Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Israeli Police and soldiers at a checkpoint in Jerusalem, September 22, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown.

The Corona Czar Professor Ronni Gamzu said on Wednesday morning that about 6,700 Israelis tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours. This is a record number of infections in Israel since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish (Likud) also suggested this was a negative record, adding: “We need to go for tightening the rules in the near future until after the intermediary days of Sukkot.”

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The Corona Cabinet is expected to convene Wednesday at 11:30 AM after Tuesday’s meeting had been adjourned without a decision. It was agreed that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, and Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana will submit an outline on Wednesday that would limit the demonstrations but will not ban them completely, and at the same time will allow for prayers to be held outdoors.

The proposal to formulate these outlines was initiated by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and they will be worked out by the staff of the three ministries.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri threatened on Tuesday: “I will not be able to stay in a government that decides to close down synagogues, but leaves demonstrations undisturbed.”

How unfortunate that an important Haredi leader such as Rabbi Deri does not learn from the Mishnah (Avot 2: 5): “Where there are no people, try to be a man,” preferring instead the updated version: “Where there are no people, why should I be a pushover?”

“First they asked for a lockdown that would be considerate of the economy, and then they wanted to tighten it, and from a health policy point of view this is a tight lockdown,” said Prof. Gamzu, who added that “in terms of morbidity, we see that there are 6,700 new verified cases, but of course this figure is not related to the lockdown but to the period before.”

Makes sense.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, in his role as CEO of Ichilov hospital, cheers an Israeli airforce acrobatic team flying over his facility on Israel’s 72nd Independence Day, April 29, 2020. / Miriam Alster/Flash90

The Czar continued: “It should be noted that we do not currently see a full response from the public, not from the Haredi society or from the secular society. We have also seen some violations of the guidelines and this requires further tightening.”

Prof. Gamzu explained that at this stage it’s important to take advantage, as much as possible, of the days of the lockdown for any further reduction of cases. “The government also understands this and will today make decisions accordingly.”

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish told Channel 12 on Wednesday morning: “In my estimation, today we have over 6,000 infected – a negative record for the State of Israel. We need to tighten [enforcement] in the near future until after the week of Sukkot.”

He added: “This means all educational institutions are closed, the economy only vital employment, synagogues without prayers inside, with an outline for prayer outdoors, only those who are nearby, no traveling from distant places, demonstrations only outdoors without travel between cities. Everyone will demonstrate where they want, pray where they want, but stay at home. That’s the thing that is needed now.”

That last part was crucial: Israelis, please stay home, stop spreading the virus, how difficult is this to understand?

Well, between you and me, it’s hard to imagine Jews clad in their taleisim being able to sit outside during the day-long Yom Kippur prayers when the expected temperatures are above 90 and the humidity, especially along the coast, is just unbearable.

As befits a Jewish state in a time of crisis, the discussion that took place on Tuesday in the Corona Cabinet focused mainly on the issue of demonstrations and prayers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the support of Deri and Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana, called for a halt to the demonstrations, and the Blue&White ministers expressed their opposition, claiming that only the professionals are authorized to decide the issue.

Then Netanyahu joined the debate, saying, “For a long time I refrained from commenting on the matter and after hearing the experts claim that gatherings are a huge danger to public health it is my duty to address it.”

“The entire public is required to comply with restrictions and only a group of protesters is excluded from the rule. It’s only allowed to go to the Western Wall if you live 1,000 meters away, but Balfour (Street, the PM’s official residence) can be reached from all over the country. At the Western Wall, only 20 capsules are allowed, and in demonstrations, everything is allowed.”

Netanyahu only failed to mention that in Balfour the gathering is with the aim of removing him from his seat, and therefore it’s difficult to ignore the fact that he has a vested interest in banning them. The prime minister’s neighbors would also be delighted, delirious, if Bibi moved, at least temporarily, to Caesarea, where he owns a wonderful villa with a swimming pool, ideal for the terrible heat days that have been weighing over Israel for several weeks.

On the other hand, at the Western Wall, the idea is not to bring down anyone, but rather to crown the King of Kings.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said during Tuesday’s debate: “Demonstrations need to be adjusted to the lockdown, but restrictions should be set by a professional team and not by the very politicians against whom the protest is directed. We will also support giving enforcement powers to the police against demonstrators who violate the guidelines.”

Seriously? The cops will start arresting 10,000 people who don’t maintain the 2-meter distance rule? And where would they lock them down? Sports arenas?

After it was revealed in the Corona cabinet that more than 20,000 students in the unofficial institutions of Haredi education continue learning as usual, Minister Deri complained that opening up this topic “does a lot of damage to the Haredi sector. Why not talk about demonstrations and beaches? You’re only talking about mikvahs, synagogues, and the four species [markets].”

Where there are no people the best defense is an offense.

“I am willing to go to the rabbis to persuade them to pray outdoor,” Deri said, But I can’t persuade them to give up the hakafot and Simchat Beit ha’Shoeva (of Sukkot – DI) if the demonstrations continue. We are a Jewish and democratic government, and to me, Judaism is the first and most important. If the government decides prayers no, demonstrations yes – I don’t know if I can stay in such a government that’s not Jewish.”

What’s implied from Minister Deri’s statement is that it’s not enough to mention to Rabbis the threat that crowding in the hakafot will kill people, because it is known that the Torah commandment is not (Deut. 30:19) “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live,” but rather “Choose life only if your neighbor isn’t going to demonstrations.”

The call to limit the demonstrations was boosted on Tuesday afternoon by MK Ofer Shelach from the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem faction, who also called for a halt on rallies. “Whoever has our goal close to their heart should say now: stop until the end of the lockdown, continue in other ways,” exclaimed MK Shelach, who is in the midst of a battle against Chairman Yair Lapid for control of their party.

According to Shelach, “there is nothing more just than a protest against a corrupt and failed prime minister. And there is nothing more justified than stopping the mass demonstrations against him at this critical moment.”

Here is one secular MK who understands the Mishnah Avot better than a Haredi government minister.

The Darkenu movement has decided to hold a virtual demonstration this coming Saturday evening due to the growing coronavirus morbidity. “There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis who want to participate in the demonstrations and are afraid, so we will allow them to demonstrate while showing responsibility and following the guidelines,” said Darkenu CEO Yaya Fink.

The Black Flags movement called on the public not to demonstrate or pray indoors without face masks and maintaining social distance.

“Both in demonstrations and prayers in the open air, with masks, and while maintaining distance, there’s a zero risk of infection from the corona,” the movement declared on Twitter, adding, “This is not merely a statement, but a conclusion based on data and research. Everything else is more dangerous and needless,” they stressed.

“Because for the government and its corrupt and failing head their political position is far more important than the public health, the responsibility is on us, the citizens of Israel, to take care of ourselves – do not demonstrate or pray in closed places, without masks or without keeping the distance as required.”

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid addressed the issue of demonstrations in a particularly cynical tweet Tuesday: “The opposition, the leader of the opposition, [Corona Committee Chair] MK Yifat Shasha Bitton, Prof. Gamzu, the demonstrators on the bridges, the citizens of Israel, the Corona patients, we are all to blame for Netanyahu’s failure to manage the crisis, an unparalleled failure.”

Apparently, sometime on Wednesday, the government will decide to ban both the demonstrations and the prayers. We only hope that the gates of heaven will not be locked, neither before the worshipers nor before the demonstrators, and their cry will ascend to our Father in heaven.

May we all be signed and sealed in the book of life.

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