How Australians are adapting to strict new rules for weddings and funerals

COVID-19 has dramatically changed how Australia's weddings and funerals are held.

Rabbi Shmueli Feldman believes the new guidelines are "extremely necessary."

Rabbi Shmueli Feldman believes the new guidelines are "extremely necessary." Source: SBS

Australia's wedding and funeral providers are rapidly adapting to new restrictions that came into effect on Thursday to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Only five people are now allowed at weddings - the couple marrying, the celebrant and two witnesses.

For funerals, the numbers will be restricted to 10, although the government has now allowed the states to grant waivers on hardship grounds. 

'Extremely necessary'

Canberra-based Rabbi Shmueli Feldman believes the new guidelines are "extremely necessary to prevent the spread of this virus in our communities".

He told SBS News on Thursday there are many community events in the Jewish religion, and in this climate, such gatherings have been known to pose significant risks.

"We've seen throughout the world, in many countries, many Jewish communities [have been] affected, and much of that has been pointed back to community events, and services and things of that nature.

Many groups have been impacted.
Source: SBS News

Rabbi Feldman said restrictions on such gatherings had been imposed prior to the Federal Government's announcement.  

"We've already, weeks ago, put guidelines in place, that there shouldn't be many people at the wedding."

But he added that the bare minimum for a Jewish wedding ceremony is 11 people, and so community leaders are seeking to be granted exceptions. 

"Some representation is currently being made to look at that, whether we can make that like funerals as well, make it an open space."

However, Rabbi Feldman stressed that the safety of the community always comes first.

"According to Jewish law and practice, the preservation and sanctity of human life must come before any type of religious activity."

An emotional time

Steve Kellaway from Olsens Farewells said it has been an emotional time for families, but they have been handling it well.

"People are anxious, but I am really pleased to say the families coming to us and the staff have been calm.

"We have had no quarrels with families or within families. Everyone has been really accepting of the rules, which is great."

But he conceded the new restrictions are going to have a drastic impact on the business and how funerals are conducted generally. 

"It is going to be tough for all of us."

Mr Kellaway said services will be filmed for those who cannot attend, in compliance with the social distancing requirements. 

"The elderly and infirm can stay at home with a mobile phone and with other family members. They can comfort each other in their time of grief, which is going to be intense. But it is better to do that than to stay in total isolation."

Picaluna Beautiful Funerals in Sydney plans to scale up its live-streaming video services to clients.

Co-founder Greg Inglis said it is the best they can do to connect the bereaved during such a challenging time.

"One of my celebrants said - just on a funeral yesterday - that it was quite bizarre because like with a wedding, with a funeral there is that human element.

"There are the hugs and cuddles after the funeral. And she said there was none of that, not even with the family members - and it broke her heart."

Weddings postponed

Many couples planning weddings have been forced to downsize their events, or postpone altogether.  

Celebrants are among Australian businesses having to rapidly change the way they do business to comply with social distancing measures
Source: Supplied

Sydney celebrant Stephen Lee said while it is upsetting news for many, it is necessary to preserve the health and wellbeing of all involved.

"Reducing a wedding to just the legal minimum [of five] is going to be very challenging for most couples but perhaps none more so than for couples where their cultural or ethnic perspective means that a big wedding is something they have been planning, and looking forward to for a long time, and something that is indeed expected within the community.

"The real key here is to be flexible.

"We can postpone plans into the future. But nobody knows where this pandemic is going to take us. So stay flexible, stay alert and stay informed."

Australians must stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Indoors, there must be a density of no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at

Published 26 March 2020 at 6:44pm
By Camille Bianchi, Biwa Kwan