6 arrested in ultra-Orthodox town for breaking virus ban on prayer at synagogues
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6 arrested in ultra-Orthodox town for breaking virus ban on prayer at synagogues

Worshipers in Modiin Illit said to scuffle with police after refusing to disperse; deal reached for funeral of prominent Bnei Brak rabbi’s wife to go ahead without large crowds

Illustrative: Police officers at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem as they close shops and disperse public gatherings for violating emergency directives against the coronavirus, March 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Police officers at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem as they close shops and disperse public gatherings for violating emergency directives against the coronavirus, March 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police arrested six people in the ultra-Orthodox city-settlement of Modiin Illit on Wednesday for praying at a synagogue in violation of emergency ordinances meant to contain the coronavirus.

The six were members of the Jerusalem Faction, a hardline group known for leading protests against mandatory military service.

The worshipers refused a police order to disperse and scuffled with officers sent to the synagogue, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israel has ordered the closure of synagogues as part of its measures against the virus and barred gatherings in public spaces, including for prayers or weddings.

The government has also limited funerals to 20 participants and required they be held in open areas, while circumcision ceremonies have been capped at 10 people.

Police were deployed in large numbers Wednesday in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, where the funeral procession for the wife of Jerusalem Faction rabbi Tzvi Friedman set out from.

Officers reached an agreement with Jerusalem Faction leaders that the funeral of Aliza Friedman would be held in accordance with Health Ministry directives, Channel 12 news reported, and there were no large crowds at the burial in Petah Tikva.

Police, however, continued to maintain a significant presence at the cemetery to prevent any crowds from gathering, the network said.

Earlier in the week, hundreds  of people took part in a funeral in Bnei Brak for a leading figure in the Jerusalem Faction, with mourners jamming closely in contravention of social distancing rules. The funeral prompted criticism of police, who were on hand to oversee and secure the event but did not intervene to ensure it complied with the virus restrictions, arguing that doing so could have led to clashes that brought thousands to the streets.

Following the incident, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a prominent leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Bnei Brak, called on his followers to pray individually.

Kanievsky said that anyone not adhering to the instructions of doctors was a rodef, or threat to society.

In a video (Hebrew) from Wednesday shared on social media, a man could be heard chewing out a group of worshipers who were leaving a synagogue in Bnei Brak after apparently praying there.

“Get out here, murderers,” the man can be heard yelling. “I’ll snitch 10 times… each time from today, I’ll call the police.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish walking in Bnei Brak on March 31, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Police on Tuesday set up checkpoints around Bnei Brak and were checking IDs of anyone trying to enter, as the government moved toward placing a cordon around the city of nearly 200,000, which has the highest infection rate in the country.

As of Wednesday the city had 730 cases, the second highest of any city in the country behind Jerusalem, which had 781, despite having less than a quarter of the residents of the capital.

Officials are looking at ways to reduce the outbreak in Bnei Brak, where one in three residents tested for the coronavirus have been found to carry it. The high percentage of positive tests reported Tuesday by the Health Ministry compares to 6% in Tel Aviv and 10% in Jerusalem.

Authorities have upped enforcement of social distancing regulations in Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox areas, where some have flouted rules against congregating or leaving home for non-essential reasons.

The Health Ministry was close to imposing a closure on Bnei Brak and had already prepared an injunction to go ahead with the move, Channel 12 reported Tuesday.

Police talk to a driver at a checkpoint in Bnei Brak, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox city east of Tel Aviv, on March 31, 2020, as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Jack Guez/AFP)

However, though most cabinet ministers back putting a cordon on the city, the National Security Council was opposed, arguing it was impossible to implement and could make Bnei Brak’s ultra-Orthodox residents less likely to obey directives, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The cabinet instead decided to increase the number of police in the city and up enforcement of the emergency ordinances, the report said.

Bnei Brak’s mayor warned Tuesday evening against making his city into a “a ghetto.”

Overall, there have been 5,591 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel as of Wednesday, with 21 deaths.

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