Israel Police Fail to Enforce Coronavirus Regulations in Haredi Schools, Sources Say

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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An ultra-Orthodox religious school in Jerusalem, November 11, 2020.
An ultra-Orthodox religious school in Jerusalem, November 11, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Police enforcement efforts against ultra-Orthodox educational institutions operating in violation of coronavirus health restrictions are almost non-existent, officials in the ultra-Orthodox community told Haaretz.

The police are only taking steps to create the illusion that they are addressing the issue, issuing a handful of citations a day, the sources claimed.

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“In schools, there really is no enforcement," an official in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit remarked. “After two weeks without enforcement, today for the first time, police officers came to a girls’ high school, which was attended by hundreds of students, and issued a citation to the administration.”

Outdoor instruction is permitted at all grade levels in the country’s schools, but subject to other limitations, schools are only permitted to conduct indoor classes for Grades 1 through 4. There are also exceptions for residential schools.

Students in a religious school in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, October 18, 2020.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

The restrictions are difficult to enforce in ultra-Orthodox schools, the source said, because they are allowed to open their doors to a limited amount of students. “From the moment that school is allowed to open up to Grade 4, it’s much more difficult to determine which classes are allowed to meet and which are not. The issue is becoming much more complicated for the police.”

“The enforcement that I am aware of is only for the sake of appearances,” an official in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak said, “one or two fines a day just... for the record.” It’s possible that the policy is being dictated from the higher echelons of the police, he added, who might have chosen to be more lenient with schools, while focusing on other community events where crowds gather.

The Israel Police disputed the claims, saying officers “visit dozens of educational institutions every day."

"Citations are issued in accordance with the law and are performed professionally and in accordance with the situation in which the police officer finds himself in the field,” a police statement added.

The Health Ministry is currently investigating how the rate of infection and transmission of COVID-19 in the ultra-Orthodox community went from extremely high during the first outbreak of the pandemic to generally low. Officials believe the high rate of recovery and a stricter adherence to health recommendations, including wearing masks and limiting public gatherings, might be responsible.

Not all ultra-Orthodox schools are flouting the rules. Non-Hasidic girls’ schools, which normally house thousands of students, are following government guidelines, with classes above Grade 4 held online. Some of the students at ultra-Orthodox girls’ high schools are coming to school, while others are studying at home.

Ultra-Orthodox students cross a road on their way to school, Jerusalem, October 18, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

“My daughters in the lower grades are studying in [small group] pods and my daughter in a higher grade meets with her class outdoors for an hour every day,” the source in Betar Ilit explained.

A whole quarter of students in Haredi religious schools – 11,700 out of 47,000 – are recovered coronavirus patients. In the last extensive COVID-19 testing campaign in yeshivas, only 146 tests out of 17,000 came back positive, less than 1 percent.

“Fifty-four yeshivas did not provide us with data, but I am not aware of anyone hiding the presence of the infection,” said Maj. Gen. Ronni Numa, the army officer in charge of combating the virus in the ultra-Orthodox community.

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