Thousands gathered to participate on Sunday in the funeral procession of Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, the leader of the Brisker Yeshiva in Jerusalem, flouting Israel's COVID lockdown regulations.
Police say they were aware of the procession, and that they acted to prevent people arriving from outside the city from attending the funeral. A statement claimed "police forces were operating in the area to enforce COVID regulations," and that dozens of fines have been issued.
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This comes as the Israeli government is set to convene on Sunday in order to vote in favor of extending the country's lockdown by at least another week.
The procession departed from the house of the late Rabbi and finished at the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in northwest Jerusalem.
Leading rabbis and yeshiva leaders called on the public to attend the funeral as a final gesture of respect to Rabbi Soloveitchik, nicknamed "the elder of the yeshiva leaders."
Soloveitchik, who contracted the coronavirus before Hanukkah in December 2020, died overnight aged 99.
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Israel Police spokesperson for the ultra-Orthodox public, Shabtai Gerberchik, said this morning in an interview with Kan's Moreshet radio station that "I won't go and confront 20,000 people because I'm not capable of it." He continued, saying that the police cannot enforce coronavirus restrictions at an event like this one.
"Violations of the law are violations, but with what's happening on the ground, you can't decide what's good and bad, you have to decide what's bad and worse," Gerberchik said.
"What can we do in this situation? Can I go in with cavalry and water cannons and break up the funeral procession? Is that sensible, or should I just go there earlier and explain to leaders why it's important they follow the rules?" he continued, adding "The law is very draconian, sometimes life is more complicated than anything else, and you have to just minimize the damage."
Police released a new statement following the funeral: “Following the funeral procession that took place in Jerusalem, the police had reached a preconceived understanding before the event. These discussions led to fewer people attending the funeral from outside Jerusalem, and during the day, dozens of buses containing hundreds of people were prevented from attending; they were arrested and sent home. At this hour, police forces are operating in the area to enforce the coronavirus restrictions and until now, dozens of fines have been handed out for various violations.”
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish condemned the funeral, calling it a "public health failure."
"It’s very bad from every way you look at it. From how the public is receiving it, to what’s happening on the ground - it’s terrible. The police’s ability to enforce restrictions - terrible. The funeral is a public health failure. This funeral will sadly lead to more funerals. Then we’re surprised that the lockdown doesn’t lower the infection rate,” Kish wrote on Twitter.
Yesh Atid party leader, Yair Lapid, also condemned the mass gathering, calling on the police to enforce "one law for everyone."
Kahol Lavan party leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that "this is what selective enforcement looks like: Millions of families and children are locked in their homes and abide by the rules while thousands of ultra-Orthodox gather at a funeral, most without masks."
New Hope party leader Gideon Sa'ar lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying "the photos from Jerusalem prove that Netanyahu gave up law enforcement for political reasons. This will not happen in a government under my leadership. There will be one law for everyone and it will be enforced."