Haredi pressure blocks effort to shutter yeshivas due to corona

Haredi MK Moshe Gafni threatened to leave the coalition.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Even as Israel tightened restrictions on public gatherings due to a huge spike in coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, haredi politicians successfully blocked a proposal to shut down all religious halls of study (yeshivas).

Ultra-Orthodox MK Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party threatened on Sunday that he would advise the senior board of rabbis that runs the political faction to withdraw from the coalition if such a blanket closure was imposed, as requested by the Health Ministry and National Security Council. He explained his reasoning Monday in sharp terms.

“I say this unequivocally – if there is a yeshiva which has infections and they are not following the [Health Ministry] guidelines – close down. Saving lives pushes aside everything else. But I’m against this general statement, ‘Close the yeshivas,’” he said, noting many seminaries are strictly adhering to the guidelines and have zero incidence of the disease.

Gafni stressed the general religious belief that Torah study is simply too important to be pushed aside easily.

“I told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, how can we ask God to prevent the plague if there won’t be Torah study where it’s possible?!”

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The Knesset Research and Information Center seemingly backs up Gafni’s contention that yeshivas aren’t the main problem. As Israel Hayom reported Tuesday, after examining about a third of all those infected, its report said that only 10.3 percent of patients had caught the virus in all educational institutions put together. This included high schools, universities and yeshivas.

It was a widely reported case of a Bnei Brak yeshiva having some 200 of its 500 students testing positive for the virulent disease last week, after dozens fell ill, that caught the attention of the authorities. The head of Yeshiva Beit Matityahu had allegedly told students at first to just stay in their rooms and not get tested, but this was denied by the administration.

So far, 80 of those infected have been taken to a corona hotel, and the rest will be evacuated in the coming days. Bnei Brak is second only to Jerusalem in the number of cases reported in the second wave of infections, with a major reason being the generally crowded conditions in a city full of large families.

The Knesset Research and Information Center report highlighted this danger, finding that 65.8 percent of patients had been infected at home.

Rabbi Gedalyahu Silman, a senior official in the Bnei Brak administration, said the city’s residents have been models of propriety regarding the health rules and that the municipality is keeping a close eye on the streets.

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“Anyone who passes by Bnei Brak will notice that everyone is wearing masks, people are strictly adhering to the guidelines,” he said. “The municipal supervisors and police are working hard and are going everywhere.”