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Israel media review

Danse Macabre: What the press is saying on October 9

Ultra-Orthodox adherence to virus rules (or lack thereof) remains in the spotlight with another holiday upon the Jews, and business owners may look to start their own rebellion

Israelis dance with Torah scrolls during the festival of Simchat Torah, September 2010. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Israelis dance with Torah scrolls during the festival of Simchat Torah, September 2010. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

1. Scroll down: Israel is entering another weekend with positive signs in its battle against the coronavirus, but fears of a fresh outbreak thanks to the rootinest tootinest holiday since we got the pandemic kicked off with Purim in March.

  • “Don’t pray in closed spaces. Don’t kiss torah scrolls,” reads the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, pimping a rare joint missive from both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis.
  • “These days are days of great danger, of historic plague, days in which the Angel of Death is going around and harming everyone,” Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef urge in the letter, Citing verses from the Torah and the Jewish legal principle of pikuah nefesh, or saving a life.
  • Israel Hayom, which uses its top headline to urge readers to “choose life,” runs a communique from President Reuven Rivlin, saying that “there is no other choice,” but to put aside the normal Orthodox traditions of dancing around Torah scrolls in crowded rooms for a year.
  • “If we don’t fight this together, shoulder to shoulder, this battle for the health of the public, we won’t be able to do it. We have to celebrate the holiday according to the guidelines via a sense of mutual responsibility, while praying deeply that this plague will lift from our midst,” he (or his speechwriter) writes.
  • Kikar Hashabbat, a leading ultra-Orthodox news site, leads with a story quoting the head of a top rabbinical body saying that for the first time in 60 years he will not lead massive crowded circle dances at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva. Instead, he says, he will host a “smaller quorum,” in his sukkah, where he will pray (never mind that that is also technically forbidden).
  • The story notes that in a letter sent out by the Council of Torah Sages that he leads “the rabbinic leaders of Israel warned that those who do not keep the guidelines should be considered as potential murderers.”

2. Is the message getting through, though? Yedioth’s Ynet news site reports that top rabbis in Bnei Brak have published a letter telling residents they could pray and dance in synagogues during Simchat Torah, in contravention of coronavirus guidelines.

  • “Observe the mitzvot of the day along with the necessary caution at this time so as not to be harmed or, God forbid, to not harm others,” Rabbis Tzvi Rosenblatt, Chaim Yitzchak Isaac Landau and Masoud Ben Shimon write.
  • In ultra-Orthodox daily Hamevaser, there are no letters from rabbis making equivocal calls for people to avoid crowds and celebrations. Rather you have a headline “The main part of the mitzvah of joy is to slough off all your worries and revel in the joyous joy of God.”
  • “Despite it all, we need to be strong and congregate as much as we can, to be joyous together in the joy of the holiday,” reads the piece, taken from an address by the head of the Aleksander Hasidic dynasty. “Surely when we are joyous as needed on Sukkot and especially on Simchat Torah, we will merit the healing and salvation of all matters worldy and spiritual.”
  • On ultra-Orthodox website Bhadrei Haredim, the top story claims that “there are more people being infected on buses than in synagogues.”
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that some “Hasidic groups, along with dozens of yeshivas in Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox areas around the country, plan to hold mass celebrations. … At the same time, reports of Haredi yeshiva leaders deliberately encouraging mass infection among their students during the High Holy Days period are multiplying. The police, the municipalities and the headquarters of coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu are all in contact with the various ultra-Orthodox communities, including the most radical ones. But aside from some heavy-handed and useless shows of force by police, there has been no real attempt to dictate policy to them.”
  • “At least some of the planned celebrations will go ahead regardless, and the high infection rate among the Haredim will probably continue after the holiday period too,” he predicts.
  • Walla reports that worshipers in Modi’in Illit rumbled with cops trying to shut down their prayers overnight.
  • According to the report, “During the night following the removal of the worshipers, dozens of extremist Haredi youth burned trees and brush around the city. In the wake of that, dozens of fires were started around Modi’in Ilit, and damage was caused to cars.”
  • On Friday morning, reports of major fires threatening homes in a settlement adjacent to Modiin Ilit dominate media coverage, though reports do not link the two.

3. Press pressure: Reporters are also not safe from the unruly mobs. Army Radio’s religious affairs reporter Shahar Glick tells the station he was attacked on Wednesday night in the Kiryat Belz neighborhood of Jerusalem, where he was waiting to report on a celebratory event banned under the national coronavirus lockdown rules.

