Hundreds protest in ultra-Orthodox city after worshipers detained

2 said arrested during Modiin Illit demonstration against lockdown rules, limits on prayer services

A protest in Modiin Illit on September 29, 2020 (screen capture via Twitter)
A protest in Modiin Illit on September 29, 2020 (screen capture via Twitter)

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men protested in Modiin Illit on Tuesday night, following the detention of several worshipers during a prayer service for violating the lockdown rules.

Police arrived at a synagogue in the West Bank settlement earlier on Tuesday where they found dozens of worshipers praying together without masks or observing social distancing regulations. Officers broke up the gathering and took five worshipers in for questioning.

Demonstrators affiliated with the hardline Jerusalem Faction blocked traffic and condemned the police intervention on Tuesday night. Some yelled, “Only the rabbis will determine what is permitted and what is forbidden” and “Torah and prayer are what protect the world and prevent disease,” according to Ynet news site.

The report said two protesters were arrested as police dispersed the demonstration.

The ultra-Orthodox group vowed to step up the demonstrations.

Citing Health Ministry data, the Ynet news site reported Monday that positive test rates were sky-high in five largely ultra-Orthodox towns, standing at 32.53 percent over the past week in Beitar Illit, 31.27% in Elad, 27.91% in Bnei Brak, 26.42% in Modiin Illit and 23.04% in Beit Shemesh.

The national figure for positive tests stands at some 14%.

Health Ministry data late Tuesday showed nearly 1,200 new cases in Modiin Illit over the past week, with 223 active cases per 10,000 residents in the settlement, the fourth highest rate in the nation.

Another ultra-Orthodox event broken up by police was held Monday evening in the primarily ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, with a large gathering of the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect. Videos of the event showed many people close together without masks.

Members of the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect gather in the primarily ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak late on September 28, 2020 (Screen capture; Kan)

Reports surfaced Tuesday of wholesale flouting of coronavirus restrictions in various ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods, as Israel saw its daily coronavirus deaths per capita surpass those of the United States, and as the number of serious cases passed the 800-mark once cited by health officials as a red line for hospitals. The number of daily virus cases has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

Israel’s second lockdown, which started on September 18, has been less stringent than the country’s first earlier this year, despite cases and deaths soaring daily. The public has accordingly been reported to be taking a more lax approach to the limitations.

Though Israelis largely adhere to mask-wearing and hygiene practices, many have ventured outside and engaged socially despite the closure of much of the economy. A political battle has also been waged over ongoing large-scale demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the Knesset set to ban such protests for the duration of the lockdown.

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