Top Israeli Rabbi Removes Rabbinical Court Judge From Panel Over His Refusal to Get COVID-19 Jab

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Rabbi David Lau upon his appointment as Israel's chief Ashkenazi Rabbi at the Israeli Rabbis Convention.
Rabbi David Lau upon his appointment as Israel's chief Ashkenazi Rabbi at the Israeli Rabbis Convention. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Rabbi David Lau, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel and the president of the rabbinical courts, ordered this week to replace a rabbinical court judge on a panel because he refuses to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The judge was scheduled to sit on a panel at an IDF base to hear the cases of soldiers who are seeking to convert to Judaism, and after it was discovered that he refused to be vaccinated, the IDF and officials from the rabbinical courts administration asked for the judge to be replaced by a judge who has been vaccinated. Rabbi Lau agreed, and it is now being examined whether the unvaccinated judge can be prevented from sitting on other judicial panels until he is vaccinated.

Rabbi Lau’s office said on Tuesday that as far as he is concerned, all the judges are required to be vaccinated, and as far as is legally possible - a judge who refuses to be vaccinated will not be able to serve in such a position as he would endanger the health of court attendees.

Legal experts are divided today over the question whether it is possible to impose restrictions on those who refuse to vaccinate, and the debate on the issue is expected to reach the High Court.

In recent days, leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis have been battling the spread of false information about the vaccine, which has deterred many from receiving it. The front page of the Haredi newspaper 'Yated Ne’eman' quoted well known Rabbi Asher Weiss on Tuesday, urging readers to vaccinate. “The voice of our brothers’ blood is crying out to us from the hospital rooms and the ground,” he said, warning of the spread of misinformation about the vaccine.

Bnei Brak residents wait in line to vaccinated in exchange for a free meal of cholent last week. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Since last week, widespread vaccination campaigns are being carried out in Haredi cities and neighborhoods all over the country. In Bnei Brak, the city organized a campaign on Thursday in which every person vaccinated received a dish of cholent, and on Sunday pizzas were passed out. The city said the two day drive was a success and about 5,000 people were vaccinated – twice the number on other days. Other Haredi cities opened vaccination centers where you could come without an appointment for members of all HMOs.

The upcoming festival of Purim poses a new challenge to the Haredi leadership, and how they will enforce regulations. Traditionally, yeshiva students go from door to door raising funds for their yeshivas, and on Tuesday Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the head of the Ponovezh Yeshiva, told students not to conduct the fundraising and to stay in the yeshiva and study instead – and not go home.

On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet approved restrictions on the public for the Purim holiday at the end of next week. Parties, parades and mass events will be banned, it and the holiday meal can only be shared with one's nuclear family.

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