Anti-vaxxer attempts to attack top ultra-Orthodox rabbi at his home

Alleged assailant arrested after seeking out Gershon Edelstein, 97, who has encouraged immunization, and trying to assault him; family members fend him off

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponovitz Yeshiva seen during a morning prayer at his home in Bnei Brak, February 15, 2021. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponovitz Yeshiva seen during a morning prayer at his home in Bnei Brak, February 15, 2021. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

A man was arrested Wednesday after attempting to attack a leading pro-vaccine ultra-Orthodox rabbi at his home in Bnei Brak.

The incident came amid increasing concern over threats made to top medical officials from those who oppose the country’s mass vaccination drive that aims to inoculate the entire over 16 population by the end of April.

The man, in his twenties, was arrested by police after the attempted assault on 97-year-old Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, reported the B’Hadrey Haredim and Kikar HaShabbat news websites, which cater to the ultra-Orthodox community.

Edelstein’s family members were able to fend him off, but then called police when he tried to again attack the rabbi outside the building on Ra’abad Street in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city.

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponovitz Yeshiva seen at his home after lightning the candles on the fourth night of Hanukkah, in Bnei Brak, December 5, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Officers who arrived found the man “shouting and running amok,” police said in a statement that confirmed the man was opposed to vaccinations.

The officers hauled him in for questioning, police said.

Edelstein, one of the leaders of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) stream of ultra-Orthodoxy and the head of the world-famous Ponevezh Yeshiva, was giving a class at his home when the man arrived and tried to attack him, witnesses said.

The man was said to have shouted slogans against the coronavirus vaccine and also regarding ultra-Orthodox men serving in the Israeli army, a hotly contested topic in the community that largely seeks exemptions from the country’s compulsory military service.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man receives his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination center set up at a synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In December Edelstein was one of three top ultra-Orthodox rabbis who recommended that their communities vaccinate against the coronavirus. The other two were Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Shalom Cohen.

The Israeli Medical Association called on Wednesday for a criminal investigation into threats and incitement from anti-vaxxers against health care professionals working to encourage vaccination. It came the day after the revelations that Prof. Galia Rahav, a member of the Health Ministry panel that has been advising on vaccinations, was receiving threatening messages from anti-vaxxers.

Channel 12 News found that the head of public health at the ministry, Sharon Alroy-Pries, was also receiving inciting messages on social media. Doctors also said they were compared to Nazis. Epidemiologist Prof. Hagai Levine, who previously served as the head of the doctors union, told Channel 12 that he received phone calls and comments online in which he was compared to Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, who performed medical experiments on humans.

Other doctors are falsely accused of having a financial interest in the pharmaceutical companies producing vaccines.

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