Health Ministry orders closure of all ultra-Orthodox schools

Order comes after police find 200 students at Haredi school in Tel Aviv violating ban on public gatherings of over 10 people to contain virus

An illustrative photo a yeshiva in Ashdod. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)
An illustrative photo a yeshiva in Ashdod. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday ordered the shuttering of all ultra-Orthodox schools, after a number of institutions in that community were found flouting existing directives to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The ministry’s legal adviser Uri Schwartz issued the order under a public health regulation that was signed earlier this week.

The order applies to all kindergartens, elementary schools, the Beit Yaakov chain of schools, religious schools for boys (yeshivas) and for girls (seminaries) and religious study programs for young men.

“All these institutions must stop their operations immediately,” the order said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews at the Chabad yeshiva, in Safed, August 13, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israel ordered the closing of all schools last week to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but many ultra-Orthodox schools remained open under the instruction of their religious leaders.

In a compromise brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, some prominent religious leaders said they would divide students into groups of ten, in keeping with Health Ministry directives limiting the size of public gatherings.

But earlier Wednesday, police removed upwards of 200 people from an ultra-Orthodox school in Tel Aviv that was operating in violation of government instructions.

“A call was received about an illegal gathering in an educational institution in Tel Aviv. Officers who arrived at the scene saw a gathering of more than 200 people, in violation of the law, and worked to break it up,” police said.

In a television interview Wednesday, Netanyahu said many Israelis were not adhering to new Health Ministry directives to remain at home, with the exception of essential needs. Netanyahu said he was therefore considering making the instructions legally binding.

“Some in the ultra-Orthodox community and some in the ‘minority’ community are not listening to the directives,” he said, using a euphemism for Arabs.

On Tuesday, police arrested four people following an ultra-Orthodox wedding in the city of Beit Shemesh in which at least 150 people participated.

The Hebrew-language Kikar Hashabbat news portal reported that a separate Hassidic wedding with some 200 participants also took place Tuesday night in Beit Shemesh.

Also Tuesday, the Health Ministry launched a “special public relations mission” in which cars equipped with loudspeakers were dispatched to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to implore residents to obey instructions aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

The messages, relayed over the loudspeakers in both Yiddish and Hebrew, are “to clarify the unprecedented urgency of obeying Health Ministry instructions,” a ministry statement said.

There have been 433 cases of the virus in Israel, six of them serious.

Israel has taken far-reaching measures to contain the pandemic, including sealing its borders to non-citizens and non-residents, calling off schools, banning gatherings of over 10 people, and shutting down all malls, gyms and restaurants.

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