Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Jewish men pray outside an apartment building in Ramot, Jerusalem, September 9, 2020.

Israel’s Health Ministry has completed the multi-stage plan to curb the rise in morbidity from the coronavirus pandemic, and it will go to a government vote on Sunday.

According to the outline of the closure the government will be asked to approve, the education system will close down as early as Wednesday, and a total lockdown will be imposed on the country on Friday at 6 AM.

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Of course, pressure from several ministers is expected to change the outline, especially regarding the ban on operating hotels during the high holiday month and the issue of group prayers.

According to the plan, in the first phase, a full lockdown will be imposed, probably for two weeks, restricting movement to 500 meters from people’s homes. The public and private sectors will be shut down, except for vital businesses, supermarkets and pharmacies.

As mentioned, educational institutions will be shut down, except for Special Ed classes. Teleconferencing will be encouraged “wherever possible.” About 20% of Israeli households with school age children do not have computers, so tough on them.

If the morbidity is reduced, Israel will move to a more lenient outline known as “tightened restraint.”

The new decrees are very likely to engender rebellion, as many in Israel no longer trust government to be making correct decisions on handling the pandemic. A number of self-employed individuals and business owners in various industries have warned of disobedience to the lockdown if no pre-agreed compensation is handed out by the state.

At this point, many Israelis have emptied out their savings, and were anticipating some prosperity as regulations have been reduced. Now they’re stuck. Home sales are on the rise in affluent neighborhoods north of tel Aviv.

As of Friday night there were 3,962 new verified cases of coronavirus infections, out of 43,377 test. Currently there are 495 patients whose condition is defined as severe, 138 of whom are on respirators. 1,101 died from the pandemic so far.

The damage to the economy from a holiday lockdown is estimated to be as high as NIS 19 billion ($5.5 billion), according to a report issued on Saturday by the Finance Ministry’s chief economist.

About a week ago, it was announced that the budget deficit in Israel would increase in 2020 in an unprecedented way: from January to August, the deficit was NIS 87.5 billion ($16 billion) compared with NIS 29.2 billion ($8.5 billion) in the corresponding period in 2019.

The cumulative deficit in the last 12 months (September 2019 – August 2020) is 8.1% of GDP (a deficit of NIS 110.5 billion – $32 billion).

However, tax revenues actually jumped by 9% in real terms last August, compared to August the year before, because more israelis bought cars this year than last. Yes, car dealers are hungry, too, this year. It’s a buyer’s market if you’ve got cash these days. Of course, if your money is in dollars you’ll be disappointed a bit because the shekel – heaven know why – has been so strong this past year, Americans in Israel who live off the US pensions have experienced pay cuts.

On the spiritual front: prayers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will be held subject to the guidelines of the Health Ministry, which means that outdoors congregation will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 20. Indoors, the limit is 20 per group, and a shul may have as many groups as it has exits.

Praying people must maintaining a 2 meter distance in every direction, which, I believe, is 2 cubits more than allowed by halacha if one prays outdoors without an eruv on Shabbat.

In the second phase, which is expected to take place on Sukkot, the restriction 500 meters from the house will be removed. However, restrictions on prayers will remain the same as in the first phase, the education system and business will remain closed, and restrictions on work in the public sector will continue.

Shanah tova.

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