Haredi minister’s resignation a sign of ultra-Orthodox distrust

Israel Democracy Institute says ultra-Orthodox losing faith in both government and religious politicians.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The coronavirus pandemic has led to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community losing trust in both the government and the religious political parties that represent them, an expert from the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) said Sunday.

The comments came in the wake of the resignation of Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, the head of the United Torah Judaism Party that is a partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

Litzman quit ahead of the anticipated announcement of a national lockdown as the coronavirus infection rate continued to soar out of control. That closure is expected to include a ban on prayer in synagogues for the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur holy days that begin this coming Friday.

“MK Litzman’s resignation is indicative of a very strong sentiment among the ultra-Orthodox community where there is currently a high level of distrust of government policies,” said Dr. Gilad Malach, Director of IDI’s Ultra-Orthodox in Israel program.

“Significant portions of this segment of the population feels that they were singled out in the implementation of the ‘corona restrictions’ enacted by the government and that synagogues are discriminated against in comparison with [public] demonstrations [against the government],” Malach said.

Health restrictions currently limit the number of worshipers. Those at prayer must wear masks and maintain social distancing. During Yom Kippur especially, synagogues are normally packed in many cases to standing room only.

“This perceived harm to their communities’ sense of togetherness and, more importantly to their religious practices, is also reflected in the strong sentiments of anger expressed by ultra-Orthodox voters at their own political representatives who they perceive have failed to fulfill their duties and in doing so betrayed the trust of their voters,” Malach said.

No longer in charge of the Health Ministry, Malach said Litzman was aware of the “percolating sense of rage at the political leadership” and therefore took a stand against the government over the expected lockdown during the 10-day period known as the Jewish ‘High Holidays.’

In a recent IDI survey of how the pandemic was affecting the ultra-Orthodox community’s relationship with the religious political parties, just under a third (32 percent) of the respondents said they still have trust in their politicians. Some 61 percent of haredim feel that their trust has been damaged to some extent with 38.5 percent saying that their trust in ultra-Orthodox parties has been harmed to a large extent.

More than half of the ultra-Orthodox people polled in the IDI survey, 53 percent, said that they have less trust in the Health Ministry that Litzman headed in the first wave of the pandemic when synagogues and religious seminaries were ordered closed, but which led to the successful control of the virus.

Of the ultra-Orthodox who expressed a lack of trust in the Health Ministry, the majority were from the hasidic streams including the Gur Hasidic sect of which Litzman belongs. Litzman was replaced as minister in May as health restrictions were eased, leading to a second wave that has seen Israel become the world’s worst country for infections per capita.

Members of the Gur community blame the government for preventing their annual pilgrimage to the city of Uman in Ukraine where tens of thousand of followers go annually to pray during the Jewish New Year at the grave of their movement’s founder, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

With the infection rate also skyrocketing in Ukraine, government officials in both countries moved to block the sect from traveling, with prominent rabbis in Ukraine adding their voices to the call after several worshipers were infected.