Photo Credit: David Cohen/Flash90
The Viznitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hager in Tzfat, August 14, 2020.

The Viznitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hager on Saturday ordered the opening of all Chassidic educational institutions on Sunday, in defiance of the Health Ministry’s coronavirus lockdown rules. But on Sunday morning, according to a News12 report, no studies were held in the main Vizhnitz Talmud Torah in Bnei Brak. The yeshiva’s gates were covered with a sheet of jute (hemp), and the classrooms remain empty.

But while the Vizhnitz educational institutions in Bnei Brak remained closed Sunday morning, several Chassidic yeshivas opened in Modi’in Illit, where, in the Talmud HaTorah Mea Shearim on Rabbi Akiva Street in the city run by the Breslav movement, dozens of students were observed at the site.

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A teacher standing at the entrance told News12 that “the children came to pray in groups of five and will immediately return home.”

The Haredi educational institution Grodno in Ashdod was served with a fine for remaining open last week, and its principals refuse to stop its activities. Police said Sunday morning that officers had arrived at the scene to prevent studies at the site. A crowd gathered and cries were heard against the police, and there were attempts by some in the crowd to enter the building by force.

Ultra Orthodox Jew clashes with Israeli police officer (archive). / David Cohen/Flash90

In the Beit Israel neighborhood of Jerusalem, dozens of police officers came to enforce the group prayer ban in a local synagogue. About 200 Haredim gathered around the police and threw objects at them. The police acted to disperse the crowd using stink-water hoses.

The Vizhnitz Chassidut is the third-largest in Israel, and its educational institutions serve thousands of students. To date, the movement’s institutions remained open under internal restrictions and without officially announcing it, however, on Saturday the Rebbe called for announcing to the public at large that they remain open.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hagar, instructed his followers not to confront the police, and to direct the officers to his own home address in Bnei Brak. In a conversation with his Chassidim during the third meal on Shabbat, the Rebbe said that he orders “opening all the Talmudic Torahs of Viznitz publicly,” and publishing his order the Sunday edition of the Hamodia newspaper.

The Rebbe said: “Please do not skip one word of what I said in the newspaper tomorrow.”

However, it seems that at the request of the Viznitz movement, the Rebbe’s utterances were not published in the Haredi dailies. The movement issued this statement to explain the inconsistency: “The words of the Rebbe Shlita at the third meal came to express his great pain for the fact that the authorities have found it appropriate to continue the activity of many places that were defined as essential for some reason, while on the other hand, they ordered the closure of the Torah educational institutions for ‘Tinokot shel Beit Raban’ (schoolchildren), on the steam from whose mouths the world stands.”

The movement reiterated that “as the Rebbe has stated several times, medical instructions must be observed, due to the danger of the virus raging in various outdoor locations, and make sure they do not harm others in any way, as well as the need to get vaccinated against the virus as the doctors say. We must reemphasize the words of our holy Torah, ‘You must protect your life very much,’ and none of that has changed.”

The police responded to the Rebbe’s unusual statement, assuring the media that it will enforce the rules in educational institutions that would defy them. The police issued a statement saying: “Over the next week, the police will continue to monitor and enforce restrictions on movement, gathering, and trade imposed by the political echelon in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. Enforcement will be carried out all over the country with an emphasis on prohibited gatherings, including educational institutions that will operate in violation of the regulations, and we expect every person to comply with the regulations in full without exception and to avoid the need for enforcement. We will continue to enforce the regulations and work for the public’s peace and health.”

The Haredi information service at the Health Ministry hung posters on bulletin boards in Haredi enclaves with the names of major Haredi figures who support the lockdown, to convey the message of enforcement of the regulations “to those who don’t read the newspapers,” according to the ministry.

The campaign will also be carried by radio stations and websites, stressing the question, “Have we been careful enough?”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.