  • Glick says he was spotted watching the event get started, and was soon after surrounded and beaten. At the end, he says he was taken into an alley by a man, who questioned him, photographed his press card and ID card, and told him that he was risking his life reporting on the community; that those who attacked him could have killed him; and that bad things happen to those who “pry” into other people.
  • “This was not spontaneous, it was planned,” he says on Twitter.
  • On Thursday night, it was Kan’s Aviad Shikman, who tried to do a live standup from Bnei Brak and got shoved around by an unruly group while attempting to report.
  • “We wanted to report on positive things … but you can see that also tonight in Bnei Brak me and the cameraman are being attacked, the camera is shaking from being shoved around, they are throwing bottles at us, really we wanted to report on positive things. There’s not a single cop here, just some city workers trying to help us.”
  • In the 7th Eye, Yuval Dror also attacks reporters — verbally that is — for making a hot mess of reporting around the virus, giving uninformed opinions, half statistics and misleading or confusing news consumers every step of the way.
  • “The good news: The virus is no longer getting the terror attack treatment. The bad news: What has replaced it is much worse,” he writes. “What’s happening in the studios these days is total chaos and dereliction of the clear, ethical stance that says ‘we stick to the facts, science and statistics and any price.’ … ‘the media] is used to ramp up trolling and is creating frustration, shame and helplessness. I would not be surprised if this is one of the reasons why many of us feel this way these days.”

4. A rift grows in Brooklyn: Getting more press than the attacks on journalists in Israel, which are barely covered, is an attack on Jewish Insider reporter Jacob Kornbluh by an ultra-Orthodox mob in New York.

  • Speaking to Army Radio, Kornbluh says the protesters who attacked him calling him “Nazi” and “Hitler,” and were angry at him for reporting on non-compliance with health guidelines, which led to them getting punished.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer notes that they also called him a “moyser,” Yiddish for “snitch,” though he explains that the term is much deadlier. In the Old Country, being accused of being a moyser was often a death sentence, though it wasn’t mobs doing it back then, since they feared the authorities. This time, they were waving Trump flags.
  • “Jews attacking a moyser for giving other Jews away to the goyim, while they themselves pledge allegiance to the top goy in the land — now, that’s got to be a first,” he writes. “This isn’t just a quirky coincidence. It tells us a lot about where ultra-Orthodox Jews are right now, and not just in the United States. It may seem like a contradiction to attack another Jew for ‘collaborating’ with the government, while waving flags praising the head of the government, but it is no more than a contradiction than deeply religious people voting faithfully for a godless sinner.”
  • Avi Shafran, public affairs director of an umbrella body for US Orthodox Jews, admits to ToI’s Jacob Magid that compliance has indeed waned in the community.
  • “When, back in the spring, ambulance sirens were the background sound of everyday life, and everyone knew someone who had succumbed to the deadly virus, people were compelled to pay attention. When things are quiet, as they generally have been more recently… it is easy to become complacent. That is human nature,” he says.
  • But he claims that the community has since fallen in line, accusing the New York authorities of singling out Orthodox Jews and refusing to engage: “Had the governor and the mayor truly engaged the Orthodox leadership in a good faith effort to build on that recognition, things would have been very different from the anger and frustration we are seeing now.”
  • In an op-ed for JTA, oncology nurse practitioner Blima Marcus says the Orthodox leadership needs to stop looking for others to blame: “With our cases rising and the governor taking a strong stance, our leadership fomented theories on persecution, anti-Semitism, freedom of religion and more. The culmination of all of these inappropriate responses? Shameful protests, injuries, rampant desecration of God’s name.”
  • Taking the other side, JNS’s Jonathan Tobin says that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio “have, as is usually the case with politicians who become drunk with power, become extremely intolerant of those who push back against them, which have put the Orthodox community in their cross-hairs.”

5. It’s the economy, sicko: It’s true that it’s not only the ultra-Orthodox breaking the rules, and in Israel some are threatening to go rogue after the weekend, especially as infection numbers start to go down.

  • Yedioth runs a prominent headline that “the time has come for all of us to join the rebellion.”
  • The paper reports that some 60,000 people have joined a Facebook group protesting the lockdown and calling for businesses to reopen.
  • “I’ve been sitting at home frustrated and depressed and every day customers call and beg me to open,” a cosmetician is quoted saying. “I thought about opening under the radar but then I heard that some people are still doing nails, and grocery stores are open and have lines out the door and Ms. Sara [Netanyahu] got a cut and color at home. So why can’t I open.”
  • Tamar Barelko, owner of the Arcaffe chain leading the “rebellion” tells Israel Hayom that “I’m not a COVID denier and I’m not talking about opening up event venues, but opening small businesses so people can put food on the table. By the end of this year, 100,000 small businesses will close — the most serious illness is the economy. People are losing homes, there’s no vision, no exit plan, and no help.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is set to recommend starting to reopen the economy on October 14 or 15, or maybe October 18, though it’s not clear what may open and what may not.
  • Health Ministry Deputy Director Itamar Grotto tells Army Radio that it’s not the date that matters but the numbers.
  • “We need to get [down] to 2,000 infections a day, and to a spread rate of 0.7 or 0.8. We are now around 0.9. Things are moving in the right direction, and if it continues we’ll be able to open daycares and kindergartens,” he says.
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