MONTREAL -- The Hasidic Jewish communities of Quebec have won their case in court: up to 10 people will be able to gather in each hall of a synagogue to pray.

The Superior Court ruled that the limit of 10 people does indeed apply per room - and not per place of worship.

However, each room must have independent access to the street, without sharing a common space with other rooms.

“We are relieved by the judgment which we now received, which confirms that our interpretation of the government decree was right,” said Abraham Ekstein, a member of the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec. “We have always acted in good faith.”

The 53-page judgment, rendered Friday by Superior Court Judge Chantal Masse, will allow for a greater number of people to meet to pray or take part in a ceremony.

While the health rule enacted by the Legault government to curb the spread of COVID-19 allowed 10 people per place of worship, the faithful can now be 40, for example, if the building has four rooms.

On Monday, the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec and other communities argued that the limit of 10 people per building was unacceptable, and violated their freedom of religion.

They argued that prayer is at the heart of their lives, and is intrinsically linked to their communities. 

Their lawyers presented evidence that many important prayers and ceremonies, such as circumcision, require the presence of a quorum of ten adult men.

The Quebec Council of Hasidic Jews, which represents 5,000 families, argued that in synagogues, each room has a separate entrance and exit and that rules on social distancing and mask wearing are respected.

The lawyers also pointed to other examples in Montreal where more than 10 people are permitted to enter a building.

Lawyers representing the province said the rules on 10 people per place of worship were put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic worsening in Quebec in recent months.

The case was brought before the court following several incidents where more than 10 people were found in synagogues. Numerous fines were issued, but city officials apologized to the community, acknowledging that rules had changed multiple times in a matter of days.

In her ruling, Judge Masse also encouraged rigorous respect of public health rules.

Reacting to the ruling at a press conference, Ekstein said the council would work hard to rebuild bridges and continue an open dialogue with public health authorities.

“It’s not the time to declare victory,” he said. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. We all have a battle to win to make sure that the security of everyone is protected.” 

-- with files from The Canadian Press