Police arrested a verified coronavirus patient who came to a synagogue in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of Jerusalem for Yom Kippur prayers. A quick investigation revealed that he knew he had to stay in isolation at home, and knowingly violated the law. The patient was removed from the synagogue and fined NIS 5,000 ($1,444). The police then escorted him home.
In Bnei Brak, too, police carried out the enforcement of the pandemic rules against dozens of young men who were observed in the public space wearing no masks and not keeping a distance of two meters from each other, in total violation of the Health Ministry’s guidelines for the holiday lockdown.
Police said that during Yom Kippur, officers continued to enforce the corona restrictions across the country, and issued 3,922 summonses for various violations of the Corona guidelines, Most of them – 2,789 – were issued for leaving home without an acceptable purpose. A total of 968 summonses were issued for not wearing a mask, 44 for breach of quarantine regulations, and an additional 60 for staying in a business that was illegally open to the public, or being on the beach.
On Yom Kippur 5781, a minority of religious Jews—mostly those who are hostile to the state, refused to alter their tradition despite the danger of the plague, and thus undoubtedly caused an increase in the number of victims; and the vast majority of religious and traditional Israeli Jews, who obeyed the instructions, protected their lives and, as a result, had a special, once in a lifetime experience (we hope) of Yom Kippur prayers in the shadow of the pandemic.
Haaretz reported that inside the main synagogue of the Belz Chasidim in Kiryat Belz in Jerusalem, which normally offers 2,000 seats to the congregation (and must curtail this number by a lot to keep with the pandemic rules), many men and children were standing crowded in the aisles, and all the spaces around the benches. No one was wearing a face mask, and a rough estimate suggested there were at least 4,000 people pushed together inside. When asked if they were not afraid of the corona, some congregants replied that they were “only afraid of the Judgment Day.”
Could have fooled me.
On the other hand, in the Boyan Chasidim’s synagogue on Malkhei Israel Street, the regulations were observed strictly and the congregants were divided according to age groups. Men sixty and older prayed in the women’s section upstairs. In the main hall, the yeshiva students were separated from the married men. And in the basement, there was a separate children’s minyan.
Gur Chasidism also took the restrictions seriously and surrounded their large synagogue in Jerusalem with two circles of security personnel. Only those who held a pre-issued ticket were allowed to enter. Inside, the movement had invested millions in erecting a capsule system, which included two-week isolation since before Rosh Hashanah, and the separate grouping of 3,600 people inside the spaces of the synagogue.
In the strongholds of the anti-Zionist Haredi communities, such as Toldos Aharon and Shumeri Emunim, ignoring the coronavirus guidelines took on the distinct air of defiance and even rebellion. Two large Palestinian flags were hung on electrical wires in the middle of Mea Shearim Street – a custom usually reserved for Israel’s Independence Day. The revolt was manifested most profoundly in the mass gatherings for prayer in the synagogues of the anti-Zionists. Ads with the headline “Yom Kippur War 5781” were plastered around the Mea Shearim neighborhood, proclaiming that “the eternal struggle between holiness and impurity, between faith and heresy, between Judaism and Zionism, has reached its final phase,” because Netanyahu had “declared war on the sacred day of the people of Israel.”
But in other neighborhoods in Jerusalem, as in many other cities in the rest of the country, hundreds of thousands of Israelis prayed on Yom Kippur in small groups, in courtyards and gardens, and even sitting on plastic chairs on sidewalks.
May all of us, Haredim, National Religious, Traditional, and all the other Jews in Israel and around the planet merit to see us emerging on the other side of this plague, healthy and happy.