In what could potentially complicate social distancing enforcement in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said that religious gatherings of 10 people or fewer could begin statewide on Thursday provided that congregants wear masks and socially distance.
The announcement comes after the governor was asked on Sunday whether the state would consider allowing limited ceremonies upstate for Jewish congregants wishing to observe Shavout, a major holiday that marks the spring harvest and the granting of the Torah by God on Mount Sinai.
The number 10 happens to correspond with the number of Jewish males (or in some cases, women and men) required to form a quorum, also known as a minyan, for synagogue services.
During his press briefing in Albany, Cuomo said the state was convening the Interfaith Advisory Council to discuss ways of bringing back religious ceremonies. He acknowledged that religion is a source of comfort to many, especially during the current climate of stress and anxiety.
"But we need to find out how to do it, and do it safely and do it smartly," he said. "The last thing we want is having a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected."
The first identified coronavirus hotspot in the state was in New Rochelle, where numerous infections were traced back to a synagogue member.
But in what has become a routine lack of coordination between city and state officials, it was not clear whether Cuomo alerted New York City officials about the change. A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio did not immediately respond to inquiries about the order and whether the city was prepared to enforce it. The mayor did not address the issue during his morning briefing.
The city has struggled to get members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to comply with social distancing rules.
On the same day as the governor said he would permit small gatherings, hundreds of Hasidic teenagers were discovered covertly receiving religious instruction.
On Monday, New York City police officers ordered the closure of a Yeshiva in Brooklyn that had approximately 60 students inside the building. Afterwards, the mayor tweeted that the school had been issued a cease and desist order.
Prior to that, the NYPD broke up several heavily-attended Hasidic funerals, including one in Williamsburg that the mayor personally helped dispersed.