Bnei Brak Shuts Street Down Around Yeshiva After 47 People Test Positive for Coronavirus

Tel Aviv suburb still reels from one of country's worst outbreaks, as ultra-Orthodox community asks whether school authorities allowed students to get tested

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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A deserted street in locked down Bnei Brak, Israel, April 2020.
A deserted street in locked down Bnei Brak, Israel, April 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

The city of Bnei Brak announced that the area around a local yeshiva has been put on total lockdown after 47 people connected to it were diagnosed with the coronavirus over the past two weeks.

The Beit Matityahu Yeshiva on Yisrael Misalant street is one of the Haredi community's most prestigous religious schools. Dozens are still waiting for coronavirus tests or their results. 

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The Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, one of Israel's most densely populated cities, and home to a large ultra-Orthodox population, made headlines earlier during the coronavirus outbreak after becoming one of the country's hot spots. 

The city said it will allow passage to people who live on the street, “but non-essential access will not be allowed in order to prevent unnecessary risk.” Police and city inspectors marked off the closed area. 

An announcement from the municipality said: “Because of the exceptional virus outbreak in the educational institution on Misalant street in the city, the city has decided to limit movement around the educational institution, the entrances and exits to it and the street itself.”

Over the past few days, Haredi media reported that the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Baruch Veisbecker, ordered students not to be tested for COVID-19. “Only after students who had symptoms pressured them did they receive permission to go and get tested,” said a city official.

One of the students in the yeshiva told Haaretz that this was incorrect: “The head of the yeshiva never said not to get tested and the fact that there are dozens of confirmed [cases] in recent weeks proves it. Students got tested.”

About two weeks ago, at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the yeshiva, the school considered putting a group of students into isolation without reporting it, so the yeshiva would not be closed by the Health Ministry – but this did not happen, said the student.

On Wednesday, the yeshiva informed students that it was closing its doors. Students who tested positive and those required to quarantine will be evacuated to coronavirus hotels in the north. It is unclear if the others will be quarantined or will remain in their homes. The yeshiva's principal told students that nearby dormitories will also be closed, a student said. 

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, who is from the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox political alliance United Torah Judaism, told Radio Kol Baramah Wednesday morning that he knows there are communities and institutions in the Haredi community that have instructed their people not be tested. "Not everyone is okay with this," he said, "and there certainly is the awareness to be careful. I don’t want to decide on this. Every yeshiva and every Hasidic group does it at the command of its spiritual leader.”

Earlier on Wednesday in an emergency meeting of the mayor, deputy mayors and city management, Bnei Brak approved a list of exceptional steps to halt the outbreak and rate of infection, and decided on “zero tolerance for violations of the coronavirus restrictions.”

Students at a yeshiva where dozens of coronavirus cases were confirmed wear protective masks, Bnei Brak, July 1, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Bnei Brak mayor Avraham Rubinstein proposed reinforcing the teams of city inspectors and establishing a special enforcement system that will include help from inspectors from other cities – and enforce the restrictions on private educational institutions and yeshivas. 

As part of the new enforcement system, institutions where coronavirus guideline violations are discovered will be closed immediately by a municipal administrative order. In addition, institutions with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and a risk of further infection will be closed. As a result, the city received more spaces in hotels to house the patients who leave the city. 

Three doctors will head the new supervision and enforcement system, along with municipal figures and representatives from the police. “Within a short time, the integrated supervisory teams have gone out with the goal of enforcing the Health Ministry directives,” said Rubinstein on Wednesday. 

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