Construction and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman announced his resignation from the government on Sunday in protest to the cabinet's intentions to impose a nationwide lockdown during the High Holidays.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Litzman said lamented the fact that the lockdowns would prevent many Israelis, including tens of thousands of Jews who don’t go to a synagogue during most of the year, from attending one of the main Jewish services of the year.
"For about a month now, while we have been dealing with rising infections in Israel, I have been warning against coronavirus czar's Prof. Ronni Gamzu intentions to impose a full closure on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which will prevent hundreds of thousands of Jews from all communities and sectors from praying in synagogues," Litzman wrote.
"Mr. Prime Minister, this is a difficult decision that will significantly reduce the number of people coming to synagogues on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, especially tens of thousands of Jews from a variety of different communities for some of whom this is the only time of year they attend prayers in synagogues.
I reiterated this warning and opposed a full closure on holidays on all forums, at the Coronavirus Cabinet, government discussions, conversations with you and other members of the Cabinet, and also in the media. I said over and over that if a full closure is indeed needed, we should not wait until the situation gets so dire, it should have been decided then, a month ago, two weeks ago and not on the holidays.
Litzman also claimed that the government scheduled the lockdown for the holidays all along despite previous understandings between the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker and Israel's top coronavirus health official, Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
"Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu kept telling me that this was not the intention. Unfortunately, it has been proven that I was right when I said that the decision to close completely during the holidays was pre-marked with unnecessary risk while causing an increase in infections over time," Litzman's letter read.
"An agreement on the opening synagogues was broken and that the decision to impose a full closure would not allow synagogues to operate on the holidays despite our previous accords. Therefore, I will not be able to continue serving as a minister, and I have decided to resign from the government and return to serve as a Member of Knesset under the Norwegian law," he said, referring to a law that allows ministers to resign from the Knesset and allow another lawmaker to replace them, and return to the parliament when they cease to serve as minister.
Before his resignation, Litzman said he would boycott a cabinet meeting in which ministers were set to approve the lockdown.
Netanyahu said in response to Litzman's resignation he was sorry to hear about the move but said that it will not impact policy-making.
"I was very sorry about Minister Litzman's decision to resign from the government. I really appreciate Yaakov Litzman and I also respect his decision," Netanyahu said. "We must move forward, make the necessary decisions for the State of Israel during times of coronavirus, and that is what we will do in this meeting."
Two senior officials from Litzman's United Torah Judaism party said that he launched the threats on his own accord without consulting anyone in the party and criticized him for the timing of his remarks as discussions over a draft bill for yeshiva students and budgets are coming to a conclusion.
In recent meetings, Litzman has led a firm line against the possibility of closure and against coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who he accused of "wanting to overthrow the government." Litzman's remarks were recorded while the microphone on his computer remained open during a Zoom call.
Litzman also warned back in August that his United Torah Judaism party would consider resigning from the government if Israel goes into lockdown during the High Holidays in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.