Police pull infected worshiper from Jerusalem synagogue

Man violates quarantine ahead of start of Yom Kippur, hit with NIS 5,000 fine; health official says infected and high-risk yeshiva students will not return home for Sukkot holiday

A border police officer on patrol in Jerusalem's Old City during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, September 27, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A border police officer on patrol in Jerusalem's Old City during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, September 27, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Police removed a man who was infected with the coronavirus from a Jerusalem synagogue on Sunday, shortly before the start of the Yom Kippur holiday.

The man was apparently aware that he had the virus and was supposed to be in quarantine.

“A short time ago, police received a report of the presence of a diagnosed coronavirus carrier in one of the synagogues in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood in Jerusalem,” police said in a statement.

“Police officers arrived on the scene, located him, wrote him a fine of NIS 5,000 and escorted him back to his home where he is required to stay in isolation,” police said in a statement.

Prayer services have become a bone of contention in Israel’s coronavirus policy, as cases surge during the Jewish High Holiday season.

Authorities fear group prayer services during the holidays could further spread the virus, but lawmakers were unable to agree on prayer and protest restrictions in lockdown measures approved by the cabinet last week.

Officials are reportedly worried about students in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas returning home to their families and infecting them with the virus after Yom Kippur, which ends on Monday evening.

IDF Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, who coordinates between the government and the ultra-Orthodox community on the pandemic, said on Sunday that yeshiva students who were infected will not be allowed to return home after Yom Kippur.

Numa said that the decision was made in coordination with the yeshivas and after carrying out virus checks at the institutions. Students who were in quarantine, but not infected, will also not be allowed to return home.

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

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.

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.

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.

Aryeh Deri, head of the Shas ultra-Orthodox party, in an interview with a religious radio station ahead of the holiday, called on listeners to pray outside of synagogues, or in their own homes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he had spoken with Israel’s chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau.

“I thanked them for their leadership and their joint call to pray as much as possible in open areas, and in all cases to strictly observe the general precautions,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Under the new lockdown rules, 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.

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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