Ultra-Orthodox Extremists Reopen Schools, Violating Israel's COVID Lockdown

Police issued fines, summoned directors after several schools were found to have reopened their doors in several ultra-Orthodox towns in Israel and the West Bank

Aaron Rabinowitz
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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish students study religious texts in a yeshiva using protective plastic shields set up amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bnei Brak, Israel, August 27, 2020.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish students study religious texts in a yeshiva using protective plastic shields set up amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bnei Brak, Israel, August 27, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty / אי־פי
Aaron Rabinowitz

A number of religious schools reopened their doors in Israel this week, flouting strict regulations issued under the coronavirus lockdown.

These schools are mainly run by more extreme communities, with most ultra-Orthodox institutions obeying the rabbis’ directive not to open until an agreement is reached with the Health Ministry regarding an orderly opening outline for Torah schools and .

Haaretz has learned that a number of schools opened their doors on Monday and Tuesday in ultra-Orthdox towns: and Elad in central Israel, and Betar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit, two settlements in the West Bank. These cities also happen to be .

Police intervened in the case of some of the schools, which were compelled to interrupt classes and were issued with fines. The principals of two schools in Betar Ilit were summoned for questioning by the police on suspicion of violating the ban on opening educational institutions.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa, the official overseeing the fight against the coronavirus outbreak in the ultra-Orthodox community, said Wednesday that some towns would have to remain under lockdown for the coming weeks. Discussing the suggestion of keeping high-infection towns under lockdown while reopening ultra-Orthodox schools, Numa said: "Unfortunately, there are towns that will have to be under lockdown for at least the coming weeks because the situation does not permit removing them from the lockdown. There are things we will have to make decisions about. These are the questions that will be discussed – whether, for example, kindergartens in 'red' cities will be open or not. We don't see Torah schools opening in the coming days. We are being asked to open [them], but we cannot allow it."

Some members of Israel's ultra-Orthodox communities in recent weeks over the imposition of nationwide lockdown to slow the second wave of the coronavirus, which coincided with the Jewish High Holy Days.

Despite being , many in the observant community have found it difficult to give up on communal routines. Some criticism has been levied at the Israeli government for not enforcing the lockdown rules on the community, despite rising infections. 

Israel is currently considering reopening preschools only, starting Sunday, October 18.

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