1 in 73 ultra-Orthodox Israelis over 65 has died of COVID, report says

Death rate of 1.3% is over four times higher than non-Haredi population, according to Israeli investigative nonprofit

Thousands attend the funeral of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem, January 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Thousands attend the funeral of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem, January 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One in 73 ultra-Orthodox Israelis over the age of 65 has died of COVID-19 — more than four times the number in the same cohort of the general population — according to a new report.

The report by Shomrim, an Israeli investigative journalism nonprofit organization, found that 1.3 percent of ultra-Orthodox over 65 has died of COVID, compared to 0.27%, or 1 in 373, in the same group in the general population.

The numbers reported by the nonprofit are slightly higher than those of the Health Ministry, which found that 1.2% of the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, population over 65 had died of the coronavirus.

Shomrim attributed the disparity to the ministry’s decision not to count deaths in cities with mixed populations of ultra-Orthodox and non-Haredi toward the total for the ultra-Orthodox, which Shomrim did.

Shomrim also noted a study by Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science finding that 1 in 100 ultra-Orthodox Israelis over 60 died of COVID, compared to 1 in 350 in the general Jewish population.

Regardless of the disparity between the numbers, the death rate among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox makes clear the degree to which the community has been impacted by the coronavirus, even as parts of the community continue to go about their lives as usual and refuse to wear masks or socially distance.

Over the course of the pandemic, there has been growing public anger over frequent large-scale violations of lockdown rules in parts of the ultra-Orthodox community, as well as the government’s apparent reluctance to strongly enforce health rules in that community.

There have been widespread violations of coronavirus regulations in Israel, but the most flagrant have been in parts of the ultra-Orthodox community. Some Haredi groups largely adhere to the restrictions, while others ignore them, including by opening schools and holding massive funerals.

Recent weeks have seen several Haredi funerals for top rabbis who died of COVID-19 attended by thousands despite the national lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading. Outdoor gatherings were restricted to just 10 people; some of the funerals of the leading rabbis drew more than 10,000.

There have also been violent riots against police, including clashes in Bnei Brak that saw ultra-Orthodox men torch a bus and attack its driver and a passerby.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Tuesday warned the ultra-Orthodox community that large crowds such as those at the funerals would further spread the coronavirus and lead to additional deaths.

Despite morbidity in the ultra-Orthodox community being higher than in any other single societal group, Haredi lawmakers have fought attempts to enforce the virus guidelines in their communities, and have labeled such efforts discriminatory and unhelpful.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has been seen as unwilling to anger his Haredi political partners, without whose support he has no hope of remaining in power.

More protests by ultra-Orthodox against the restrictions erupted on Tuesday night in Jerusalem, with hundreds of demonstrators clashing with police, who dispersed the crowds with water cannon.

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