The coronavirus regulations must be enforced on everyone

If these regulations continue to be flouted, even by a minority, they will likely be made stricter for all.

Haredim protesting the draft law in Jerusalem city center (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredim protesting the draft law in Jerusalem city center
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Two videos emerged Saturday night that demonstrated the problems of enforcing regulations meant to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. In one, police cars can be seen chasing a solitary young cyclist in a Tel Aviv park; in the other, hundreds of members of the extreme ultra-Orthodox “Jerusalem Faction” were seen crowding together in Bnei Brak for the funeral of Rabbi Tzvi Shinker, head of the Beit David Yeshiva, with no action being taken by police to stop the gathering.
We do not dismiss the risks of even one person violating the regulations by taking a bike ride – one of the dangers being that it encourages others to similarly ignore the steps being imposed to halt the spread of this deadly disease – but we question where valuable police resources are being spent.
Regulations in force Saturday night clearly stipulated that gatherings of more than 10 people are not permitted – for prayers, weddings or funerals. If these regulations continue to be flouted, even by a minority, they will likely be made stricter for all.
Coronavirus can infect anyone and be easily passed on, particularly in crowds. Haredi communities – many of which do not have televisions, Internet, and in some cases, even radios – were at first slow to pick up on the news of COVID-19, its exponential growth and what it means. However, now that the pandemic has swept through ultra-Orthodox communities in the Diaspora, particularly in New York and New Jersey,  rabbis and community leaders in Israel are certainly aware of the health issues.
The potential spread from the Bnei Brak funeral is frightening. It will sweep first through those communities where members are violating the regulations and precautions but will not stop there. It is precisely events like these that could result in the health system being overwhelmed – making all the steps and sacrifices made so far virtually meaningless.
Figures released last week by the Health Ministry show that almost a quarter of Israelis who have contracted the coronavirus in the country have been infected through contact with another infected individual in a synagogue. Another 5% contracted in yeshivas, 15% of infections were contracted in hotels, 12% in restaurants, 7% in supermarkets, and 7% in other shops. Hotels and restaurants have since closed.
The Jerusalem Faction is a minority, even among anti-Zionist zealots, and its adherents are known for public acts of civil disobedience. This makes policing harder but nonetheless essential. Police patrols in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood last week encountered violent resistance by ultra-Orthodox extremists. Police noted in a statement, however, that the majority of shops, food outlets and other businesses in the neighborhood were observing the social-distancing orders.
The challenges facing haredi communities at this time are particularly difficult. Families are very large – the average is more than seven children – and most of the older boys live and learn in yeshivas away from home. Apartments are generally small and cannot easily be adapted to having so many people in them all day.
The Health Ministry is printing information about the regulations in Yiddish, the language mainly used in haredi communities. But this is not enough. The rabbinic leaders of these communities have a moral duty to explain to their members the devastating consequences of ignoring the measures taken for their own safety. Cars with loudspeakers should patrol the streets, reminding people to stay indoors. The rabbis must explain the situation in terms their communities can understand. And police must ensure the rules are abided by.
Israel, the Jewish state, is facing a huge test with the start of the Passover holiday next week. Jews across the religious spectrum from secular to ultra-Orthodox usually gather with friends and family for Seder night. This year we are all being asked to do it alone, in small family units, without aunts, uncles, cousins and especially without grandparents.
This will be painful, but essential. There is no more important precept in Judaism than saving lives. In Deuteronomy (4:15) we read the injunction: “Venishmartem meod lenafshtechem” (“Be very careful with your lives”). This is truly the time to abide by that Divine commandment.