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Coronavirus bursts Israeli ultra-Orthodox bubble

With the number of coronavirus carriers in the ultra-Orthodox community exploding, it is important for this community to realize that anyone who keeps it from knowledge and information is keeping it from making educated decisions.
An Israeli police officer speaks to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish student at a Yeshiva (Talmudic school) in Bnei Barak, a city east of Tel Aviv with a significant ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, on April 2, 2020, as part of measures imposed by Israeli authorities against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. - Israeli police backed by surveillance helicopters have stepped up patrols of ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods that have become coronavirus hotspots. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP vi

Most Israelis have been holed up in their homes for the past few weeks and isolated from the rest of the world. Yet even as the directives of the Ministry of Health became increasingly stringent, a significant part of the ultra-Orthodox community and leadership continued living in denial. The Israeli media spent many long days reporting about instructions given by the leader of the Lithuanian faction of the ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. He had ordered his followers not to stop yeshiva studies or prayer quorums, and to continue with large weddings and funerals with numerous participants. In fact, these continued to take place in Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine, but while this was going on, Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman, himself the representative of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community in the government and a member of the Gur Hasidic sect, asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to exempt synagogues from the closure order and to  allow the ultra-Orthodox to continue praying in a quorum as is their custom.

That's why no one was surprised when the densely populated ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods became hotspots for the spread of the coronavirus and home to the highest number of people infected. And yet, even after the ultra-Orthodox community recognized the danger inherent in this pandemic, underground "minyanim" (prayer quorums of 10 people at least) continued to take place, with lookouts warning worshippers if the police were coming. Ultra-Orthodox children playing in the streets even coughed on the police and called them Nazis. According to various testimonies, Litzman himself, who has the virus that causes COVID-19, continued to pray in a synagogue quorum despite the directives of the very ministry he heads.

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