Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi ruled on Thursday that praying at the Western Wall should be avoided, as well as all religious services with large groups, due to the danger of infection with the coronavirus, as Israel continued to wrestle with the consequences of the global pandemic

Israeli news site N12 reported that Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef issued a ruling that said, “There is no halachic directive that overrides the instructions of the Ministry of Health” and all such instructions must be obeyed “without exception”.

The chief rabbi further ruled that the Ministry of Health’s orders should be regarded as having the force of halachic law.

“At the request of the Israel Police, one should avoid going to the Western Wall at this time and holding mass prayers there,” he ruled. “And every man and woman should pray close to home.”

The Western Wall is the second-holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount and the site of mass prayers on a daily basis.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef further ruled that large synagogues should divide up worshipers in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Health and weddings should not be delayed, but ought to take place “in a reduced way.”

The chief rabbi justified his ruling on the basis of pikuach nefesh, the halachic concept that the saving of a life overrules the commandments in Jewish law.

“Pikuach nefesh overrides the entirety of the Torah — a sick person in danger eats on Yom Kippur, the Shabbat can be desecrated for a sick person when there is even a hint they are in danger,” he said.