Israel is slowly easing out of a month-long national lock-down this week, starting slowly with just nursery schools and kindergartens and small businesses that do not receive customers re-opening on Sunday.
But with most of the country still subject to this paralyzing lock-down, many Israelis were enraged when news reports came out about ultra-Orthodox schools and Torah study centers reopening in religious neighborhoods around the country. Since the beginning of the week, schools and yeshivas in the ultra-Orthodox community have opened under the instructions of a top rabbi in defiance of government restrictions.
On Saturday, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, himself infected with the coronavirus, called for schools to reopen but with social distancing measures. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded with the ultra-Orthodox not to reopen schools.
“The Torah sanctifies life, and [doing] this endangers life,” he said. This is nothing less than dangerous fanaticism.
However, several news reports have quoted anonymous sources who said top government officials have agreed to turn a blind eye to the illegal reopening of the Haredi sector. The ultra-Orthodox have accounted for 40 percent of positive coronavirus infections but make up only 12 percent of the population. Netanyahu is afraid of losing political support from his religious coalition partners, so the government has not dealt with them the same way they have dealt with other secular communities. These actions will result in death, not life.
In the rest of Israel, the reopening could take up to four months—despite the fact that these communities have embraced, more or less, the guidelines for masks, not gathering in large group and social distancing. Officials fear that swiftly re-opening schools and businesses will lead to another spike in infections after the rate had finally been brought under control.
The coronavirus cabinet will be meeting this week to decide what will open next and when. No final decisions are expected before Thursday. Israel has managed to push the infection rate down to 3.7 percent on Monday and the number of active cases dropped below 30,000 for the first time since Sept. 8.