Studying in capsules at Bnei Brak yeshiva during the coronavirus pandemic
Studying in capsules at Bnei Brak yeshiva during the coronavirus pandemic
Photo: EPA
Studying in capsules at Bnei Brak yeshiva during the coronavirus pandemic

Concern as virus rages in Israel's yeshivas after Hanukkah

Health Ministry memo seen by Ynet says religious seminaries have lost control over outbreak, no longer isolate infected students and allow many to learn with rest of student body; father of one student says no one in authority willing to speak to parents

Kobi Nahshoni |
Published: 01.03.21, 09:05
The Health Ministry has expressed concerned over an outbreak of coronavirus cases in religious educational institutions, two weeks after the Hanukkah holiday.
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  • In an internal memo seen by Ynet on Saturday, the ministry reports hundreds of Haredi students in some of the large yeshivas have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19.
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    Studying in capsules at Bnei Brak yeshiva during the coronavirus pandemic
    Studying in capsules at Bnei Brak yeshiva during the coronavirus pandemic
    Studying in capsules at Bnei Brak yeshiva during the coronavirus pandemic
    (Photo: EPA)
    The memo notes these institutions have lost control over the outbreak and no longer quarantine students in separate areas, allowing many of them to continue their studies with the rest of the student body.
    The memo notes that since mid-October, nearly 900 students have been identified as having the virus, most of them in the past two weeks as they returned from celebrating the Hanukkah holiday with their families.
    Two of the more well-known yeshivas - the Hebron Yeshiva and the Kol Yaakov Yeshiva both located in Jerusalem - were until recently seen as meticulously observing health mitigation regulations. Now both are experiencing outbreaks with dozens of sick students.
    The Hebron Yeshiva is reported to have closed its quarantine area after people isolated there said their basic needs were not being met.
    After the removal of the sick students to government-run coronavirus hotels was delayed, students were allowed to attend communal studies and roam freely throughout the yeshiva.
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    בדיקות קורונה לתלמידי הישיבה בירושלים
    בדיקות קורונה לתלמידי הישיבה בירושלים
    Yeshiva students line up for coronavirus testing in Jerusalem in October
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    Some of the healthy students at the Hebron Yeshiva have chosen to keep away due to fears of contagion, the Health Ministry memo said.
    The father of one such student told Ynet that the past few weeks have seen a complete reversal in the yeshiva's policy on the virus.
    According to the ministry, there are at least 60 Hebron Yeshiva students with COVID-19, although many more are estimated to have been infected - including some who have failed to report their condition to the authorities.
    "It began when sick students returned to school and did not get tested despite being instructed to do so," the father said.
    "Other students did not observe the separation into small groups and when they tested positive, remained in the yeshiva and did not isolate," he said.
    When more positive test results arrived over the weekend, the yeshiva did nothing, the father said.
    "My son remained in his room with two face masks on," he told Ynet. "He told me that he managed to avoid being infected for nearly a year and with vaccination within sight, he did not want to get sick now."
    He said that no one in authority was willing to speak to the parents and the situation seemed to be out of control.
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    Yeshiva students clash with police attempting to enforce coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem in November
    A Health Ministry official said that yeshiva leaders refused to cooperate with the ministry.
    "The fact that a third of [all yeshiva] students have already contracted COVID-19 is proof that mitigation measures were being ignored even before the recent outbreak," the official said, adding that the ministry should rethink its policy towards those institutions.
    "We've not seen such a breakdown of all regulations since the start of the pandemic," the official said.
    "The leaders of these yeshivas initially cooperated with the ministry not because they were concerned of a virus outbreak but because they thought that would keep their institutions opened and said they were willing even to finance the cost of providing quarantine for students. But after they were given the permission to keep their doors open, they dropped any pretense of following the rules," he said.
    The Hebron Yeshiva declined to comment and the Health Ministry's coordinator for yeshivas said that a delay in receiving the results of tests had caused some of the difficulties in enforcing the health regulations.
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