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Police fine Hasidic day schools in Beitar Illit for opening during lockdown

Ultra-Orthodox facing growing criticism for continued flouting of rules; deputy health minister calls schools opening early ‘a disgrace’

Illustrative: An ultra-Orthodox man walks his son to the Poalei Menahem Talmud Torah school, in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit,  September 4, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: An ultra-Orthodox man walks his son to the Poalei Menahem Talmud Torah school, in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, September 4, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Police shut down a number of the schools in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit that opened their doors to students Monday in contravention of the lockdown rules.

Several Talmud Torahs (ultra-Orthodox day schools for boys) connected to the Slonim and Nadvorna Hasidic dynasties in the city opened in violation of Health Ministry restrictions meant to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reported.

Police fined a number of principals NIS 5,000 ($1,500) for violating the lockdown.

Criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community has been growing in recent weeks, as videos have proliferated showing continued refusal to comply with lockdown rules while the rest of the country has seen freedoms heavily curtailed by the emergency regulations.

Police officers clash with Haredi men during a protest against the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, October 4, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch responded to the opening of the schools, saying, “If this is true, it is a disgrace. The police should be sent there now to close them down.”

Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto announced Monday that lower grades in day schools could open on November 1.

A possible source of confusion as to when schools were to open was the Sunday flip-flopping of prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who initially called for Haredi boys’ day schools to open on Monday and then reversed his order hours later.

According to Channel 13 news, in Beitar Illit, parents were told to ignore the rulings of the “secular authorities” — an apparent reference to the Education Ministry specifically issuing warnings against opening schools in the city.

The ultra-Orthodox have seen sky-high coronavirus infection rates, with an assessment last week finding that the rate of infection in the community is some three times that of the national average. Spiraling infections across the country prompted the current lockdown, the second this year. Although initially scheduled to be lifted at the end of Sukkot, officials have said it will continue for at least a week longer before any easing of restrictions takes place.

Critics have accused the police of being reluctant to crack down on the ultra-Orthodox, while others have accused officers of using excessive force against Haredi protesters and anti-government activists holding regular demonstrations.

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