Gamzu, Kanievsky battle over COVID-19 rules in the haredi sector

With all due respect, Kanievsky may be a great Torah sage, but he is not a medical man.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Prof. Ronni Gamzu have argued over COVID-19 rules in the haredi sector. (photo credit: YAAKOV COHEN/FLASH90)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Prof. Ronni Gamzu have argued over COVID-19 rules in the haredi sector.
(photo credit: YAAKOV COHEN/FLASH90)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky who is considered a leading authority in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, sparked controversy this week when he reportedly said yeshiva students should not get tested for COVID-19. According to the Kikar HaShabbat haredi news website, Kanievsky said COVID-19 testing – especially if it ends in positive results – would disrupt yeshiva studies. In a similar vein, Kanievsky ordered yeshiva heads not to quarantine students exposed to virus carriers, as required under Health Ministry regulations.
Gamzu was right to chastise Kanievsky, saying his stand “endangers the haredi public,” even if this triggered the wrath of the haredi community. Haredi representatives resigned from the Coronavirus Advisory Committee, and haredi media demanded Gamzu’s dismissal. “There is serious public indignation among the haredi community over (Gamzu’s) underhanded comment against Torah authority,” read a report in the United Torah Judaism-affiliated newspaper, Yated Neeman.
It did not help matters that coalition chairman Miki Zohar publicly condemned Gamzu for fueling antisemitism by opposing a Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the graveside of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, on the grounds it would spread the pandemic. Channel 12 reported on Wednesday two Breslov Hasidim in Uman contracted coronavirus, and the mayor voiced concern they may have infected others.
Zohar was enraged by a letter Gamzu sent to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, asking him to block the flights to Uman. “Antisemitism has been increasing since Prof. Gamzu sent his letter to the president of Ukraine, which in fact states that corona-stricken Israelis endanger the Ukrainians,” Zohar tweeted.
The leader of the Breslovers in Israel, Nahman Benshaya, noted that television footage had showed a hassid being beaten by a Ukrainian man at a supermarket in Uman on Monday, telling Army Radio, “Gamzu’s letter has become the bible of antisemitism in Ukraine.”
Higher and Secondary Education Minister and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin added fuel to the fire by telling KAN, “Gamzu’s letter appears to have become a hit among antisemites inside and outside of Uman. It could end in bloodshed.”
To accuse Gamzu, who is doing his utmost to halt the spike in infections, of spreading antisemitism is scandalous. On the contrary, he is seeking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Israel – among Jews, Arabs and others.
Hundreds of haredi students have been diagnosed with the virus since yeshivot resumed studies on August 23, and the situation is now spiraling out of control.
Binyamin Cohen, director of the Yeshiva Committee Control Center, said at least 500 of the 25,000 yeshiva students in the country had been diagnosed with the virus, while thousands more were put into isolation. Some 200 students at a yeshiva in Carmiel tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.
Major outbreaks have been reported in the haredi cities of Elad, Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit, as well as haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Rishon Lezion and Bnei Brak.
According to Gamzu, some 22% of Israel’s total infections are among haredim, with a whopping 80% of new cases in haredi cities. In Beitar Illit, for example, 14% of the people who underwent tests were positive, compared to the national average of between eight and nine percent.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing a systematic breach of the guidelines,” Gamzu said during a visit to Beit Illit on Wednesday. “Every evening, events are held in the city that violate all procedures, and yesterday (Tuesday), contrary to our instructions, educational institutions in the city were opened. I understand the complexity of the situation, but I now state unequivocally: without increasing enforcement and encouraging inspections, we will be required to make complex decisions that may amount to a total lockdown.”
Gamzu, who was CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, one of Israel’s leading multidisciplinary healthcare institutions, since 2015 before being appointed the national coronavirus project coordinator on July 23, has high credentials. He previously served as the Health Ministry’s director-general and, at the start of the coronavirus crisis, he was credited with launching a national project for protecting the elderly from infection.
With all due respect, Kanievsky may be a great Torah sage, but he is not a medical man. To protect his followers and students from the virus, he should be encouraging them to undergo testing, follow the regulations set by the Health Ministry and heed the advice of Gamzu. As we approach the High Holy Days in two weeks, now is the time to promote health and healing for all Israelis.