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Cuomo says uptick in COVID-19 cases is an 'ultra-orthodox' Jewish problem

Cuomo said this on CNN Friday morning, in response to a lawsuit filed against him by religious leaders in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo has claimed that the "ultra-orthodox" Jewish community is at fault for the latest uptick in coronavirus cases in Brooklyn. He said this on CNN Friday morning, in response to a lawsuit filed against him by religious leaders in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Cuomo said that "The cluster is predominantly an ultra-orthodox cluster," and that his comments have "nothing to do with religious freedom." As regards the closures of private Catholic schools along with private Jewish schools, he said that the Catholic schools are location in areas that are within the "ultra-orthodox" Jewish cluster, and closures are not due to rising rates in the Catholic schools.

"You have to follow the rules," Cuomo said, when discussing the closures of houses of worship in the recently shuttered ZIP codes of Brooklyn. The latest hotspots are "in the middle of Brooklyn," he said, noting that if there weren't closures, those who are ill within the affected orthodox Jewish community "will make other people sick."

Protests earlier this week within that community railed against the renewed lockdown orders that were aimed specifically at Jewish areas in Brooklyn.

Several Orthodox Jewish groups and the Brooklyn Roman Catholic Diocese filed separate lawsuits against Gov. Cuomo for shutting down businesses in COVID-19 hotspots in New York, and limiting entrances to houses of worship. They are suing to block new restrictions announced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week to contain spikes the spread of the coronavirus. Many Jews felt targeted by how the rules and the Governor’s statements specifically single out houses of worship and Jewish Communities.

Several synagogues and rabbis have filed a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order to bar the state of New York from enforcing its restrictions, saying the limits disrupt the religious observance of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, "depriving them of their religious worship and holiday observance."

Other faith groups and congregations have also challenged the restrictions, including the Roman Catholic diocese of Brooklyn, which filed a separate lawsuit against Cuomo for closing churches in the same neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn where coronavirus rates have spiked.

Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, said that called Cuomo's "unanticipated and draconian limitations" on synagogue attendance concerning. Their lawsuit, filed in a Brooklyn Federal, court argues that the new COVID measures violate their constitutional right to free exercise of religion. They said that although Cuomo said he had "a good conversation" with Orthodox Jewish leaders, it was "largely a one-way monologue."

The lockdowns come as Jews are set to celebrate holidays Hoshanah Rabbah, Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah this coming Friday through Sunday and will be at their synagogues for prayer and other rituals, the suit says.

According to court documents: "Forty-eight hours before the onset of these holidays, Defendant Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order that singles out and discriminates against all houses of worship— and synagogues in particular — by imposing occupancy and gathering restrictions that make it impossible for Orthodox Jews to comply with both their religious obligations and the Order."

Agudah's suit continues that the order "will disrupt the religious observance of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews in New York state, depriving them of their religious worship and holiday observance."

Cuomo's new restrictions focus on clusters of cases and divides neighborhoods into zones; houses of worship in red zones are reduced to 25 percent capacity and 10 people maximum. In neighborhoods that do not have an assigned zone, indoor religious services are limited to 50 percent of the maximum occupancy for the room. Outdoor services have no restrictions. Restaurants can do take-out only and mass gatherings will be prohibited

According to the Washington Post, the resentment toward the coronavirus restrictions is also fueled by past negative experiences with city and state officials. In April, de Blasio received backlash when he tweeted a warning toward those gathering in large groups, specifically naming "the Jewish community," which some feared could spark anti-Semitism.

After a lawsuit was filed by two priests and three Orthodox Jews, a federal judge ruled in June that New York state was violating the First Amendment by restricting religious gatherings while simultaneously allowing both much larger protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

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