Leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis warn of spike in COVID infections

Rabbis Kanievsky and Edelstein urge worshippers to pray outdoors.

SPREADING PRAYER and love from the Western Wall. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SPREADING PRAYER and love from the Western Wall.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Due to the high rate of COVID-19 infections nationally and the spike in infections in the haredi sector in particular, two of the most senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel on Monday called on their community to increase vigilance in observing social distancing.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the two leading rabbis of the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic haredi community, said haredim should adhere to the guidelines to stop the spread of infection and prevent a situation in which prayer and Torah learning is stopped.
The elderly and people in high-risk groups in particular should avoid indoor areas and try to pray outdoors, as should anyone else able to do so, they said.
“People must be extremely strict not to congregate in a dangerous manner at celebrations and any other gathering, and celebrations must be held with the required distancing and without crowding,” they said in a joint statement.
Anyone who has even the slightest suspicion they might be infected should avoid public places, including Torah study centers, synagogues or educational institutions, they added.
They reiterated their call for haredim to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Infection rates in the haredi community have spiked and represent a quarter of all infections, even though the sector comprises only 12% of the general population.
Roni Numa, head of the Health Ministry’s coronavirus department for the haredi community, on Sunday said the rate of positive tests in the sector had spiked from 5% to nearly 16% over the past three weeks. The positive test rate in the general population is 5.9%.
Out of 94 samples tested nationally for the so-called British mutation, which is significantly more infectious than the original coronavirus strain, 18 have come back positive, including 13 or 14 of from the haredi sector, he said.
Currently, 8% of hospitalizations are from the haredi community, Numa said, adding that there is a significant phenomenon of nongovernmental haredi medical organizations providing health care to haredi COVID patients in their homes.
Between 10% to 12% of the haredi sector requires hospitalization, he said.
According to Numa, youths between 10 and 19 account for 65% of infections in the haredi community.
Some 11% of all COVID deaths, 368, are from the haredi sector.
Closing the education system would “without doubt” reduce the rate of infection across the country, as well as in the haredi sector, Numa said.
“If you want to halt [the rate of infection], you need to [close] the education system,” he said. “You cannot continue for another two months and then halt it without increasing the rate of mortality.”
Numa called on the haredi community to be responsible.
“You know what the infection situation is, and I don’t need to tell any rabbi what the situation is in their community,” he said. “Every rabbi knows how many severe cases there are, and people know what to do. We need personal responsibility, family responsibility and communal responsibility.”
Synagogues have not been a locus of infections because prayer services have been kept short, Numa said, but if there is a tighter lockdown, they likely will be included.