1 in 3 Haredim caught coronavirus, double the national average – study

31% of community have been confirmed positive compared to 13.7% of other Israelis; think tank says behavior in Haredi society to blame, others question conclusion

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

An ultra-Orthodox man has his son tested for COVID-19 in in Lod, on October 17, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox man has his son tested for COVID-19 in in Lod, on October 17, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Almost one in three ultra-Orthodox Israelis has been infected with the coronavirus, more than double the national average, according to a new study.

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, a nonpartisan think tank, crunched Health Ministry statistics, and found that from the start of the pandemic until September 2021, 13.7 percent of the Israeli population has been confirmed COVID positive.

The figure for the Haredi community, based on figures for the main population centers where Haredim are a majority, is 31%.

The figure comes despite strong take-up of vaccines among Haredim in recent months, and points to a “failure to control behavior” to fight the virus in Haredi areas, according to Alex Weinreb, research director at the Taub Center.

This is shocking,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s testament to a very different approach to mitigating and minimizing the spread of the virus compared to that in the rest of Israel.”

The Taub study addressed the question, much discussed throughout the pandemic, of whether Haredim have high infection levels because of lax adherence to virus regulations in parts of the community or because of circumstances, such as high population density and propensity for poverty.

Police officers clash with Haredi men during a protest against the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, October 4, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

There was major controversy in Israel during much of the pandemic over conduct in some Haredi areas, where virus restrictions were widely flouted. A year ago there were even some Haredi demonstrations against restrictions.

Weinreb said his study clearly shows that behavior is to blame rather than circumstances. But some other scholars reject this conclusion and say the question is still an open one.

Weinreb made calculations that controlled for the effect of factors like density ad economic deprivation, based on observations of how they impact figures in non-Haredi areas. He concluded that those factors are only responsible for a small part of the margin between Haredim and the general population.

Alex Weinreb. (courtesy of Alex Weinreb)

Weinreb said that even after he had controlled for these factors, he found that Haredim have faced double the risk of infection compared to Israel as a whole.

“This points to the notion that there is something in the behavioral realm that explains infection levels, not population density and factors like that,” he argued.

COVID stats expert Eran Segal, a computational biologist from the Weizmann Institute of Science, said that the analysis isn’t strong enough to point a finger at Haredi behavior rather than circumstances.

“I can’t verify that [conclusion],” he told The Times of Israel, noting that Haredi society has a high proportion of under-12s, who are not eligible for vaccines, and under-16s, who only became eligible in the summer.

“And there are also big families in the Haredim, so more interactions in households, so it’s not necessarily behavior,” he said.

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