Hackney mayor tells ultra-Orthodox Jews to stop holding big weddings

The Mayor of Hackney has called on Orthodox Jews to stop holding massive weddings after a string of events breaking lockdown rules emerged.

Police broke up a 150-strong gathering in Stamford Hill, north London, at a strict Orthodox Charedi Jewish school last Thursday.

Guests fled from the wedding held at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School when police arrived at around 9.15pm, where some had covered up windows and closed gates to hide the celebrations.

The school’s former principal, Rabbi Avroham Pinter, died from coronavirus last spring, according to the Jewish News

The publication also claims that at least 50 illegal Orthodox weddings have happened during lockdown.  

A file picture of a legal Orthodox wedding in Stamford Hill before the coronavirus pandemic

Initial calls to police suggested some 400 people attended the wedding last Thursday, but officers later said there were around 150 guests.

The organiser of the event was reported and could have to pay a £10,000 fine while five other attendees were issued with £200 fixed penalty notices, Scotland Yard said.

Since police released details of the coronavirus breaches, further reports of similar large-scale weddings in the area emerged online.

Hackney Council said the events had been taking place behind closed doors in various venues in the borough.

Hackney Council said the events had been taking place behind closed doors in various venues in the borough. Pictured is Philip Glanville Mayor of Hackney

Hackney Council said the events had been taking place behind closed doors in various venues in the borough. Pictured is Philip Glanville Mayor of Hackney 

A bride circles her groom at an Orthodox wedding in Stamford Hill before the pandemic

A bride circles her groom at an Orthodox wedding in Stamford Hill before the pandemic

In an open letter to the Charedi Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, the authority called on residents to avoid risking lives by holding or attending such events.

Philip Glanville, mayor of Hackney, said he was shocked by the mass gatherings.

Rules on UK weddings during third lockdown 

The UK Government has said people in England should only consider booking a wedding or civil partnership, or continuing with one already booked, in ‘exceptional circumstances’. 

This may be if someone or a partner is seriously ill and not expected to recover, or is to undergo debilitating treatment or life-changing surgery. 

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies must only take place with up to six people. Anyone working at the event is not included in the total.

People are urged to stay local and avoid travelling outside of their local area, but they are able to travel in England to attend a wedding if they ‘absolutely need to’ and it is being held in accordance with the legislation.

People can also leave England and travel to other parts of the UK or abroad, to attend a marriage. This is again when it is taking place as set out in the legislation, subject to any travel restrictions in that country.

He added: ‘The most recent media reports are absolutely shocking. And, if true, demonstrates that a small – but significant and selfish minority – of the community have a total disregard for their own safety, and that of their family and friends.

‘I am in absolutely no doubt that if regular, mass gatherings have been taking place, as described, lives will have been lost as a direct result. And our local health services will have been directly impacted.’

Mayor Glanville added that the majority of the Charedi population have been following lockdown guidelines, and are as ‘angry shocked and upset by recent events as I am’.

He said: ‘I appreciate the efforts undertaken by many individuals and organisations within the Charedi community to communicate government and local guidance clearly and keep the community safe from harm, while supporting each other and protecting life.

‘It is very clear that government guidance says that no wedding with more than six individuals present should be taking place anywhere in Hackney and we will be making that even clearer in the coming days.

‘However, we are also aware that the Charedi community is highly visible and vulnerable to anti-Semitism, which we know has been on the rise in recent years, and that the high profile of this incident has made many feel anxious.

‘We have emphasised our strong partnerships with the community, and that the council and the police are here to enforce the rules, but also protect them from anti-Semitism and any other abuse or threats.

‘The council’s leadership this week has been listening to residents from all communities and meeting with key partners, including community organisations, Yesodey Hatorah School and the Rabbinate to discuss recent events.

‘In every discussion we have emphasised how unacceptable these events are and how the council will redouble our efforts to work with the police, government and local people to keep not just the Charedi community, but everyone in Hackney safe. We will provide more updates on this work next week.’

The former principal of the girls' school died of coronavirus last spring, according to the Jewish News

The former principal of the girls’ school died of coronavirus last spring, according to the Jewish News

The Yesodey Hatorah Secondary Girls School in Stamford Hill, North London, where officers broke up a wedding attended by around 150 people on Thursday evening last week

The Yesodey Hatorah Secondary Girls School in Stamford Hill, North London, where officers broke up a wedding attended by around 150 people on Thursday evening last week

Alongside other east London council leaders and mayors, the mayor of Hackney wrote to faith leaders earlier this month and joined Hackney’s Faith Forum to ask them to work together to pause communal worship in response to rising virus case rates.

He wrote: ‘One key strategy to reduce COVID-19 infection rates is to pause communal worship and this is something many local places of worship are either already doing or are actively considering.

‘None of us want to see places of faith or their facilities close to communal worship, but these are challenging times and we must do all that we can to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and reduce pressure on the NHS.’

The letter, which is co-signed by the Borough Police Commander, Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett, and Hackney’s Director of Public Health, Dr Sandra Husbands, emphasises the significant risk to life of holding or attending mass gatherings and has wide support from the community.

It will be delivered today to every Charedi home in the borough with the local community newssheet, Heimishe, the council said.