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Fines for ultra-Orthodox schools that violated lockdown canceled – report

Knesset never authorized punishments; hundreds of other tickets also to be dropped unless measure okayed in coming days

An ultra-Orthodox boy walks with his father to a Talmud Torah school in the Sanhedrin neighborhood in Jerusalem, October 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: An ultra-Orthodox boy walks with his father to a Talmud Torah school in the Sanhedria neighborhood in Jerusalem, October 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dozens of fines issued to ultra-Orthodox schools that opened in violation of the national coronavirus lockdown were never paid and eventually canceled, due to a bureaucratic technicality, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

The lockdown, Israel’s second, began in September amid spiraling virus infection rates. It paralyzed much of the economy and shuttered the entire education system. After a month of closure, as infection numbers tumbled, the government began easing some restrictions, including opening preschools, while maintaining a strict closure on grade schools.

Yet Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a top Haredi rabbi, ordered ultra-Orthodox schools to reopen, in violation of the lockdown orders and despite high infection rates in many ultra-Orthodox communities. In particular, Talmud Torah schools, which roughly cover ages 5-13 in the ultra-Orthodox system, were restarted.

Police, amid accusations of lackadaisical enforcement, began issuing fines. According to Sunday’s report, 68 tickets were handed out to education institutions that opened, the clear majority of them in ultra-Orthodox communities, also known as Haredi. The fines added up to NIS 340,000 ($100,936).

However, authorization for the fines required Knesset approval of regulations tied to legislation concerning the virus outbreak.

Last Friday, legal officials contacted MK Ram Shefa, who chairs the Knesset Education Committee, and informed him that the necessary regulations were never approved, and that as a result the fines were canceled.

Blue and White party member Ram Shefa at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

In addition, hundreds of other fines for various lockdown offenses that also required approval of the regulations are set to similarly expire this week if they are not approved by the Knesset.

Shefa, of the Blue and White party, was last week forced to self-quarantine for 14 days, having been in recent contact with another lawmaker who is infected with the virus. Seven other MKs were also require to isolate due to MK Matan Kahana being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Unable to attend the Knesset, Shefa has asked Speaker Yariv Levin if he can help, but it seems unlikely that the regulations will be voted on in time, the report said.

Fines are a central plank in government strategy to see lockdown orders are followed. Though the government recently approved significantly raising the fines — in the case of education institutes, they were to rise from NIS 5,000 ($1,484) to NIS 20,000 ($5,937) — the move was blocked by Haredi coalition parties, which claimed the measure was deliberately targeting their community.

The reopening of schools in May, after the first nationwide closure, and again in September at the start of the school year, was blamed for upticks in virus cases around the country.

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