This article is translated from my french post.
Thanks to Jean Guetta for his help.
In recent days, many pictures are circulating showing weddings or funerals organized in Israel greatly exceeding the number of people authorized by the containment rules.
It turns out that the Orthodox city where I live, Bnei Brak, has been the city most affected by the virus in the past few days.
Many believe that the Orthodox Jewish leadership and its Rabbis are not calling to abide by the rules, leading to the current problems. So I wanted via this post to clarify what is really happening.
Already, to fully understand the subject, you must know that the Orthodox world is not a single entity.
It is divided into very many factions. Even if they are almost all united, there are some factions which do not respect the rules issued by the mainstream religious leaders and follow some so-called isolated leaders.These are those who demonstrate, for example, to oppose military service, while the mainstream religious leaders have prohibited such demonstrations.
(Note that however, they sometimes advise to demonstrate against the desecration of Shabbat depending on the circumstances)
These are those who participated by the hundreds in the funeral on Saturday evening March 28… not respecting the rules.
You should know that from day one of the implementation of Binyamin Netanyahu’s first decisions and in particular of quarantining people arriving from abroad for 15 days, the Rabbis responded unanimously that if one knew one or several people who did not respect these rules, they had to be reported to the police immediately. I personally threatened many of my friends as a result of this decision.In the same way when the prayers services were limited to 10 people, these same Rabbis replied that it was forbidden to organize larger services and that the 2 meters distance between people had to be respected.
To simplify, according to religious leaders, one has to obey to ALL the Ministry of Health’s rules.
During the first summon to close the schools, the Orthodox schools for girls closed, but those for boys continued for a few days, respecting the 2 meters distances between the pupils, and prohibiting more than 10 pupils per class. All this was allowed by law because these schools are not part of the classical Israeli educational system. Following orders from Rav Haim Kaniewski, leader of the Orthodox world, the boys schools wanted to continue the study of the Torah, since, according to our tradition, this study of crucial importance ; but obviously they didn’t intend to take the slightest risk.
The same for the Yeshivots: student respected the 2 meters distance and studied often outdoors as you can see in the photo below taken at the Yeshiva of Hevron 10 days ago. (The Yeshiva has been closed since).
After a few days, we all realized that keeping the distances was complicated and that there were always some careless students passing between the ranks. It happens everywhere, there will always be slobs who want to show off, and then cry upon the disaster.
For more than 10 days, the schools have been closed, the Yeshivots too. There are programs through the phone via voice servers that allow students to study, but apart from that, we stay at home.
As for the Synagogues, they remained open with a maximum of 10 people respecting the 2 meters rule as required by law. But we quickly realized this was very difficult to implement, almost impossible. The law then asked to pray only with a maximum of 10 people outdoors and today, Sunday March 29, Rav Kaniewski asked to pray at home. (He took the opportunity to reiterate that we must report those who do not respect all the rules to the police)The fact that part of the public is disconnected, does not have a smartphone or internet access prevents him from following the directives in real time and realizing the seriousness of the problem. In addition, we are in the pre-Passover holiday season and it is clear that this is the busiest time of year for shopping. So people feel compelled to go out and say that they “have no choice” … which is unfortunately often true.
Others believe that it is “good” not to go out but that it is not compulsory … The proof is that the police doesn’t say anything when they see them outside.
Personally, I think the government must be much tougher now by using the military to warn and punish the population.
Communication also needs to be much stronger with street announcements. Some private associations have broadcast messages, but this is clearly not enough.
Finally, it should be remembered that Bnei Brak is the city with the highest population density in the country, with a very strong sense of brotherhood between its inhabitants and a majority of large families (a few years ago, we were talking about 8 children per couple on average). Many people invite each other, parties are organized all the time (Bar Mitzva, Weddings, Torah classes etc …). The houses are often too small for the children, who play in the stairwells or the courtyards.
All these elements allow you to live a wonderful life in normal times but unfortunately pose great risks of contagion during an epidemic.
Many anti-religious people now find the pretext of the virus to still spit venom on the religious population as they do on every occasion to justify their own secular Jewish life filled with paradoxes and nonsense. My message is therefore there to clarify things. The Orthodox population fears the Virus when it is informed and fears it like everyone else but the parameters cannot be compared to those of Tel Aviv or any other city.
I obviously know that this will not silence the propagandists but I just hope it will set the record straight.
In the meantime, let’s be careful, let’s follow all the instructions to the letter, let us be even more rigorous than what we are asked and let us not forget to pray to Heaven to heal all our sick, and to stop this nightmare.