Vaccinations exceed 200,000 as Israel prepares to lock down; Chief Rabbi objects to Sabbath shots

Pace of vaccinations increasing daily with 210,000 inoculated so far, but Chief Rabbi objects to plans to give shots on the Sabbath.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Friday that 210,000 Israelis have received coronavirus vaccinations in the first week of the national program to inoculate Israel’s 9.2 million citizens.

“Thanks to you, 210,000 people are on the road to being more protected,” Edelstein said in a statement to the Israeli public. “This is just the beginning, We will increase the pace in the coming days.”

Health Ministry statistics showed that 7,700 people were vaccinated on the first day of the program Sunday, and that number surged to 74,100 by Thursday.

The first groups to receive the vaccine were front-line health care workers, followed by those aged 60 and above and Israelis deemed to have health conditions that put them at high risk of serious illness or death should they contract the disease.

With Israelis lining up for vaccinations, Edelstein on Thursday ordered the campaign be extended to run around the clock all week, including on weekends, in a bid to reach 100,000 vaccinations a day.

However, that plan came up against objections from religious leaders, saying Edelstein has not proven that there was a vital life-saving need involved that under Jewish law gives an exemption that would otherwise prohibit work on Saturdays, the Jewish sabbath.

“I will consider allowing vaccinations for corona on Saturday, only if it is proven to be urgent,” Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau said in a statement published on the religious Jewish news website Kikar Shabbat.

Lau explained that because the vaccines are currently not being given 24 hours a day, it was a sign that this it is not yet a situation that would qualify for a religious exemption to work on the sabbath.

“The rabbi sees great importance in giving vaccines to the general public, and has even been vaccinated himself publicly to encourage the public to get vaccinated,” said a statement released by Lau’s office. It is possible – it will be possible to consider allowing vaccines on Saturdays as well. ”

“The chief rabbi believes that until there are vaccinations during all hours of the day and night during the week – which in practice indicates an urgency to vaccinate as quickly as possible – it will be possible to consider allowing vaccinations on Saturdays as well,” the statement added.

Health Ministry statistics released Friday showed just under 4,000 new infections in the past day, the highest in several months, with the number of Israelis currently sick with coronavirus rising to 33,495. Of those, 920 are hospitalized with 527 of them listed in serious or critical condition.

Israel’s death toll rose to 3,185 as the country prepares for its third national coronavirus lockdown that begins at 5 p.m .on Sunday and will last for at least two weeks. During the lockdown, Israelis will be restricted to remain within one kilometer of their home, home visits are banned expect for immediate family members, public transportation will be cut back, and stores, malls, and many businesses will be closed.

However, the pace of vaccinations will be accelerated during the lockdown. Israel’s education system will remain half open: kindergartens and grades 1-4 will continue as usual, and high school grades 11 and 12 will stay in school to prepare for matriculation exams.