A rabbi accused of violating Governor Phil Murphy's executive order against gatherings, has said he will continue to hold religious services in his backyard despite his recent arrest.
Yisrael Knopfler, a rabbi from Lakewood, New Jersey, told NJ.com that he will "absolutely" continue to hold orthodox Jewish prayer services in the backyard of his home. Before his arrest, Knopfler joined another New Jersey clergy member, a Christian reverend, in filing a lawsuit against the state over the ban of large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, which, according to him, unconstitutionally targets religions.
The suit argues that if some essential businesses can stay open with adjustments, houses of worship should be allowed to do the same.
Knopfler was arrested over religious service in backyard
The 44-year-old rabbi was arrested on Monday, May 11, for holding a religious ceremony in his backyard to celebrate Lag B'Omer, a minor holiday commemorating the end of a historic plague which typically includes bonfires and concerts. Knopfler was arrested for allegedly violating the state's Executive Order 107, which prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.
A video of Knopfler's arrest was shared on FAA Lakewood, a whistleblower Facebook page that focuses on the Orthodox community. The clip shows the police arresting the rabbi while a crowd shouts at the police, calling them "Nazis," "Gestapo" and "anti-Semites."
Knopfler told the publication that there were about 40 people who attended the ceremony in his backyard, which he described as a "very harmless affair" with social distancing rules being followed.
The rabbi, who has been charged with resisting arrest and obstruction, is accused of physically blocking officers, screaming in their faces, and picking up a a large metal tent pole before officers grabbed it from him.
Knopfler says he did stand in front of the officers with his hands out to the side to block their path back, until the walkway became too narrow to continue backwards. He added that he tripped over broken tent while backing away from the officers and picked up the pole to move it, not to threaten the officers.
This isn't the first time police have responded to a religious service held by Knopfler. According to a lawsuit filed in a Newark federal court, police had broken up gatherings at the Lakewood on April 3 and 13.
The second time police responded, congregants hid inside with garbage bags taped over the windows to avoid police, something Knopfler's lawyer has compared to Kristallnacht, a night of violence against the Jewish people of Germany during the Holocaust.