Multiple changes to religious gathering directions create confusion for Outremont Hasidic community

Members of the community are left confused by constantly changing guidelines. Dan Spector/Global News

The Quebec Council of Hasidic Jews says the religious gathering directives they’ve received from public health officials in the last three days have changed multiple times, proving difficult for the community to interpret.

“It’s a sad day when we have to discuss that buying alcohol or cannabis is more protected than to pray in a more secure fashion in our synagogues,” said Abraham Ekstein, a member of the Quebec Council of Hasidic Jews.

As of Friday, public health allowed indoor religious gatherings of up to 10 people. That night police broke up Sabbath prayers at an Outremont synagogue, after they claimed the amount of worshippers was nine times the amount of people allowed.

“The issue was it wasn’t 10, there was at least 90 people if not more that were coming out of a place of worship so I don’t understand where the difficulty in interpreting 10 versus the amount that was present,” Montreal Police Deputy Director Simonetta Barth.

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Read more: Montreal police intervene on illegal gatherings, ramp up presence in Outremont and Plateau areas

In an email obtained by Global News, a Montreal public health director sent the community a note on Saturday evening clarifying the religious gathering guidelines. He wrote “a maximum of 10 people (is allowed) in a house of worship at any given time.”

Then on Sunday, the same director sent another email saying “”in situations where there are multiple non-contiguous zones within one building, simultaneous gatherings of 10 people are allowed if they are held in zones with completely distinct entrances to the outside.”

Finally on Monday, an email from public health director Dr. Mylene Drouin reversed the previous directives given. She writes, “the provincial government has informed us that the decree permitting gatherings of a maximum of 10 people in a house of worship DOES NOT allow for simultaneous gatherings at the same address.”

Ekstein called the situation “impossible,” and said “we are evaluating our options, we are certainly going to discuss with our lawyers.”

Montreal public health refused to comment on the situation and Quebec public health officials didn’t reply to Global’s emails by deadline.

Read more: Montreal police break up three large religious gatherings in Outremont in under 24 hours

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Regardless of the changing directives, Barth said there is no reason for worshippers to act in the manner that they did on Friday night. When police arrived at the synagogue, members rushed out of the front doors, pushing through cops and allegedly calling them “Nazis.”

“Its a completely deplorable situation that happened on Friday,” Barth said. “It’s not the way to do things.”

She says more than 223 people were identified for not complying with the decree and police are launching an investigation into multiple members of the Hasidic community for allegedly assaulting officers in the chaos that ensued Friday evening.

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