Israel Quarantines Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Children After Principal Tests Positive for Coronavirus

School had been ordered to stay open by Lithuanian Haredi leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievski, who later recanted and urged it to close due to the pandemic

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews walking in Bnei Brak, during a coronavirus lockdown, on March 17, 2020.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews walking in Bnei Brak, during a coronavirus lockdown, on March 17, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

The principal of one of the largest ultra-Orthodox primary schools in Israel, who kept his school open until last Wednesday following the instructions of Haredi leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievski, was confirmed to be a carrier of the coronavirus on Sunday.

His school has more than 1,000 pupils between the ages of 6 and 13, but only a few hundred have been attending school in recent weeks. Between 100 to 200 of them will now be quarantined.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

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Last Tuesday, the principal was told to go into quarantine after being exposed to a coronavirus patient. He stopped going to work and started developing symptoms two days later. He was tested on Friday and was found to be infected on Sunday. He is currently at home with mild symptoms. He said that he followed hygienic procedures while at school and avoided contact with pupils. He asked parents to pray for him and to inform the Health Ministry of their children’s quarantine.

Over the last month, Kanievsky told his followers to continue with school as usual, even after the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered schools to be shut down. He claimed that this was riskier than the coronavirus. Yesterday he recanted and issued stringent instructions forbidding students and staff from coming to study halls.

Haaretz has learned that his school continued to operate after splitting up into groups. A senior administrator said that policemen had come to the school several times, but had allowed studies to continue in this new format.

“People didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation” said one parent, mentioning the stress people were now under. “We see what’s happening in New York, and we’ll see this later in Bnei Brak.” He said parents were afraid to send their children to school, but that the rabbi’s original ruling had affected the children, who wanted to continue studying. This is why many parents continued sending their children to school.

“It’s like murder,” said the parent.

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