A week before the November 3 presidential election, the Admorim of Pupa, Bobov, Munkach, Vishnitz, Skver, Rachmanstrivka, and Satmar, and a dayan of the Crown Heights Beis Din joined rosh yeshivos of Lakewood, Philadelphia, and South Fallsburg in praising President Donald Trump for his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his declaration that “houses of worship and religious institutions should be considered ‘essential’”
Local officials like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio profoundly denigrated religion by refusing months ago to include houses of worship and learning on their list of “essential” institutions entitled to special consideration during lockdowns. This although they imposed a crazy-quilt definition of “essential” that allowed some close-encounter retail businesses (like liquor stores), subways, and buses to operate. They also permitted – apparently “essential” – massive protests against the police involving thousands of participants.
In their letter to the president, the rabbis alluded to the irony of worship and religious study being restricted precisely at a time of great uncertainty when many ordinarily look to their faith and prayer for solace and divine guidance:
Like all tribulations, as we face this unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, we rely on our faith and trust in G-d to overcome the overwhelming challenge. This is why your affirmation of religious liberty is so important especially at a time when we need our houses of worship and religious schools open – in a safe and sensible manner – now more than ever. Your unwavering support for the religious liberty has sent a clear and unequivocal message that the right to pray and study in non- negotiable. Houses of worship and religious schools are indeed essential and indispensable to nourishing the soul, much as food nourishes the body.
When major custodians of the Jewish people’s post-Holocaust recovery speak as one about host governments, we should take heed. The depredations of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio are nothing new. Relegating religion to a position of inferiority posing special risks to society is also unfortunately not new. Nor is putting a Jewish face on a catastrophe that has overtaken a country.
It is now more important than ever that someone sensitive to these concerns continue to lead our country.