שושנה חן כתבת ידיעות אחרונות
Shoshana Chen
Photo: Yuval Hen
An ultra-Orthodox man prays at the Western Wall during the coronavirus pandemic

Yeshiva students are not the face of coronavirus violations

Opinion: When rabbis are given exact data and relevant information they can be trusted to guide their flocks through the dangers of COVID-19, and it is time to stop demonizing this community when others who break the rules are embraced by the media

Shoshana Chen |
Published: 10.03.20 , 17:10
Can Israelis just stop the polarizing blame game of "us" versus "them" on social media, which only adds fuel to the fire? It has no real impact on the spiritual leaders of the ultra-Orthodox communities.
  • Follow Ynetnews on Facebook and Twitter

  • These leaders are unfazed by Facebook or Twitter posts. They have never scrolled down social media pages or allowed talkbacks to impact their world view.
    תפילות בכותלתפילות בכותל
    An ultra-Orthodox man prays at the Western Wall during the coronavirus pandemic
    (Photo: EPA)
    They, unlike titans of industry or politicians, do not fear Mark Zuckerberg.
    The vast majority of Haredi Jews prayed on Yom Kippur in small capsules, outdoors, in heartbreakingly empty synagogues or alone in their homes, but were still made the scapegoats for the coronavirus spread.
    Having said that, there is no denying that more and more of the young members of this sector of society have opted to ignore the danger posed by the virus as they increasingly adopt the notion that the fight against the spread of COVID-19 is less a medical battle and more of a war on their faith.
    When secular political leaders, business owners and restaurateurs openly call on the public to violate health regulations, they are given a platform by the news media, while the voice of important rabbis is never heard and their reasoning silenced.
    Where are the basic rules of journalism? How have religious communities become the photogenic poster boys for the violation of health directives? Will these images win over voters in the next election?
    This media bias comes at the cost of our shared interest in understanding the changes impacting those who - more than anyone else - subscribe to the sanctity of life.
    הפגנת חרדים בעיר מודיעין עילית כמחאה על העיכוב של חמישה אברכים בבית כנסתהפגנת חרדים בעיר מודיעין עילית כמחאה על העיכוב של חמישה אברכים בבית כנסת
    Dozens of ultra-Orthodox men in Modi'in Ilit congregate after a crowded religious ceremony was closed down by police
    (Photo: Jorge Novominsky)
    The government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the ultra-Orthodox sector has been a cacophony of ignorance and mistakes. As early as July, religious leaders warned a safe plan must be in place to allow worship during the High Holidays. But only on the eve of Yom Kippur was a budget allocated and a program put in place - and that was too late.
    The Hassidic Gur dynasty invested millions to prepare their central synagogue, a 36,000 meter square hall – the size of a large mall – to accommodate no more than 2,000 worshipers.
    Most of those had self-quarantined for two weeks before attending services. But a rogue few who entered without permission infected many in attendance. Dynasty spiritual leader Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter was not to blame. He too has suffered from the virus, with members of his own family struck down by COVID-19.
    האדמו"ר מגור יעקב אריה אלתרהאדמו"ר מגור יעקב אריה אלתר
    The Ger Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter
    (Photo: Yaakov Elfasi)
    And while tens of thousands of young yeshiva boys remained locked down in their institutions of learning for weeks on end, so that they could continue their study of the Torah, a small minority violated the rules by leaving their quarters and infecting others.
    There were also those in the community who believed that mass contagion would facilitate herd immunity and opted to disregard any health mitigation efforts at all.
    But should the entire yeshiva world be burned at the stake for the sin of a few? Should the fact that parts of the community can be blamed for spreading the virus be enough to make the entire sector a scapegoat?
    Both the religious and secular sectors of Israeli society are hysterical and that is not a state of mind that can help us out of this crisis.
    If it is not already too late, a concerted effort must be made to appeal to the spiritual leaders and the community at large.
    When health officials and medical experts took time to meet Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the prestigious Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, and showed him the latest figures of contagion, he immediately issued a call to the elderly and ill among his flock to remain at home during Yom Kippur. This letter had an impact, although it came too late to reach everyone in time.
    מתפללים בבני ברקמתפללים בבני ברק
    A man prays in solitude in Bnei Brak
    (Photo: AFP)
    A carefully worded appeal from the director of the ICU at Ma'anyei Hayeshuah, the local hospital in Bnei Brak, was also effective. Professor Eliyahu Sorkin warned that 40% of his coronavirus patients were aged between 19 and 50, and not in the so-called "susceptible" age group.
    This must be the way forward. Not by preaching can health officials sway the Haredi community. They must provide data on how many of the flock of these spiritual leaders are sick, how severe is their illness, how many of them contracted the virus in synagogues and so forth. Vital information for those not on social media must be provided with clarity.
    The ultra-Orthodox community is not like its secular neighbors. When testing is provided in a crowded city like Bnei Brak, more than one testing site must be opened if we want to avoid overcrowding.
    עומסים רבים בעמדות בדיקות הקורונה בבני ברקעומסים רבים בעמדות בדיקות הקורונה בבני ברק
    Crowds stand outside the coronavirus testing site in Bnei Brak
    And all efforts must be undertaken with speed. Another religious holiday is upon us and more contagion could occur.
    Without proper handling and information devoid of the backtracking and ineptitude from the government that we've already witnessed, we will surely see more of the mistrust and disregard for health directives that has plagued this sector of society.
    The resumption of yeshiva studies is just over a week away, and the onslaught of winter will only pose additional challenges.
    Talkbacks for this article 0