LA County Drops Policy Threatening Small, Family Observances Of Jewish High Holidays

A Jewish New year ( Rosh ha Shana) table display is seen in a jewish home on September 16, 2020 (Photo by Mendy Hachtman/ Flash90)

LOS ANGELES (VINnews) — Last night, Los Angeles County officials informed First Liberty Institute that they will not “dispatch Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies to the homes of Jewish families gathered for religious meals during the High Holidays inside someone’s homes.”

This develeopment came a day after First Liberty sent a letter to county officials urging them to reverse their policy barring Jewish residents from observing the High Holidays with other families inside private homes.

The original letter sent by First Liberty informed the county that Rabbi Yisrael Gelb intended 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.”

Before the county officials bacled down from their policy, First Liberty weighed 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.”

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