London Cops Consider Fining Synagogue £10k for Holding Religious Meals: Report

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Members of the Jewish community walk along the street in the Stamford Hill area on January 17, 2015 in London, England. Police have announced they will increase patrols in areas with large Jewish communities such as London and Manchester in response to last week's Paris …
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One of the venues that London police raided over the weekend for holding a “large party” is reportedly a synagogue that was holding religious meals.

On Monday, a press release from the Metropolitan Police Service revealed that the force had handed out £39,000 in fines in just two days across two areas: the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

Scotland Yard said that one of the venues that was raided was a “place of worship” in Stamford Hill, Hackney, which is home to a large Hasidic Jewish community. Officers claimed to have “found evidence of a large party” on Saturday. The MPS returned to the same venue later that day and “found further evidence of another large party”.

“The organiser was reported for consideration of a £10,000 FPN [fixed penalty notice],” the statement read, with the staggering amount being the maximum possible fine handed to organisers of so-called illegal gatherings.

While police would not confirm the nature of the place of worship to The Jewish Chronicle, an Orthodox source from the area told the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper that the venue was a synagogue.

The JC described that the worshippers had been holding a “seudah shlishit – the third Shabbat meal – and then a melaveh malkah [meal], a post-Shabbat celebration” — a notable clarification to the “large party” described by the Met.

England went into a third lockdown on January 4th, but places of worship are allowed to remain open for services. It is also still permissible to consume food and drink if they are “essential to the act of worship”, the government said in its guidelines.

Earlier this month London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan said that the lockdown measures did not go far enough and that places of worship should be shut.

Mr Khan later told Jewish News: “I no longer think allowing in-person gatherings is in the best interest of Londoners’ safety.

“That is why I am calling on the Government to close places of worship immediately, save for funeral services.

“Until that happens, I am urging all of London’s faith communities to look beyond what is technically permitted and focus on the safest course of action for all Londoners – this now means avoiding all communal worship for the time being to help reduce the risk of infections spreading.”

Some places of worship have already voluntarily shut themselves off from their parishioners, including the cathedrals of Blackburn and Derby, with the bishops of Barking and Chelmsford, who oversee churches in Essex and East London, telling their missions to take their worship online.

Mosques in Woking, Surrey, and Cambridge, and in the London boroughs of Hackney, Harrow, Leyton, and Redbridge, have also closed. While just 11 out of 56 Orthodox synagogues that come under the United Synagogue union were still open as of last Wednesday. Reform and Liberal Jewish temples have also shut.

Across Europe, Christian leaders have defied their governments and continued to hold services. In November, Catholics protested across France over the closure of churches. In Lille in December, clergy continued to allow as many Christians as that came into their churches, rather than limiting them at 30, because of the comfort those people in the community needed during the pandemic.

“We understand that the government is focused on the economy. People have to live. But churches are places of comfort that people need right now,” Father Bruno Mary from the Notre-Dame de la Treille Cathedral had said.

In Germany this week, police broke up a gathering at a Pentecostal church in Berlin. Father Bismarck Mpieri had only invited a small number of people to come via Facebook, but was overwhelmed when 170 turned up in need of the support of their faith.

Father Bismarck said it was due to the fact that so many other churches had closed their doors, but “many believers are very lonely at this time.”

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