Haredi inmates to get prison-issued hats and jackets after minister steps in

Prisons had enforced ban on ultra-Orthodox civilian garb during prayers for fear of jailbreaks; Sephardic chief rabbi, Shas minister had protested move

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

The Ma'asiyahu Prison complex in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy/Israel Prisons Service)
The Ma'asiyahu Prison complex in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy/Israel Prisons Service)

Ultra-Orthodox prisoners will be permitted to continue shedding their jumpsuits in favor of a black hat and jacket during prayer after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan stepped in to lift a newly enforced ban on the Haredi garb.

The prison services began implementing the order over fears the black civilian garb could aid inmates in breaking out of prison. Following the intervention of the senior Likud minister this week, they agreed to roll out special hats and jackets for the prisoners that would be marked and easily distinguished from the guards’ black uniforms, according to Hebrew reports on Wednesday and Thursday.

Until the new prison-issued faux-Haredi uniforms are introduced, the prisoners will be permitted to continue wearing their own items of clothing during prayer services.

Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry and its Sephardi chief rabbi had issued a protest of the recent enforcement of the directive, condemning the rule as a “violation of religious freedom.”

In a letter sent on Monday to Erdan, who oversees the service, Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (Shas) branded the new rules a “serious violation of religious freedom, which is a basic constitutional right.”

He was quoting a religious opinion by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who also sent a letter to Erdan last week condemning the new directive.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (R) speaks during a ceremony before the Passover holiday, April 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 91), there is a matter of wearing a special garment for prayer, in order to fulfill the commandment of preparing to approach your God, Israel,” wrote Yosef, according to the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabat website. “Which means that preventing prisoners who are accustomed to wearing a hat and jacket during prayers hurts their freedom of religion and worship.” According to the Haredi website, among the prisoners affected by the new ban is former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger, who is serving a three-year prison term for corruption.

The prison service told Hadashot news earlier this month the order was not new, but did not explain why it was now being enforced. It was designed to prevent the prisoners from slipping away unnoticed by the guards to escape, reports said.

The directive primarily affects inmates in Maasiyahu prison’s Orthodox wing 10, which offers eased religious restrictions on prisoners. The wing  — which is generally seen as more accommodating to its detainees  — also formerly housed ex-president Moshe Katsav, jailed on rape charges, and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was incarcerated on graft charges, and a slew of other high-profile inmates.

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