Tali Farkash
Tali Farkash
Photo: Gabi Menashe
Ultra-Orthodox men protesting lockdown in a Haredi area of Jerusalem

Haredi sector chose way of life over sanctity of life

Opinion: Despite ultra-Orthodox leadership's official stance urging followers to adhere to Health Ministry instructions, both population, politicos choose to preserve the status quo at any cost

Tali Farkash |
Published: 09.13.20 , 14:43
In light of the ultra-Orthodox sector's announcement that it was ceasing all cooperation with the authorities, it seems that the rift between the community and coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu is irreparable.
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  • Despite Gamzu's belated attempts to apologize, his remarks about Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and the high infection rate among the sector pushed the ultra-Orthodox MKs to do what they do best - take to the streets.
    מחאה חרדים רוממה ירושליםמחאה חרדים רוממה ירושלים
    Ultra-Orthodox men protesting lockdown in a Haredi area of Jerusalem
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    Haredi sources say that yeshiva students don't usually leave their places of learning before Yom Kippur, and that by then everyone who is currently infected will already be "after the virus", thus rendering any isolation by the authorities unnecessary.
    Some yeshivas even organized "contagion parties" that involved sharing a hookah in order to make sure everyone present gets infected, thus eliminating the need for isolation and social distancing.
     הרב חיים קניבסקי ו רוני גמזו הרב חיים קניבסקי ו רוני גמזו
    Prof. Ronni Gamzu, left, and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
    (Photos: Dana Kopel, Shlomi Cohen)
    The issue here is twofold: First, there is always the chance one of the yeshiva students who was infected would develop a serious case of COVID-19 that could even lead to death. Such a scenario has happened before.
    Second, there are some yeshivas that do allow their students to go home, not to mention the staff in these places who do get to go home every single day.
    In recent days, many ultra-Orthodox parents have taken home their children who have been infected by the virus in yeshivas. Those infected students will now stay in isolation inside crowded ultra-Orthodox homes packed with children.
    Additionally, there are a few yeshivas that decided to allow students to attend weddings or other social gatherings in celebration of Shabbat. This conduct poses risk of infection to others.
    Haredi MKs have avoided any hard-hitting questions regarding the soaring numbers of infected in their own backyard, their continued helplessness in treating the phenomenon, their abandonment of Haredi municipalities - many of which were left to contend with the rise in infected alone - and the repeated violations of patients and those in isolation.
    שוטרים בכניסה לבני ברק בעקבות הסגר הלילישוטרים בכניסה לבני ברק בעקבות הסגר הלילי
    Night-time curfew is enforced in Beni Brak
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    Many in Israel still remember the enormous wedding organized by the fifth Belzer Rebbe Yissachar Dov Rokeach for his grandson, and the subsequent orders to his followers not to get tested.
    There are numerous other rebbes who have given similar instructions to their followers, the results of which we are seeing today with the rising number of infected among the Haredi population.
    There are those who are blaming the Health Ministry for "not providing adequate explanation" to the various rabbis regarding the consequences of such decisions.
    These voices are extremely naïve, and hang on the belief that the halakhic commandment of "stay away from danger" is enough to sway the rabbis to listen to the authorities.
    The ultra-Orthodox community is one rooted in community and family life, and daily meetings.
    The contagion is a direct threat to the Haredi way of life.
    הפגנה של תושבי רוממה במחאה על הסגר שהוטל על השכונההפגנה של תושבי רוממה במחאה על הסגר שהוטל על השכונה
    Ultra-Orthodox men protesting lockdown in areas of Jerusalem
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    Synagogue prayers, yeshivas and various religious ceremonies are the very lifeblood of the ultra-Orthodox way of life. From communal prayers to going to Uman, it's all performed in unison.
    This sense of community has been under attack for the last six months. The Haredi population simply cannot contend with leaving their synagogues closed and their yeshiva students idle.
    They saw the dwindling number of people in the synagogues and the increasing number of students leaving the yeshivas as personal attack on the very core of their way of life.
    The trend of undermining regulations can be seen as a conscious decision to sacrifice the halakhic value of the sanctity of life in the name of the ultra-Orthodox community and religious way of life.
    Meanwhile, there is another war going on inside the community - a power struggle between Kanievsky and the rightful leader of the ultra-Orthodox-Lithuanian sector, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein.
    Rabbi Gershon Edelstein Rabbi Gershon Edelstein
    Rabbi Gershon Edelstein
    (Photo: Shlomi Cohen)
    According to Edelstein, the sector must abide the Health Ministry's instructions without fail. And despite his many efforts, it seems Edelstein remains unsuccessful in his attempts.
    When Kanievsky ordered the yeshivas open for fear of "canceling the Torah," Edelstein expressed a completely opposite position, supporting the health experts' recommendations.
    We all know what happened in the end and how the pandemic spread in Bnei Brak and led to numerous deaths in the city. That came to pass because the ultra-Orthodox population decided to preserve its way of life, instead of abiding by the responsible position of Edelstein.
    מחאה של חרדים בכיכר השבת בירושליםמחאה של חרדים בכיכר השבת בירושלים
    Police close down a synagogue in Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    When Edelstein believed that the synagogues should be left closed and prayers continued in the open air, the ultra-Orthodox political echelon chose otherwise, and pressured the Health Ministry to reopen them – in complete contradiction to the official leadership.
    The reality today is that the ultra-Orthodox chose not to adhere to religious values - it is not the voice of halakhah and logic that has prevailed, but the power of inertia. The power of a way of life.
    When the ultra-Orthodox public is faced with a choice between the religious values and the ultra-Orthodox values, it tends to repeatedly choose the ultra-Orthodox one.
    The sector has learnt to lie, dodge and obfuscate simply to keep its way of life intact.
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