Religious groups call double standard on Quebec's COVID-19 capacity regulations

Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation raised tents to hold Yom Kippur services in shifts of 25 people.

Religious communities in Montreal are pushing back on government guidelines they see as a double standard.

Montreal is currently in 'orange' COVID-19 regional alert mode, and that means places of worship may only host a maximum of 25 people at a time. Bars, movie theatres and concert halls in Quebec, meantime, are allowed to function at a higher capacity.

It poses a particular challenge for synagogues on the holiest day of the year in Judaism, Yom Kippur, from sundown Sunday to Monday evening.

"It's a day when our synagogue normally hosts around 2,000 people and this year possibly with all the services maybe 200 to 300," said Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Cote St-Luc.

The orthodox synagogue has raised tents and will hold services in shifts of 25.

Poupko said he finds it puzzling how prayer houses differ from theatres or cinemas, where 250 people can gather at a time.

"We have stopped the communal singing. We're basically sitting in a room reading together. But from the government's perspective, there's a difference between the two," he said.

The Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec is united on this issue, saying in a statement, "if the health ministry deems it safe for certain industries to stay open for gatherings of up to 250 people plus staff, then places of worship should be included. Targeting places of worship is unacceptable."

The St. James United Church has held its services online since the shutdown in March. Its congregation is suffering, said Rev. Arlen Bonnar.

"The challenge there has always been not just the service but about the community that we miss because we're doing things virtually. I think that's a struggle for us all," said Bonnar.

A recent study shows 40 per cent of Canadians feel that COVID-19 has impacted their lives in a significant way.

"A majority of the people who felt there was a major change indicated that it was attributable to the lack of interaction with family and friends, and varying degrees of isolation," said Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies, who authored the study.

All of these religious leaders said they will continue to respect government guidelines, despite the impact.

"It's also important that we also become examples to the community of what it is to live our lives as people of faith with integrity," said Bonnar, "protecting not only ourselves but the larger community."  

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