Ultra-orthodox frustration spills over into violence against police

On Sunday evening, ultra-Orthodox protesters rallied in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, railing against the current lockdown over the High Holidays.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The level of trust between the ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, community and the Israeli government continues to plummet. A series of events has led those calling on the community to ignore health regulations becoming its “heroes,” while those urging strict enforcement have been silenced, Makor Rishon reports on Friday.

The straw that broke the camel’s back may have been the decision by the government to impose a lockdown right before the High Holidays. Last week, ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman resigned to protest the decision.

On Sunday evening, ultra-Orthodox protesters rallied in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, railing against the current lockdown over the High Holidays.

In Bnei Brak, protesters set fire to a dumpster, threw rocks at police officers, and damaged a police car. One person was arrested.

Avraham Zilbershlag, an ultra-Orthdox activist, said in a statement, “The protest is meant to express the feeling of pain in the face of the lockdown’s destructive consequences, which harm religious institutions, the economy and the well-being of residents.”

Anger had been building in the haredi community following comments in early September by corona czar Dr. Ronni Gamzu about haredi leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, as well as a letter Gamzu sent to Ukraine’s president asking him not to let in hasidim who were making their annual pilgrimage to the tomb of their founder, which is in Uman, Ukraine.

Haredim also said they were unfairly singled out by Gamzu’s ‘Traffic Light’ system which rated many haredi cities as “red” zones.

Contributing to the high incidence of infection in those cities is the failure of the “capsule” system for yeshiva students. Makor Rishon reports that thousands of students have been infected with the coronavirus in yeshivas across Israel. Additionally, Health Ministry guidelines are not being enforced within the institutions.

According to the paper, in the first half of September, “within two and a half weeks, thousands of cases of infection broke out in the yeshivas, threatening the boys but also the residents and families in the area.”

One reason for the failure is a larger number of students during the run-up to the High Holiday season. The first lockdown closed yeshivas en masse, sending thousands of students home.

After restrictions were eased, many yeshivas re-opened in a limited capacity, accepting only a fraction of their previous students, but “rabbis and yeshiva heads were disturbed by the sight of tens of thousands of young people wandering the streets of the cities,” reported Makor Rishon.

Yeshivas were instructed to absorb as many students as possible, “even without sufficient preparation and conditions that allow internal separation between the capsules, and without the ability to enforce on the young people the ban on leaving the walls of the institution.”

When restrictions from the first lockdown were eased in April, yeshivas adopted the “capsule system” which at first proved successful.

Yeshiva students were grouped in “capsules” of 20 people. They only interacted with each other, cut off from contact with the other capsules and the outside world.

After two weeks, when none of those in the capsule showed signs of illness, they joined a larger group of students in the yeshiva. By committing to the capsule system, the students agreed to spend long periods of time at the yeshiva without returning home to visit their families.

Students in the capsule system stayed from late April until August in their yeshivas, and there was no reported rise in infections when the students visited their families after four months away.

But this time around, with a larger number of students and many more yeshivas adopting the system, and not enough staff to enforce the Health Ministry guidelines, infections quickly spiraled out of control.

Fearing that positive cases could lead to the shuttering of yeshivas, some institutions adopted anti-quarantine and anti-testing policies. Seven yeshivas in Israel are now functioning as de facto “corona hotels.”