Thousands of ultra-Othodox participated in a wedding on Wednesday night in the central study hall of the Belz Hasidic community in Jerusalem, violating the ban on gatherings imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The police ignored the violation at the time, a person involved in the details told Haaretz.
Police said on Thursday that they had decided to open a criminal investigation, noting that they had held meetings ahead of time with organizers of the wedding to prevent violation of restrictions. Wedding participants were fined, with four fines of 5,000 shekels (about $1,500) being given to organizers. Police have also opened an investigation into possible licensing violations.
Participants were told not to photograph the event and metal detectors were placed at the entrances to the hall to prevent guests from bringing in their cellphones.
Thousands began arriving at the hall in the afternoon hours through the back entrance of the venue in Jerusalem, most of whom not wearing protective face masks. Police officers kept their distance from the hall throughout the entire event.
Senior Jerusalem police officials came for a coordination meeting in the afternoon with the elders of the Belz community, who promised to follow the regulations, hold the wedding outdoors and divide the participants up into separate pods. But the reception for the wedding went on for hours in a closed hall.
The rebbe of Belz, a Hasidic dynasty founded in the town of Belz in western Ukraine, is dismissing the danger of the coronavirus outbreak. The rabbi has ordered his community to continue with their normal daily routines without adhering to Health Ministry regulations, but externally the community is trying to present a front of keeping to the rules.
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Over the past few months, the rebbe held mass events in the community’s study hall, including prayer services, with crowds not adhering to social distancing and mandatory mask orders. Two days ago, he went to the Western Wall accompanied by his close circle – and none of them were wearing face masks.
Pictures from a week and a half ago show hundreds of Hasidim leaving the funeral of a 58-year-old member of the community, who died from Covid-19, two weeks after his 60-year-old brother also died from the virus.
The police said they held meetings prior to the wedding with the organizers to prevent violations of the regulations. On Wednesday evening, after the rules were broken, they levied fines – including four fines of 5,000 shekels each to the organizers. In addition, the police said they opened an investigation into licensing violations.