The coronavirus emergency has had a huge impact on Jewish life all over the world and across different communities and denominations, a newly-released report by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) has documented. In Israel as well as in the Diaspora, issues like the relation between insular communities and national authorities and the need for solutions to adapt to the new situation within the realm of Jewish laws and traditions emerged in a prominent way. As Dr. Shuki Friedman, IDI director of the Center for Religion, Nation and State and a co-author to the report, explained to The Jerusalem Post, some of the developments triggered by the crisis are here to stay.“A first moment where we perceived the scope of what was happening with the outbreak was when we saw that several ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel instructed their communities not to follow the directives of the Health Ministry and the government,” Friedman highlighted. “It was clear that there was a deep clash between religious values such as communal prayer or Passover preparations and the measures included in the shutdown. It was not a classic issue of religion and state but more a question of authority: who is preeminent, the government or the rabbis?” The report, which was redacted covering a period up to the month of April, extensively delves into the issue of how the ultra-Orthodox community reacted to the pandemic, both in Israel and abroad, reconstructing the different stages. It also emphasized the diversity within the communities generally referred to as ultra-Orthodox (or haredi in Hebrew), with the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox much quicker and in general diligent to heed to the governmental guidelines and certain sectors within the Ashkenazi world – for example the anti-Zionist hardliner Jerusalem faction – much more belligerent in defying the instructions.Asked about why the value of preserving life – a value that it is at the core of Jewish tradition and morals and therefore it would be assumed to be relevant in religious communities – did not seem to be considered central under the coronavirus circumstances, Friedman explained that the virus threat was underestimated, also due to the mistrust towards the authorities.“It is also true that the government did not effectively address the issue of making sure that ultra-Orthodox communities with limited access to communication channels were properly informed. On the other hand, the rabbis themselves at times censor the contents of what does appear in their sources of information,” he said.Friedman noted that ultra-Orthodox communities abroad were much more aware of the danger of the outbreak, since they quickly experienced its devastation firsthand, with a very high number of infected and dead. This aspect had an influence also in Israel when people belonging to the same communities started to inform each other of what was happening.The expert noted how now the ultra-Orthodox have become among the strictest in observing the coronavirus preventive measures, as it is proved by the fact that while the number of new infected in Israel in the past weeks have dramatically increased, a spike has not been registered in the haredi neighborhoods and towns.“What might happen if a new outbreak occurs in the future is a good question. On the one hand I think that what happened has represented a trauma for the community, on the other seeing how other sectors of the society, such as secular people in Tel Aviv, are not taking the risk seriously now might induce them to ask themselves why they should sacrifice what is important to them while others are not,” Friedman pointed out.One of the phenomena highlighted in the report is the spike in the use of internet in ultra-Orthodox areas, with Bezeq reporting a 40% increase in the month of April.“I think this development is especially meaningful and is likely to mark the beginning of a new trend,” the researcher told the Post.The document illustrated also the response to the crisis in different Jewish denominations, including Modern Orthodoxy and Conservative and Reform movements, who all made the adherence to safety measures a top priority, in Israel and abroad, where Jewish communities usually acted quickly and sometimes even acted before the national authorities’ decisions.Especially for Modern Orthodox Jews but also for Conservatives the crisis also presented them with several halachic (Jewish legal) issues, often related to the extent to which technological means could be used to make up for the impossibility to carry out certain activities in person, such as communal prayers.Friedman pointed out that he believes that another aspect that has emerged from the crisis is the fragmentation of authorities within communities.“Different rabbis supported different responses to the questions and in this time more than ever, people chose which rabbi they were ready to listen to,” he explained.