Court allows NY virus restrictions ahead of Jewish holidays

Members of the Orthodox Jewish community speak with NYPD officers on a street corner, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to reinstate restrictions on businesses, houses of worship and schools in and near areas where coronavirus cases are spiking. Many neighborhoods that stand to be affected are home to large enclaves of Orthodox Jews.  (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Members of the Orthodox Jewish community speak with NYPD officers on a street corner, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to reinstate restrictions on businesses, houses of worship and schools in and near areas where coronavirus cases are spiking. Many neighborhoods that stand to be affected are home to large enclaves of Orthodox Jews. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ALBANY, N.Y. – A federal judge refused Friday to block New York’s plan to temporarily limit the size of religious gatherings in COVID-19 hot spots.

U.S. District Judge Judge Kiyo Matsumoto issued the ruling after an emergency hearing in a lawsuit brought by rabbis and synagogues, arguing the restrictions were unconstitutional. They had sought to have enforcement delayed until at least after Jewish holy days this weekend.

The rules limit indoor prayer services to 10 people in areas where the virus is spreading fastest. In other areas within hot spots, indoor religious services are capped at 25 people.

The restrictions apply in six designated areas in parts of New York City, Rockland and Orange counties, and part of Binghamton. Nonessential businesses and schools have also been shut down in some of those areas.

Ruling from the bench, the judge said the state had an interest in protecting public safety.

In their lawsuit, rabbis, leaders of synagogues and the national Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel had argued that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was singling out Jews amid the ongoing Sukkot festival and this weekend’s Simchat Torah, which marks the annual cycle of reading the Torah.

“That targeting of a religious minority on the eve of its holidays is reason enough to reject all of defendant’s arguments and allow plaintiffs to celebrate their holidays this weekend as they have for over 2,000 years,” the groups argued in a Friday court filing.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn also filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions.