NEW JERSEY - Are weddings at a catering hall okay during a pandemic? This question has a simple answer from the New Jersey Attorney General.

It is No. 

However, as multiple media reports follow on the heels of a story originally published at TAPinto Middletown, the answer in one town depends on whom you ask. 

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According to an Asbury Park Press report, Mayor Coles, of Lakewood, said catered weddings are okay. However, the Attorney General says Executive Orders are in full force and effect. That would necessarily keep the Ateres Reva Catering Hall closed by Executive Order.

The Ocean County Prosecutor said he didn't authorize any venue but, to him, socially distant weddings were okay. According to Coles, the Lakewood Police would also  staff the events to ensure 'social distancing.' It isn't clear if it would be an off-duty job or during the regular day paid by taxpayers.

In another article in the Star Ledger, Lakewood Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg said the arrangement to have small ceremonies at Ateres Reva, the catering hall attached to a school on Summer Avenue, was made in consultation with municipal officials and police.

The premise from the Ocean County Prosecutors' office is that weddings themselves are not an issue. The problem would be with essentially everything that goes into a wedding such as catering, a band, a photographer and family. This is what is offered by Ateres Reva while the governor pleads with residents to stay home, calling violators 'jackasses' and 'knuckleheads' for those who don't listen due to the life threat of COVID-19.

Regardless of Executive Orders, weddings were said to be held at the catering hall, starting Sunday, April 19th.

According to a report in the Asbury Park Press, “The Lakewood Police department conferred with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office to make sure there were no problems with this,” Lakewood Mayor Ramond Coles said. “The purpose is to make sure any events that happen are done in accordance with all the governor’s guidelines.”

The Governor's office has not yet responded to an email requesting information.

The formal start of the catered weddings was in a letter written by Rabbi Aaron Kotler. Kotler heads BMG, the largest Yeshiva in world outside Israel and located in Lakewood. The Lakewood blog that posted the letter after midnight this past Saturday has now deleted it.

Tragically, Lakewood has been hit unusually hard by COVID-19. It is now at the heart of a COVID-19 cluster. Between Lakewood (1330), Toms River (847) and Brick (624) there are now 2,801 COVID-19 cases. When complaints are expressed about the spiking numbers, the word 'Aiva' is used. This word is, for non-orthodox, unfamiliar. 'Aiva' is a word used to describe antisemitism and, recently, a common charge lodged against people who have expressed concerns about Executive Order violations in Lakewood and elsewhere. On multiple social media groups, residents have fought back against being labeled with calls for compliance with Executive Orders.

Ahead of its time?

Kotler's wedding model would have provided hope to all faiths in New Jersey who have been forced to postpone or cancel weddings and seek an 'opening up' for religious celebration such as weddings. With so much tragedy, however, it is not likely to find approval in Trenton anytime soon.

Moreover, according to the report in the Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Attorney General’s spokesman Leland Moore said the state has not reviewed or approved "any plans with respect to weddings at catering halls or elsewhere in New Jersey.”

“The Governor’s Executive Orders and related Administrative Orders concerning gatherings and social distancing remain in full effect and are the most effective tools we have to protect the health of New Jerseyans during this pandemic. As Attorney General Grewal and Colonel Callahan make clear every day in their daily enforcement updates, New Jersey law enforcement will hold those who flout these orders accountable,” Moore said.

The wedding planning letter is in full below:

Letter from BMG’s Rabbi Aaron Kotler.

Dear BMG Friends, Talmidim and Parents,

As we shared in our previous update, we were working on a way for our Kehilla to hold Covid-19 compliant Chasunos.   We are pleased that the authorities charged with Covid-19 enforcement have approved a model and venue for weddings that is 100% compliant with the State of NJ social distancing regulations.

The venue will be available starting this Sunday and will initially run through to Rosh Chodesh and will then resume from Lag B’Omer. The approved location is at Ateres Reva and access to the site will be restricted by law enforcement.  Chasunos will be permitted, beginning with a very small Covid-19 regulations compliant religious ceremony, followed by a Covid-19 compliant dinner, with a 1 man band, fresh florist, catered compliant Seuda for parents and immediate siblings, photographer and video.

There will be limited ability for relatives/ friends to wish Mazel Tov from their cars after the Seuda.  That car entry will be via placards given at the gate of Ateres Reva that will allow access to the parking lot (no building entry will be permitted under any circumstances for the Mazel Tovs).  No one granted entry to the “Mazel Tov” part of the event will be allowed to leave their cars.  All Chasunos will be allocated a  2 hour window time slot from start to finish. For information please contact Mr. Bentzi Inzelbuch at 732-908-2302 or by email at lakewoodwedding@gmail.com.

May we see a quick end to the Mageifah and Refuos and Yeshuos for all,

Rabbi Aaron Kotler

President and Chief Executive Officer

Beth Medrash Govoha