BENEI BRAK, Israel’s attempt to contain the pandemic tidal wave, faces a hard-pressed ultra-Orthodox community that opposes the blockades and is suspicious of the national mass vaccination campaign.

On Sunday, thousands of ultra-Orthodox attended two funerals of famous rabbis who died of the coronavirus. On the same day that the Israeli cabinet imposed a strict lockdown, including a ban on all international flights, the bereaved violated the ban on public gatherings of no more than 10 people. Thousands of men in caps and black wool suits gathered, often without masks, taking pictures of the event from the show. Fearing violence, police have avoided arrests, while some senior Israeli politicians have weighed in on the issue.

This is what uneven application looks like, he said.

Benny Ganz,

Minister of Defense and leader of the Blue and White Party. Millions of families and children are locked in their homes according to the rules, while thousands of Haredim attend funerals, most even without masks, he said, using the Hebrew word for ultra-Orthodoxy.

The funeral took place after protests against the blockade in Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox towns the previous week, in which ultra-Orthodox men threw stones at police, set fire to garbage cans and knocked over traffic signs and streetlights.

Many of the mourners who gathered Sunday for the rabbi’s funeral in Jerusalem were not wearing masks.

Photo:

Ariel Shalit/Presse Associée

Israeli health officials have also been fighting for the introduction of the ultra-orthodox vaccine Kovid-19. While most of Israel is lining up to be vaccinated, the ultra-Orthodox are less likely to back the project, with some questioning the safety of the vaccine and others suspecting that civilians are being used to test its effectiveness.

It’s not a vaccine. It’s an experiment, he says.

Izhar Mahpud,

A 57-year-old resident of Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town east of Tel Aviv that is among the most Covid-19-affected towns in the country. I’m not ready to be a rat in a lab.

Israel aims to vaccinate most of its population by March and get its economy back on track, making this small Mediterranean country a global showcase for the fight against the deadly virus. But ultra-Orthodoxy has undermined these noble goals, in large part because they have been blocked and removed from vaccines.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population makes up about 12% of the population, but is responsible for nearly a third of the country’s coronavirus infections. There are currently 68,331 active cases of coronavirus with new infections in Israel, approximately 7,000 per day.

Authorities are trying to get the recent outbreak under control. The British variant of the virus is responsible for about 70 percent of modern coronavirus infections, although nearly a third of Israelis have received their first dose of the vaccine.

Binyamin Netanyahu

All international flights were banned last month, and on Sunday lawmakers approved a bill that doubles fines for violations of the ban.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with Israeli police officers during a demonstration against restrictions on the coronavirus blockade last month in Ashdod.

Photo:

Oded Balilty/Presse Associée

According to health officials, the ultra-Orthodox community is particularly vulnerable to the rapidly spreading virus. Their large families often live in overcrowded homes and traditionally avoid electronic communication for vaccine information.

Data from Israel’s Ministry of Health show that ultra-Orthodox vaccinations are less common in Israel than among other groups. Of those for whom the campaign has lasted the longest, 85% of Israelis have been vaccinated, compared to 78% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

Ultra-Orthodox and Arab cities lag behind in terms of overall immunity to the virus due to lower vaccination rates, according to

Eran Segal,

a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, who presented his findings to the Israeli government Sunday night. This will help slow the decline of the pandemic, Segal said.

Health officials say the number of infections in ultra-Orthodox communities has dropped in recent days as some prominent rabbis have approved vaccinations. Efforts are also being made to combat misinformation and encourage people to get vaccinated.

In the large ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, local authorities have set up a war room. In an oval wood-paneled room on the top floor of City Hall, with portraits of important religious figures on the walls, ultra-Orthodox young men sit around a large round table with large jars of hand sanitizer and telephones. They consult information tables on all people who have and have not been vaccinated.

Officials called nearly 10,000 people who had not been vaccinated and spoke to nearly 7,000 of them. About 5,000 people have said they want the vaccine but have not yet been able to get it. About 1,500 others did not want to be vaccinated. The City Council is working to resolve the obstacles resulting from these appeals.

For those who do not go to the vaccination center, such a trip is organized. If potential vaccinators cannot contact their health insurance company, they will also help. And if someone they talk to doesn’t want to be vaccinated, they explain why.

Avi Blumenthal, who leads the Health Ministry’s ultra-Orthodox efforts, said he and his team go through lists of ultra-Orthodox Israeli cities to find rabbis who oppose vaccinations and seek answers to their questions. In one case, an ultra-Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem had a low vaccination rate, which many attributed to the fact that their rabbi was allegedly committed to an anti-vaccination movement. But when health officials questioned the rabbi and learned that he was actually in favor of vaccination, someone spread a rumor attributed to him that the vaccine was dangerous.

An ultra-Orthodox Jew was vaccinated against the coronavirus last month in Jerusalem.

Photo:

sultan/epa/shutterstock

Yehuda Shaysh,

63, who heads four ultra-Orthodox schools in Bnei Brak and surrounding towns, said he was waiting for the rabbis’ blessing on the vaccines. After the rabbis allowed it, I left happy.

Even with the blessing of the rabbis, many ultra-Orthodox remain skeptical of vaccines. Yedidya Hasson, 28, who heads a network of 30,000 WhatsApp members where some members question the wisdom of vaccines and restrictions on coronaviruses, says he will not take the vaccine, at least not yet, because he fears potential health risks.

Regarding vaccines, he said: I think the media in Israel is hiding the truth.

Some ultra-Orthodox leaders argue that while public distrust may help explain opposition to vaccines and recent civil disobedience, it does not justify rule violations that endanger public health. Religious are expected to be more morally correct, the rabbi said.

Dov Halbertal,

a well-known ultra-Orthodox jurist and commentator. But when it comes to saving lives, we fail.

According to Israel, all persons over the age of 16 must be vaccinated by the end of March. To understand how a small country can vaccinate more people so quickly, the WSJ visited clinics where young and ordinary citizens are vaccinated. Photo: Tamir Elterman for the Wall Street Journal.

Email Felicia Schwartz at [email protected]

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