Over a dozen ultra-Orthodox yeshivas become coronavirus hotels as cases mount

Hundreds of infected Hasidic students moved to facility in Tel Aviv, prompting anger by local residents

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)

Over a dozen ultra-Orthodox yeshivas have been transformed into housing facilities for COVID-19 patients, after serious outbreaks in the religious institutions and amid fears of a wider spread of the disease over the upcoming Yom Kippur and Sukkot holidays.

According to the Haaretz daily, 14 schools have recently become coronavirus hotels.

One of the largest outbreaks was detected among members of the Gur Hasidic sect, with 438 cases among yeshiva students, over half of which were confirmed after Rosh Hashanah prayers last week.

The Hasidic students were moved into two facilities, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, sparking anger among some Tel Aviv residents, who claimed the conversion of the yeshiva into a coronavirus hotel was not coordinated with police or local authorities.

Illustrative: United Hatzalah workers wearing protective clothing as a preventive measure against the coronavirus test ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, at the Wolfson Yeshiva in Jerusalem on August 27, 2020. ( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“What right do they have to set up a coronavirus hotel in a neighborhood full of children and adults and how can it be that it’s all done quietly and without notifying the public?” a resident fumed to the municipality on social media. “How can it be that in a green [low infection] area, that observes the laws and social distancing, they allow students sick with the coronavirus to freely wander in the neighborhood?”

Police dispatched officers to ensure no one left the building after the complaints, according to Haaretz. The Tel Aviv municipality, after initially denying knowledge of the reoutfitted virus hotel, said it would secure the site further and said additional sick were set to be sent to the yeshiva.

IDF Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, who coordinates between the government and the ultra-Orthodox community on the pandemic, said the measure was designed to keep the students from returning home to their large families and infecting them with the virus, Haaretz reported.

Officials in the Gur Hasidic sect told the Ynet news site that the infected students had been part of a confined capsule and have remained in isolation since testing positive, thereby limiting the chances for an even larger outbreak.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also confirmed the conversion of the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem yeshiva facilities into coronavirus hotels.

The move aims to prevent some 1,000-1,500 students from leaving the yeshivas after Yom Kippur, when it officially goes on break for the holidays.

Despite implementing a “capsules” system and requiring all students to wear masks and socially distance, over a dozen other yeshivas have also seen outbreaks of hundreds of cases, according to Hebrew media reports.

Authorities fear prayers during the upcoming Yom Kippur holiday, which begins Sunday night, could further spread the virus. Under lockdown measures approved by the cabinet last week, prayers were set to be considerably restricted indoors and limited to 20 people outdoors. But the regulations on worship, as well as on protests, failed to win Knesset approval on Friday. Hebrew-language media reports suggested that synagogues would in any case operate during Yom Kippur under the previous restrictions in place for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Top ultra-Orthodox rabbis of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) streams have urged their followers to pray outdoors in small groups and heed the social distancing and mask-wearing rules, but it remained unclear whether some Hasidic groups would buck the instructions and hold mass prayers.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry reported 8,315 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Friday — a new single-day record. Updated numbers also showed that there had been 29 deaths since Friday afternoon, 16 of which occurred so far on Saturday, bringing the death toll up to 1,441.

As of Saturday evening, Israel had a total of 227,1006 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 68,122 active cases.

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