Gov't considering quarantining haredi cities over high coronavirus rates

Leader of the ultra-Orthodox world Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky finally instructs community not to pray together in prayer quorums.

A Jewish ultra-Orthodox man looks onto a local billboard with instructions related to the coronavirus at a street in a Jewish Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, March 27, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
A Jewish ultra-Orthodox man looks onto a local billboard with instructions related to the coronavirus at a street in a Jewish Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, March 27, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The director-general of the Finance Ministry Shai Babad said on Sunday morning that the government is considering imposing a quarantine on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities such as Bnei Brak, where rates of coronavirus infection are especially high.
Speaking in a hearing of the Knesset committee for tackling the coronavirus epidemic, Babad noted that enforcement of social-distancing orders in the ultra-Orthodox sector has been difficult.
“We have no small amount of problems with ultra-Orthodox society, in places like Bnei Brak,” said Babad.
“Part of the discussion is about how we can succeed in imposing a closure and quarantine those places,” he added.
Such measures are now being considered in light of worryingly high rates of infection in the ultra-Orthodox sector, with Channel 12 News reporting Sunday night that members of the community comprise 40 to 60 percent of coronavirus patients in major hospitals such Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Shaare Tzedek in Jerusalem and Hadassah Ein Karem in Jerusalem.
During cabinet discussions on Sunday, Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman supported the idea of quarantining the entire city of Bnei Brak, although according to Bnei Brak municipal council member Yaakov Veeder there are as yet no concrete plans to carry this out.
The option of quarantining ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in other cities is also being considered, although there are no immediate plans to do so.
Because of the growing crisis in the ultra-Orthodox sector, the government decided to appoint Interior Minister Aryeh Deri as the coordinator of government efforts to halt the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the ultra-Orthodox community.
A quarantine center has now been established in Bnei Brak on the campus of an educational institution, while Deri has ordered that a site outside of major urban areas be found for treating those sick with the coronavirus.
Following the release of data over the weekend showing high rates of coronavirus infection in cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations, the most senior rabbinic leader of the ultra-Orthodox world, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, gave an order to the community to cease praying in prayer quorums of at least ten men, as is customary.
Earlier on Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan described the staging of an ultra-Orthodox mass funeral in Bnei Brak on Saturday night as “an extremely severe incident [which] endangers life and harms the public," saying that he would be holding an “urgent meeting” with senior police officials to discuss enforcement of Health Ministry orders in the ultra-Orthodox sector later in the day.
“I demand from the Israel Police determined and equal enforcement of the Health Ministry instructions in every part of the country without exception,” wrote Erdan on Twitter.
He said that “the decisive majority of the ultra-Orthodox community” is complying with Health Ministry orders regarding social-distancing because of the coronavirus epidemic, but said that “the police needs to do what is necessary” to prevent extremist elements in the ultra-Orthodox public from endangering the lives of the general public.
HUNDREDS OF members of the haredi community attended the funeral of Rabbi Tzvi Shinker, a senior rabbi associated with the extremist Jerusalem Faction grouping within the ultra-Orthodox public.
Shinker, who was 80-years-old when he died, was the head of the Beit David Yeshiva.  
The mass gathering was in direct violation of Health Ministry directives, which forbids gatherings of more than 10 people – including prayers, weddings and funerals – in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus.  
Police officers were at the funeral, but no attempts were made to fine the mourners or to stop the event, Walla reported. The police allegedly tried to reach an understanding with haredi leaders, but nothing came of it.  
The Jerusalem Faction is an especially radical community which broke away from mainstream ultra-Orthodoxy and has become extremely antagonistic to state authority, staging numerous mass demonstrations over efforts to increase haredi enlistment to the army.
The Health Ministry is printing out information about the regulations in Yiddish, the language mainly used in haredi communities, allowing more to have access to knowledge of the guidelines. However, it wants the printed document not to indicate that it is a government document in order to ensure that it will not be rejected by the strict haredi communities.
On Sunday morning, the police found some 30 ultra-Orthodox men praying in a synagogue apparently connected to the extremist Jerusalem Faction in the ultra-Orthodox city of Modiin Ilit, in violation of Health Ministry orders that no more than 10 people be gathered in one place.
According to the police, police officers at the synagogue called on the men several times to disperse but the worshipers ignored them, so they acted to disperse the prayer service themselves, arresting seven of the men in the process.
In a statement to the press, the police said that if “dialogue” with the leadership of extremists elements of the ultra-Orthodox sector is not successful, “enforcement will be determined and less tolerant.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, an unofficial representative of the anti-Zionist Eida Haredis association of radical ultra-Orthodox communities said that most of the schools serving these communities have now been closed.
He said however that grades eight and nine for boys have been kept open because of the spiritual danger of closing down schools where children study the Torah.