Attorneys Weighing Legal Action Over LA County Rosh Hashanah Restrictions

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Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer takes questions at a news conference in Los Angeles, Mar. 12, 2020 (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

LOS ANGELES (VINnews) — An attorney’s letter sent to Los Angeles County on behalf of a local Rabbi seeks to have the county reverse a policy which would restrict in-home gatherings for Jews on the High Holy Days.

The letter, which is signed by First Liberty Senior Counsel’s Stephanie Taub, informs the county that Rabbi Yisrael Gelb intends to spend time with another family over Rosh Hashanah, the restrictive policy notwithstanding.

“In accordance with millennia-old tradition, Rabbi Gelb intends to gather with another family to observe the High Holy Days safely in the host family’s home,” read the letter, which was addressed to county counsel’s office and Department of Public Health.

“Los Angeles County now has the opportunity to demonstrate whether it intends to follow through on its threat to criminalize the observance of the High Holy Days at a family’s dinner table or whether its profoundly disrespectful language was a mere empty threat. The county must immediately remove all language from county policy threatening to police small, religious gatherings at family homes.”

The letter also accused the county of a double standard, pointing to its tolerance of recent mass protests that plagued California, particularly a June 7 demonstration in Hollywood which Black Lives Matter organizers estimate to have had an attendance of almost 100,000.

“After Los Angeles county has allowed political gatherings of up to 100,000 attendees, it is outrageous that the county would publish a policy threatening to crack down on extended family sharing a meal for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur,” the letter said. “It is simply beyond the pale to threaten to police the homes of observant Jews during the High Holidays under threat of criminal penalties.”

According to First Liberty, the county’s initial guidelines released on September 2 included a reference to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur by name. It took until September 14 for the language to be altered to instead prohibit “having any meal with extended family and friends for a religious or cultural holiday.”

“Although now hiding behind obscured language, the threatened enforcement remains,” said First Liberty in a press release. “Violations of local health orders are a crime, punishable by fines or imprisonment.”

First Liberty is weighing legal action, contending that the policy infringes on the First Amendment rights of religious people, particularly considering the indication of bias, as shown by the handling of protests.

“Restricting all gatherings with others for the High Holidays is not narrowly tailored to be the least restrictive means of fulfilling the government’s interest,” the letter read. “The county’s tolerance of mass gatherings for protest purposes undercuts any argument that it must prohibit Jewish families from hosting guests for a meal before Yom Kippur.”

In a statement to Fox News, LA County said residents would be able to hold religious gatherings as long as they kept to the social distancing guidelines.

“We recognize that religious services are central to many of our residents’ lives, especially in these trying times, and religious services have been allowed to be held online and outdoors with physical distancing and the use of face coverings, and they may continue to be held with those public health safeguards in place,” read an email by the county’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center, Joint Information Center.

According to the New York Times coronavirus tracker, new COVID cases in California have declined by 31% over the last 14 days, while deaths have ticked up by 3%.

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