Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given in to pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jews in his coalition government, refusing to close synagogues during Yom Kippur despite the threat from Covid-19. FRANCE 24 reports from Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city with one of the highest rates of infection in Israel.
Bnei Brak, the country’s largest ultra-Orthodox city, has been hit hard by the pandemic and the local hospital has been overrun. People follow social distancing rules, but only up to a point. They insist on attending their synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year, against the advice of medical experts.
The ultra-Orthodox are known in Hebrew as Haredim – or “those who tremble before God”. Many believe their rabbis have greater authority than the government.
“I was infected with the virus, but even before that I was not very worried, you have to keep a sense of proportion,” says one Bnei Brak resident. “I put on a mask but no more. I do not do any social distancing, because we follow the rules of the state as long as they do not conflict with the laws of Judaism. We follow the Torah, not the state.”
Still, the ultra-orthodox know how to play politics. They threatened to resign from Netanyahu’s coalition government unless synagogues were kept open on Yom Kippur – and they won.