Israel time.

Until now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had avoided a complete nationwide lockdown, but with the number of new COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, new directives will further curtail movement, business operations and transportation. The cabinet decided to completely halt public transportation. Taxis will be permitted to drive one client at a time.

The main point of disagreement within the cabinet concerned Netanyahu’s intention to order synagogues to close, with small prayers allowed outside buildings, in open spaces, with no more than 10 participants who must stay two meters apart.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a senior ultra-Orthodox politician, has been managing the coronavirus crisis alongside Netanyahu. But Litzman refused to go along with closing synagogues, threatening to vote against all the new directives. Yet Netanyahu didn’t cave, responding that he has no choice but to go ahead with these measures since findings indicate that people are were becoming infected in synagogues at an extremely alarming rate.

A minister who participated in the cabinet phone meeting told Al-Monitor that Netanyahu was determined, saying that he would take responsibility for the decision, which would equally affect mosques, churches and any other prayer venues.

The Ministry of Health has identified synagogues and yeshivas as coronavirus hotspots. More than 30% of those infected in public spaces had visited them. Health authorities indicated that mass prayers and Megillah readings during the March 10 and 11 Purim holidays are responsible for the current spike.

The small and crowded spaces of many synagogues and habits like kissing the Torah scrolls naturally create a contagious environment. Still, until now Netanyahu had held off on closing synagogues, as they have represented the continuation of active Jewish life throughout Jewish history. Even during Israel’s many wars and bombings, synagogues never closed.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in