Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews defy restrictions to fire rabbi

As the extension of the third lockdown was debated in Israel’s parliament, the streets of Jerusalem were dyed black to see Rabbi Soloveitchik sacked. A mass of thousands of followers defied the restrictions imposed by the Government due to the pandemic and accompanied the body of the religious to the cemetery. With barely masks, no social distance and no police in sight, the ultra-Orthodox fired this 99-year-old rabbi who contracted the coronavirus last month. “A funeral that will bring many funerals,” declared the number two of the Health Ministry, Yoav Kish, who condemned this mass gathering in the middle of a pandemic that leaves more than 4,500 dead in the country.

The ultra-Orthodox community accounts for 11 percent of the Israeli population, but it is the one that registers the highest number of infections, with 40 percent of new cases. Large religious sectors have not closed schools and synagogues and in recent days there have been clashes with the security forces, although in general the Police do not use force with them to enforce the restrictions. After Soloveitchik’s funeral, the police officer in charge of the ultra-Orthodox community confessed that “I don’t have the capacity to deal with 20,000 people.” The agents limited themselves to closing the streets for the passage of the congregation and cutting off the buses with followers that came from other parts of the country.

“Millions of families and children are confined to their homes while thousands of ultra-Orthodox gather for a funeral, most without masks,” denounced Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who described the privilege that religious have to not respect the restrictions of “selective application” of the rules. The ultra-Orthodox defend themselves against criticism by saying that the country’s secular population does not understand the importance of their prayers and religious studies.

Israel has already vaccinated more than 30 percent of its population and almost two million people have received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This mass vaccination does not manage to moderate the contagion curve at the moment and experts point to the lack of respect for the restrictions as one of the possible reasons. The ultra-Orthodox, who have two key political parties for the formation of a government in Israel, act as if they were a kind of mini state within the state.

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