Vizhnitz grand rabbi instructs schools to open

“I hereby order in the open that Vizhnitz schools be opened and that these words be published in the official ultra-Orthodox Hamodia newspaper tomorrow.”

A Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebration at the Viznitz hasidic headquarters in Bnei Brak last year. (photo credit: SHUKI LERRER)
A Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebration at the Viznitz hasidic headquarters in Bnei Brak last year.
(photo credit: SHUKI LERRER)
Rabbi Yisroel Hager, the grand rabbi of the Vizhnitz Hassidic community, gave instructions over Shabbat to reopen schools despite the ongoing lockdown and nationwide school closure.
The rabbi issued his orders during the afternoon meal at the Vizhnitz world center in Bnei Brak, saying that Torah study was “an essential service” and arguing that if 30 people can get on a bus, then school should be allowed as well.
“I hereby order in the open that Vizhnitz schools be opened and that these words be published in the official ultra-Orthodox Hamodia newspaper tomorrow,” Hager said, according to the Kikar Shabbat news website.
If the police come tell them to approach the general manager of the schools, which is me, Rabbi Yisroel Hager, who lives at 4 Torah Haim Street, Bnei Brak,” the rabbi added.
He later added that all regulations should be followed due to the dangers of COVID-19, and encouraged that everyone get vaccinated. However, he did not rescind his order to reopen the schools, according to Walla.
"The words of the grand rabbi come to express his pain, that other institutions are categorized as essential, and have continued their activities, while institutions committed to teaching Torah have been forced to close," a statement from Hager said, according to Israeli media.
Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman jumped on the rabbi’s words, tweeting acerbically regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “Bibi’s master has gone crazy and we are all paying for it dearly.”
Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer called on the finance minister to cease funding for Vizhnitz educational institutions, following publication of the rabbi’s comments.
Uri Keidar, the head of the religious freedom organization Israel Be Free, said that the police should indeed go to the rabbi’s house and arrest him, adding that “protecting life in the ultra-Orthodox community and the general population cannot be less important than protecting Netanyahu’s natural coalition partners.”
Netanyahu spoke personally with the Vizhnitz grand rabbi before the latest lockdown to ask him to comply with the school closure, a request to which the rabbi initially consented.
Sources close to Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the two most senior rabbis in the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox community, said he was continuing to instruct school principals to keep their institutions closed due to the ongoing high rate of infection.
It was unclear what position Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the other leader of that community will take, although last week some schools associated with the rabbi had reopened.
Israel police arrived at an Ashdod ultra-Orthodox school that was open against coronavirus regulations Sunday morning, an Israel Police spokesperson reported. The school has been repeatedly ignoring regulations and police arrived to force the school to shut. As the officers arrived,  people began to gather, shouting at officers and attempting to force entry to the school.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana told KAN in response that any ultra-Orthodox school that opens tomorrow would get shut down and fined NIS 5,000.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni had strong words in response to pictures on social media showing large numbers of people strolling and sitting at the Tel Aviv promenade on Saturday.
“Where is the minister for internal security, where is the police commissioner, where is the enforcement, where did they disappear to? Isn’t our health more important?” demanded the MK.
On Thursday night, hassidim from the Vizhnitz Merkaz hassidic community, an offshoot of Hager’s main Vizhnitz community, surrounded and assaulted police officers on patrol who were enforcing the coronavirus lockdown on King Solomon Street in Bnei Brak. As the crowd surrounded the vehicle, rioters were heard shouting “Nazis” and “damned,” while bashing and eventually smashing the police vehicle’s windows using stones.
“The group even tried to open the vehicle’s doors, as the police officers inside were forced to call for rescue,” the police said in a statement.
One police officer was lightly injured in the violence.
The incident was condemned by many politicians, including by ultra-Orthodox MKs who called on extremist factions in their community to stop the violence and cooperate with the police efforts to enforce lockdown restrictions.
Sarah Ben-Nun contributed to this report.