Deri said to warn of possible Haredi ‘revolt’ if yeshivas barred from reopening

TV report says many rabbis back opening ultra-Orthodox schools next week, even if government doesn’t ease lockdown restrictions

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at a Knesset faction meeting of his Shas party on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at a Knesset faction meeting of his Shas party on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has reportedly warned of a possible “revolt” among ultra-Orthodox Jews if yeshivas are not allowed to reopen next week, as Israeli television said many Haredi educational institutions may open their doors even if barred from doing so by the government.

According to Kan news, the comments by Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, came during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials before the so-called coronavirus cabinet convenes Thursday to discuss easing the sweeping restrictions now in place.

“We’re headed for an explosion. If you don’t reach an arrangement with us, I really fear a revolt by the ultra-Orthodox sector. There will be large-scale violations and it will be hard to enforce the regulations,” Deri was quoted as saying.

Kan also reported that many rabbis backed reopening ultra-Orthodox schools next week despite opposition from Roni Numa, a former general who has led and assisted official efforts to deal with the coronavirus crisis in the Haredi community.

During a video briefing Wednesday, Numa said infection rates have not dropped enough to allow local Haredi schools to reopen.

Yeshiva students study in separation capsules in Jerusalem on September 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“They’re asking us to open but we can’t open, we can’t allow this,” he said.

He said, however, that boarding schools could be allowed to reopen because students do not regularly return home.

Numa put the positive test rate among ultra-Orthodox Israelis at 12.8 percent, about double recent nationwide numbers, but well below rates of over 20% seen in the community in past week.

He also said that “we are still not far enough from Sukkot to understand what that holiday did to us, and so we need to understand if the holiday had a negative effect.”

Earlier Wednesday, Kan aired footage showing dozens of yeshiva students in Ashdod returning to their seminary after the Sukkot holiday break, despite the continued closure of schools throughout Israel — with no social distancing and almost no masks.

Some experts have pointed to the opening of yeshivas in late August as a major factor in the massive spike in infections Israel saw in September, especially in the ultra-Orthodox community. Schools had promised to quarantine students and impose various safety valves, but reports have indicated few kept to them.

Criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community has been growing in recent weeks. Though many in the community are keeping to guidelines, a significant number disregarded lockdown restrictions during Sukkot, including by holding mass gatherings.

Ministers agreed Tuesday to extend the ongoing lockdown — which began September 18 and was slated to end on Wednesday evening — until Sunday night.

On Thursday, the coronavirus cabinet will meet to discuss whether to ease any of the lockdown measures next week, including allowing takeout from restaurants and the reopening of preschools and some small businesses that don’t receive in-person customers.

The Health Ministry has a phased exit plan spanning four months that would see the country gradually return to normal activity, starting with increased freedom of movement and eventually reopening daycares, schools, synagogues, malls and other venues. The stages would only kick into gear when the national daily tally dips below 2,000 cases and the person-to-person spread is slowed.

The government is also planning to differentiate between cities with low and high infections rates, with so-called “red” zones remaining under lockdown longer while “green” areas open.

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