Will the coronavirus change the Haredi community?

Like many, perhaps most of the non-Haredi population, I am disgusted by the way we Israelis have coddled those who have set their rabbis above the law.

Police officers close synagogues and disperse public gatherings in the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, following the government's decisions, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 31, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Police officers close synagogues and disperse public gatherings in the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, following the government's decisions, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 31, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
As the first ugly manifestations of the novel coronavirus were ignored, or worse, flouted by elements in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities, the following several paragraphs expressed my initial reaction. The time has come to declare the extremist Jerusalem faction within the Lithuanian Haredi community and the anti-state Edah Haredit as terrorist organizations. The time has come to accuse anyone breaking the rules of the Ministry of Health of reckless endangerment. If this hits large numbers in the Haredi community, so be it.
Let us be clear. If members of the Arab community refused to obey Israeli law, made a mockery of the health rules, and did not acknowledge government authority, what would happen? We all know the answer.
Like many, perhaps most of the non-Haredi population, I am disgusted by the way we Israelis have coddled those who have set their rabbis above the law. The rabbis ensure that their male followers receive stipends not to work, and their representatives keep getting more and more housing for them, and forgiving municipal taxes, or not doing national (civilian) service, let alone don IDF uniforms. The most extreme of these “rabbinolators” literally spat in our face, or worse, sent their children to spit – literally – in the faces of those brave policewomen and policemen who try to enforce the health regulations.
Now we, the normal taxpayers, are laying out enormous sums for hospitalization of a disproportionate number of Haredim. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely believe that everyone should get medical care, every citizen or resident in the land, regardless of sect, race or religion.  But while ensuring their care, I resent paying for people who brought this plague upon themselves.
I can hear the protests. Voices will be raised loudly that I am accusing an entire sector for the sins of the few. It is impossible that these are the sins of the “few”; otherwise, there would not be so many cases in Bnei Brak or Haredi parts of Jerusalem, and many other localities.
It is no wonder that Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, whose “Sages of the Torah” rabbinical leaders “sort of” recognize the state, or at least its coffers, was allowed to become the health minister. This attitude towards Zionism began in the anti-Zionist Agudath Israel over a hundred years ago. And speaking of spitting in the face, again the unholy trinity of Likud, ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazim and ultra-Orthodox Sepharadim insist that Litzman stay on as health minister. Hello Australia, that should really make you happy!
Right, mate?
I have read the good news about the Haredi community of Telz Stone, now called Kiryat Ye’arim, in a report by Jeremy Sharon in The Jerusalem Post. Facing a major outbreak of COVID-19 after Purim meals and parties, where so many residents became infected, the mayor of Kiryat Ye’arim initiated a lockdown well before the rest of the country. He also closed the synagogues almost immediately.
What is the difference between Haredi residents there and most of the infected towns such as Bnei Brak or Modi’in Illit, Kiryat Ye’arim has a progressive, intelligent and hard-working mayor, who deserves most of the credit, and cooperative residents. But perhaps there is one deeper underlying factor – general education. Most of the few thousand residents of this ultra-Orthodox enclave are immigrants from Western countries, where, unsubsidized by government, men and women often became professionals or business people. They are as modern as most of us, while maintaining, as is their right, their carefully halachic lifestyle.
Now, here is what I added to the first part of this article. Soldiers – our kids and grandchildren – are patrolling these enclaves, and may change the image of the army in the general Haredi community.  It is moving to see these youngsters meeting ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the latter meeting the soldiers, as just ordinary people.
And maybe, just maybe, some thinking Haredim will understand that they cannot trust their rabbinic or political leaders.  For example, the two heads of Ponevezh Yeshiva nowadays, like all or almost all Bnei Brak rabbis and its Haredi municipal officer-holders ignored the warnings.  Their lack of respect for state authorities resulted in the total quarantine of Bnei Brak, and Haredi areas in Jerusalem. Their apologists say that “they were not properly informed.” Really? Or was it that they choose to cut themselves off from the state and its life? Meanwhile – I write this with trembling hands – I am afraid that this intransigence has lengthened the country’s lockdown by many weeks.
The rabbis and politicians who (mis)lead these communities qualify as “sinners who make others sin,” a quality attributed to an evil king of Israel (1 Kings 24). In Israel’s reality, no government will classify the rebelling and revolting Jerusalem Faction or the Edah Haredit as terrorist organizations.
The question is whether members of the Ashkenazi Haredi community – or large parts of it – will cease cutting themselves off from the state.  Will they now understand that they cannot rely on their so-called leaders?  Can they finally acknowledge that if we ordinary Israelis – observant or secular – show responsibility towards them as to all citizens, we have the right to expect, actually to demand, the same from them.
The writer, who studied in Orthodox yeshivot in Toronto and New York and also studied at JTS and Columbia University, served in the offices of Israel’s early prime ministers and as a senior member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency and WZOHe can be contacted at [email protected]