Police warn Hasidim they will break up planned massive Sukkot events

Large gatherings expected despite warnings from leading rabbis to follow health guidelines. Police say they will intervene.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Jerusalem police officials warned leaders of several ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem that they will not tolerate traditional large gatherings that are expected to take place during the Sukkot holiday, Walla News reported Thursday.

Jerusalem District Police officials spoke with representatives of various Hasidic sects in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of the capital after news reports showed the construction of venues to host thousands during the holiday next week.

A biblical precept during Sukkot is for Jews to live in temporary dwellings called a sukkah, and several sects are planning to host events where a thousand or more people are expected despite government health restrictions limiting groups to 20 people outdoors during the current coronavirus lockdown in Israel.

Police made it clear that there will be significant enforcement of the violations, but clarified they will first focus on information and dialogue with the community and its leaders regarding what is allowed and what is forbidden during the holidays.

At least three Hasidic sects in Jerusalem have set up large tents with stages and seating to accommodate thousands of people every day during the holiday, and similar events are expected in the city of Bnei Brak. Both cities have been hit hard by widespread outbreaks of coronavirus in their religious communities. While most ultra-Orthodox are following health guidelines, some of the more spiritual hasidic sects have decided to ignore the restrictions, hoping for “herd immunity.”

Two prominent rabbis in Bnei Brak, Shmaryahu Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, issued rulings that their followers should pray only in open spaces, wear masks, and practice social distancing. However, those words will hold weight with their own followers only and not with other sects.

One of the larger gatherings will not happen after the Bratslav hasidic sect announced it will not hold large gatherings this year, Kan Radio reported. Thousands of members have been infected, including many of the approximately 3,000 pilgrims who tried to reach Ukraine last month to celebrate the Rosh Hashana at the grave of the sect’s founder in the Ukrainian city of Uman. Despite warnings from the Israeli and Ukrainian governments not to go, thousands tried in vain to make the pilgrimage and found the border closed, with many of them getting infected there or on flights back to Israel.