Gov’t, yeshivas said to agree on plan to relaunch studies under capsule program

Opening will reportedly depend on morbidity in community continuing to decline; health minister denies reports religious high schools allowed to reopen Sunday

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

The government has agreed on a plan to reopen ultra-Orthodox yeshivas next week according to the previously implemented “capsule” program, according to multiple media reports Thursday night.

The plan, negotiated between the government’s coronavirus manager for the ultra-Orthodox community Roni Numa, and top rabbis and yeshiva leaders, will see students return to school in isolated groups of up to 250, with multiple testing rounds. The groups will remain in isolation until the Hanukkah holiday in December.

Officials said the program would depend on morbidity rates among the Haredi population continuing their downward trend.

Haaretz reported that multiple yeshivas reopened Thursday illegally. School officials told the paper mask-wearing and distancing were practiced during study sessions.

In September Haaretz reported that the capsule program was not being properly adhered to at many yeshivas, with students breaking their capsule isolation, and many sent home at the end of the term without receiving test results showing them to be negative for coronavirus — as had been required by the government as part of the program.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men study Torah in small ‘capsule’ groups at the Ateret Shlomo Yeshiva in the city of Modiin Illit, August 24, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The high-level coronavirus cabinet voted earlier Thursday to begin lifting lockdown restrictions starting on Sunday, but cities with high morbidity — currently only cities with significant ultra-Orthodox populations — are expected to be ordered to remain under strict measures in order to contain the pandemic.

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 the holidays, including by holding mass gatherings.

Health ministry officials said Thursday that coronavirus infections among the ultra-Orthodox community had dropped to nearly half their rate during the height of the country’s second wave, but that it still remained about double that of the national averages.

Meanwhile, Channel 12 and the Israel Hayom newspaper reported that an exception in the approved government guidelines for the gradual exit from the countrywide lockdown will allow for the exclusive reopening of national religious yeshivas and boarding schools, while students at virtually all other high schools across the country will remain at home. The reports said this had been approved by the Education Ministry.

The report led to an immediate outcry both from leaders within the national religious camp as well as outside of it. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein denied that such an exemption had been approved and said national religious schools were not to reopen.

Two religious school networks, Bnei Akiva and Noam Tzvia, indicated they would not reopen so long as the rest of the education system remained closed.


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