In Israel, Ultra-Orthodox Politicians Have Failed to Protect Their Community from Epidemic

April 6, 2020 | David Horovitz
About the author:

In Israel as in America, ḥaredi communities have been among those hardest hit by the coronavirus, as members were slow to abide by social-distancing recommendations, and some rabbis insisted on keeping synagogues and schools open. The disease has spread so extensively in the ḥaredi city of Bnei Brak that the government has sealed it off, and sent in hundreds of police officers to enforce prohibitions on public gatherings. Meanwhile, Yaakov Litzman, the head of the Ashkenazi ḥaredi party and Israel’s health minister, has tested positive for the illness, and faces allegations that he attended prayer services after the government forbade such public gatherings. David Horovitz writes:

[Litzman], who has served for almost all of the past decade either as Israel’s [official or de-facto] health minister, was strikingly reluctant to acknowledge and internalize the threat posed by the pandemic. He resisted the stringent limitations on public movement [that] his ministry’s senior officials sought to impose—stalling regulations that might otherwise have come into effect early last month, . . . and pleading in vain with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just ten days ago to allow synagogues to stay open for at least small groups of worshipers standing two meters apart.

With the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, the urgent need was for Litzman, his healthcare hierarchy, and his fellow ultra-Orthodox politicians to ensure that their electorate was made as aware of the danger as the rest of Israel’s more plugged-in society, the better to protect against infection by swiftly heeding the guidelines on social distancing.

The ultra-Orthodox community has, as of this week, largely, finally, come to understand the gravity of the hour. But as aggrieved spokesmen from within it have been stressing in recent days, the Israeli government failed for weeks to highlight the peril effectively through channels the community would access, understand, and respect. Specifically . . . the outreach should have focused on community rabbis and leaders, savvy people perfectly capable of recognizing the menace, explaining it, and ensuring that the necessary precautions were rapidly taken.

Instead, we are watching a tragedy unfold—in which vulnerable members of the ultra-Orthodox community now find themselves at partially avoidable life-threatening risk, and the rest of the country is in consequent heightened danger too.

Read more on Times of Israel:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now