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'It pains me to see people dying who didn't need to die'

Bnei Brak hospital chief resigns after saying Hasidic public ‘killing people’

Lashed for his comments on widespread flouting of virus rules, Moti Ravid insists he was referring to ‘extremist sects’ in the ultra-Orthodox community

Prof. Moti Ravid (Arielinson / Wikipedia)
Prof. Moti Ravid (Arielinson / Wikipedia)

The director of a hospital in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak announced his resignation Thursday after he was pummeled for an interview in which he accused members of the Hasidic community of killing people by flouting the coronavirus guidelines.

Prof. Moti Ravid, the director of the ultra-Orthodox Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, expressed his frustration with the Hassidic community in an interview with Kan public radio, citing what he called “one of the most lawless events in the history of the State of Israel.”

His comments came as reports have indicated a wholesale flouting of coronavirus restrictions in various ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods.

Ravid said that, while most of the city’s residents were trying to abide by government regulations, in Bnei Brak there are “Hasidic neighborhoods that are flouting the rules,” and that “talking to the rabbis will not help .. [they] have lost control of their communities to a certain extent.”

A patient infected with the coronavirus is seen during morning prayer at the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, Bnei Brak, April 27, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“Until today there has never been an entire group of people that has disregarded authority like this, and killed people… I don’t understand what religion has to do with what they’re doing. They were taught to get everything and give nothing back for years,” he said.

Asked about what was happening in the non-Hasidic Haredi community, Ravid said, “The people of Bnei Brak are mostly different, they are people like you and me who try to follow the guidelines. [However,] they don’t really succeed because the city is tightly packed with people, and that is part of their way of life.”

Ravid’s comments drew swift condemnation from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.

Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) called Ravid “a man full of hatred and hypocrisy” and accused him of “earning a living off the public he is so disgusted with.”

MK Ya’akov Asher, also of UTJ, told Channel 12 that Ravid has worked with the local community for 20 years. He said his comments were “unfortunate” and wanted to “ascribe it to the exhaustion” of everybody in the healthcare system, but also said Ravid had clearly failed to “diagnose” the community despite all his years working within it.

Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev holds a face mask during a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Asher said the majority of ultra-Orthodox people were following the rules. “I’ve just come from Bnei Brak… It’s like Tisha B’av there,” he said of the quiet streets, usually teeming with celebratory events on Sukkot.

In response to the intense criticism elicited by his remarks, Ravid announced he would resign, while insisting he had been misunderstood and wanted to help the ultra-Orthodox public.

“I was referring to extremist sects,” he said. “I did not want to hurt anyone. I very much apologize for people being hurt.”

In a Channel 12 interview on Thursday night, Ravid reiterated that he was referring to an extreme “minority” in the ultra-Orthodox community that “doesn’t heed the rabbis and does what it wants to.”

He said he had spoken “out of frustration and pain. As someone who sees people dying every day,” he said, “it pains me to see people dying who didn’t need to die, because somebody didn’t wear a mask or somebody didn’t observe social distancing.”

He said he had resigned because “the CEO of the hospital came to me and said I was causing damage to the hospital.”

Mayanei Hayeshua describes itself as an ultra-Orthodox hospital and maintains a staff of rabbinical experts to answer religious questions that may arise while giving medical care.

The hospital management accepted Ravid’s resignation and expressed regret at his “offensive remarks.”

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox have been hit especially hard by the virus and have faced intense criticism from other segments of society for highly publicized cases of flouting the rules, most recently during the ongoing second lockdown.

Haredi Jews from the Hasidic sect of Shomrei Emunim attend the funeral of Rabbi Refael Aharon Roth, 72, who died from the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Israel, August 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Last week, the government’s COVID-19 czar, Ronni Gamzu, told ministers that ultra-Orthodox Israelis are 2.5 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus and that 40% of recent cases were in the ultra-Orthodox community.

While ultra-Orthodox leaders have insisted their community has been abiding by the lockdown restrictions, there have been widespread reports of flagrant violations of the guidelines along with clashes between police and residents of ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods.

On Sunday, Police arrested 13 people in Bnei Brak during violent clashes that erupted as police tried to shutter a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox city, where hundreds were praying in violation of the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

Besides violating the restrictions on gatherings in enclosed spaces, police said most worshipers were not wearing masks or adhering to social distancing rules. After cops began handing out fines, the worshipers “began resisting and disturbing public order,” according to police.

Violent clashes also broke out in ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem, as police tried to enforce the lockdown measures. Police said four people were arrested for disturbances and that demonstrators were blocking traffic and burning trash in the Jerusalem neighborhood.

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