Members of the Orthodox Jewish community are using ‘bespoke legal advice’ in a bid to get round Covid restrictions on weddings, a lawyer has claimed.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said couples were being offered advice suggesting ‘any number of people’ can attend celebrations if they have a ‘prayer element’ – something he criticised.
The claims, which come amid the publication of a study into an unnamed
The event took place at a school in the north London area of Stamford Hill – which is part of a large strictly Orthodox Jewish community.
Under current lockdown rules, weddings are banned unless there is an ‘exceptional circumstance’, with such events limited to a maximum of six people.
However Government guidance on communal worship says limits on the number of people should be decided on ‘the basis of capacity’.
Mr Wagner, who is himself Jewish and has recently been reviewing Covid rules on social media, told
The claims come after a police raid on a 150-strong Jewish wedding celebration last month. The event took place at a school in the north London area of Stamford Hill – which is part of a large strictly Orthodox Jewish community. Pictured left and right: Police carry out the raid
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said couples were being offered advice suggesting ‘any number of people’ can attend celebrations if they have a ‘prayer element’.
He said: ‘It was inaccurate, in quite some significant ways. It hit the wrong tone, it was really about getting around the rules, rather than keeping to the rules because of the dangers of the virus.’
What are the rules on having a wedding during lockdown?
Under lockdown rules introduced on January 4, weddings are banned in England.
However, you can hold a wedding in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
The Government included the example of a seriously ill partner who is not expected to recover as one example.
Another example of an exceptional circumstance included those undergoing ‘debilitating treatment or life-changing surgery’.
However, even these weddings are limited to just six people.
The Government still advises people to stay local where possible, but says people can travel outside their area to attended permitted weddings.
People can also leave the country to attend a wedding, though they do face the normal travel restrictions for the country they are returning from.
However Mr Wagner says the advice has been changing after incidents of large gathering were reported in the media.
He added: ‘The latest advice I’ve seen in the last few days is much better and I think the media attention has told on the individuals who are responsible for it.’
One case which received particular attention was a police raid on a lockdown-breaking wedding of 150 people at a Jewish girls’ school last month.
The guests were found packed inside Yesodey Hatorah Girls’ Senior School in Stamford Hill, north London.
The centre was being used as a coronavirus testing centre, while the school’s principal, Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, had died 10 months earlier of Covid-19.
Police said the organiser faced a £10,000 penalty. Five others faced £200 fines after officers busted the address following a tip-off.
The incident sparked wide-spread condemnation from leaders in the Jewish community, including Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who tweeted last month: ‘At a time when we are all making such great sacrifices, it amounts to a brazen abrogation of the responsibility to protect life and such illegal behaviour is abhorred by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community.’
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the breach ‘goes against Jewish teaching that preserving life is of the highest value’.
‘The reckless and dangerous behaviour of those behind this event does not represent the attitude of the vast majority of British Jews, including from within the Strictly Orthodox community, who are fully aware of the terrible toll of this pandemic.
Meanwhile, the BBC also obtained video from another wedding in Stamford Hill, also believed to be last month.
The video shows a large group of people dancing at a wedding while standing in a circle.
Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, who is president of Shomrim in Stamford Hill, chairman of the Arab-Jewish Forum and chairman and founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, told the BBC weddings should ‘not go on under these circumstances’.
Meanwhile, Michael Marks, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he had recently studied a number of Covid infection in an unnamed orthodox London community.
He said he found the Covid rate to be up to five times higher than the London average at the time.
But he said this was likely down to the increased chance of households in the ultra-Orthodox community having inter-generational living arrangements.
He told the BBC: ‘In the UK the immediate average household size is just over two people, whereas in this community it’s more like seven or eight people.
‘Do I think people in this community have broken the rules, yes, because lots of people all over the UK have broken the rules. ‘
When asked for a comment on the Stamford Hill wedding claims, the Met Police referred to its general advice on illegal large gatherings.
Speaking after the Government announced it would be giving police powers to hand-out £800 fines for those attending large parties, as well as the £10,000 maximum fines for organisers, Commander Alex Murray, the Met’s lead for Covid-19 enforcement, said: ‘If you are planning on attending an illegal gathering, party or raves you are not only taking a very serious health risk but also a much bigger financial risk.
‘I hope that these increased fines will discourage some of the events we’ve seen in recent weeks – events which are no doubt adding to the already huge pressure on our health services and potentially leading to avoidable deaths.’
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