Top rabbi: Unvaccinated teachers not welcome in ultra-Orthodox schools

Teachers Association head: We won’t accept forcing educational staff to vaccinate or stay home unpaid when the rest of the public sector doesn’t have the same rule.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In stark contrast to last year, when ultra-Orthodox rabbis ordered schools to remain open in defiance of the closures in effect in the rest of the country, the religious leadership has now ordered its educational staff to follow the government line to the letter.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the chief spiritual leader of the community, ruled Tuesday that all staff members must get vaccinated, and if they refuse, the school principals should suspend them. Every person should strive to ensure that he not be infected or infect others, he added, as a matter of the Jewish law that states that one should be very careful to protect one’s life. The vaccines are “an aid from Heaven” and everyone should receive them, he said, which clearly indicated his support for all children aged 12 and up should be inoculated as well.

And yet, the issue of vaccinating teachers has become increasingly controversial in Israel’s education system and the country as a whole, threatening a quiet start to the school year next week.

In an interview Wednesday on Radio 103FM, Teachers Association head Ran Erez hit back at a Justice Ministry statement reported by Kan News Tuesday that said that educational staff who are not vaccinated and unwilling to be tested twice a week for COVID-19 will have to go on unpaid leave.

Erez said that he supported the Green Pass system, whereby only those who were inoculated, recovered or tested could enter schools (and other indoor venues), specifying that this included teachers as well as students. What he would not accept was singling out the “approximately 10,000 teachers” who have not been vaccinated from other public employees who have also not received the jab.

“We belong to the public sector,” he said, “and under no circumstances are we willing to accept being forced to be the exceptions.” If the government doesn’t demand the same conditions for everyone it employs, he said, “We will turn to the High Court.”

Education Ministry Director-General Yigal Slovik had noted to the station Sunday a much higher number of unvaccinated educational staff members in the state-run schools – some 30,000, which was 15% of the whole, he said. “We’re calling on them to get inoculated. I think that whoever is not vaccinated and is not willing to be tested, shouldn’t come to school,” he said, although he left open the issue of their pay in such a situation.

“If we’re demanding that the students get vaccinated, how much more so should we require this of the teachers,” he added.

Secretary-General of the Teachers Union Yaffa Ben-David told Army Radio on Tuesday that her group also wants all teachers to get vaccinated, but forcing refusers to stay away will create another, perhaps larger problem.

“We have a huge shortage of teachers,” she said. “Who will take over for an unvaccinated teacher who is sitting at home?”