NY Board of Rabbis calls for ‘responsible behavior’ following protests

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The New York Board of Rabbis called recent protests from Hasidic Brooklynites against coronavirus restrictions “shameful” and asked all members of the Jewish community to follow guidelines.

The board, a statewide organization including multiple denominations, issued a statement slamming protesters for disregarding safety, invoking “pikuach nefesh,” the principle that saving lives supersedes religious rules.

“We cannot defend individuals in our Jewish community who demonstrate a blatant disregard for the COVID-19 health protocols and endanger their lives and those of other people,” the board said in a statement issued Thursday. “COVID-19 is a non-discriminating disease that must be fought by all people following the rules without exception.”

The statement follows two nights of demonstrations against the state and the city for implementing new coronavirus restrictions for houses of worship, non-essential businesses, schools and public gatherings in hotspots where cases have surged.

Currently, the most troubling increases have been centered in a large swath of the center of Brooklyn as well as sections of Queens in Far Rockaway and Forest Hills.

Protesters attacked three people over Tuesday and Wednesday nights, including a reporter and freelance photographer, as they pledged not to comply with the new restrictions. On the first night, a group of protesters set fire to a pile of facemasks.

“We are also appalled by the shameful behavior of those who burn masks or beat people who protest their non-compliance,” the board said.

At the same time, the board rebuked certain critics for carrying out the “demonization of an entire community” when only “certain members” are acting irresponsibly.

“We believe in collective responsibility where we are accountable for our behavior and reject collective guilt where everyone is depicted without distinction,” the board went on. “At a time when Anti-Semitism is on the rise, we categorically condemn the demonization of the Jewish people, but we will continue to advocate for safe individual behavior.”

The board pledged to continue to work with government officials to improve compliance.

“Therefore, it is the duty of citizens within those virus hotspots to take responsibility for their behaviors which are no doubt causing the drastic surge in cases,” the board said. “Their job is not to respond with defensive rhetoric, but rather do everything in their power to bring down the spread of COVID-19.”

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