Ultra-Orthodox Schools That Violated Israel's Lockdown Could Lose Funding

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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The opening of an ultra-Orthodox school against government restrictions, Jerusalem, October 18. 2020.
The opening of an ultra-Orthodox school against government restrictions, Jerusalem, October 18. 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Israel's Justice Ministry has drafted a plan to strip funding from schools that reopen in violation of the emergency coronavirus regulations.

On Sunday, ultra-Orthodox elementary schools for tens of thousands of students reopened despite lockdown regulations, which only allowed preschools to open.

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Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa, who is coordinating the Health Ministry’s efforts against the virus in the ultra-Orthodox community, announced the plan in a statement on Sunday. “Institutions and organizations that violate the rules and break the law risk administrative or criminal proceedings, the cancelation of their licenses and the cancelation of their funding in appropriate cases,” the statement said.

The plan was drafted last week at the request of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, after all the ministries involved realized that police enforcement alone wouldn’t be sufficient to deal with widespread violations of the regulations by hundreds of schools, mainly ultra-Orthodox ones.

The statement issued by Numa’s office noted that while preschools and kindergartens were allowed to open, the only schools for students over six that are allowed to open are boarding schools.

Under an amendment to the Foundations of the Budget law passed in late August, state funding for yeshivas and midrashot (post-high school religious study programs for women) will depend on strict compliance with the coronavirus regulations.

But the Health Ministry said the sanctions plan will also apply to ultra-Orthodox elementary schools that break the rules, although the legal grounds for this aren’t yet clear. The Justice Ministry did not respond to Haaretz’s questions on that issue, saying merely that it is currently “exploring ways to deal with institutions and organizations that violate the rules and break the law, inter alia by taking administrative or criminal steps, canceling their licenses or canceling funding in appropriate cases.”

On Sunday evening, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told him that ultra-Orthodox schools will remain open despite the regulations, in line with the demands of the community’s rabbinical leaders.

Tens of thousands of children aged five to 13 went to school in defiance of the regulations Sunday morning. Most study at so-called exempt institutions – ultra-Orthodox schools that are partially exempt from Education Ministry supervision and have around 50,000 children enrolled. Another 10,000 attend Hasidic schools belonging to the Shas party’s Maayan Chinuch Torani network.

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