Don't scapegoat the haredim for the coronavirus crisis

Pictures of haredim holding large weddings after the government prohibited gathering of more than 10 people are maddening, But so, too, were photos of crowded Tel Aviv beaches.

HAREDIM GATHER en masse in Bnei Brak. Is their leadership’s political model sustainable? (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
HAREDIM GATHER en masse in Bnei Brak. Is their leadership’s political model sustainable?
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Crises of the magnitude we are facing now bring out the best and the worst in people.
We have seen the best in the nobility shown by doctors, nurses, lab technicians, supermarket cashiers, police officers and many others who are endangering themselves to save and serve their fellows.
We have also seen the worst in the selfishness of some people who are price gouging, hoarding, or trying to get around rules and regulations imposed by the state for the health of the public by rationalizing that those rules and regulations apply to everyone else, but not to themselves.
We have also seen a very ugly spike in anti-haredi sentiment and stereotyping.
“I strongly condemn the rampant incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public, which internalized the danger and the instructions of the Health Ministry,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on Sunday. “The corona epidemic does not distinguish between haredi and secular, between Arabs and Jews. Nor do we. We are all in this war together.”
That is a tweet that should never have had to be sent. That we are all in this together is a given that the prime minister should not need to remind people.
But sadly, it is not a given. Netanyahu's tweet was in direct response to remarks by senior journalist Rina Matzlaich on Channel 12 Friday night making gross generalizations about haredi society, saying that “most” of the haredim do not feel obligated by the rules of the state, and that the relationship between the state and the ultra-Orthodox “needs to change.”
And she was not alone in piling on. Last month Natan Zahavi, a long-time radio personality, posted on his Facebook page: “The only thing that will make me believe there is a God is if [haredi Health Minister Ya'acov] Litzman gets Corona.” After a public outcry, this post – just plain mean-spirited – was deleted.
It is stunning to watch how certain people who view themselves as enlightened and, as the popular saying goes, so “woke,” people who take a live-and-let-live attitude toward all other segments of the population – from gays, to migrants, to minorities – will not extend that same courtesy to the ultra-Orthodox.
The trigger for the current anger against the haredi community and calls for it to do soul-searching and change its “antiquated ways” and lifestyle, is the coronavirus. And the haredi community has definitely not done itself any favors – both in terms of the health of its own members and its perception in the eyes of the general public – by the slow way it reacted to the virus and internalized the Health Ministry regulations later than most.
Pictures of haredim holding large weddings after the government prohibited gathering of more than 10 people, or recordings of respected rabbis saying that learning in yeshivot should go on even after the Health Ministry closed down schools, are indeed maddening. But so, too, were photos of crowded Tel Aviv beaches after the regulations went into effect.
Yet no reasonable person would generalize and say that most Tel Aviv residents were thumbing their noses at the rules, because that would be a ridiculous generalization. However, there is no similar compunction by many to look at the behavior of some in the haredi community and conclude from the actions of a few that most ultra-Orthodox do not feel bound by the rules of the state.
When it comes to the ultra-Orthodox, there is all too often a tendency to think the worst. If Bnei Brak needs to be curfewed, if the virus is worse in haredi neighborhoods than in other areas, it must be because they don't abide by the rules that obligate us all.
Not necessarily. It also has to do with extremely crowded living situations in these communities, with large families crammed into small apartments with no way possible to self quarantine.
The coronavirus is causing hardships and suffering for everybody – the haredim included. There are many sociological and cultural reasons why the community reacted slowly, but they are suffering badly. Now is the time to help them overcome the crisis and relieve their suffering, as the government is trying to do. Now is not the time to turn them into the country's coronavirus scapegoat.


Tags haredim