Jerusalem Police Reached Deal With ultra-Orthodox to Allow Mass Events if Not Filmed

Despite Israel's surging COVID-19 infection rates, sources say huge events were held in Haredi communities, but police refrained from enforcing ■ Police deny claims

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Police in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, during Israel's second lockdown, October 4, 2020.
Police in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, during Israel's second lockdown, October 4, 2020.Credit: אוהד צויגנברג
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Despite Israel's surging coronavirus infection rates, the Jerusalem police allowed several radical ultra-Orthodox communities in the city to hold mass events on condition that there would be no public documentation, according to two Haredi sources who spoke to Haaretz.

A few days before the Sukkot holiday, the commander of the Lev Habira police station, Shimi Marciano, held discussions with representatives of the various communities in the neighborhood – Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, Dushinsky and Slonim. Understandings were reached that they could carry on with their holiday routine, which includes Simhat Beit Hasho’eva (the water-drawing ceremony dating from Temple times) and other events every evening, in which thousands participate – but would ensure that no documentation of the events is publicized.

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Marciano promised not to send his forces into the batei midrash (study halls) and the huge sukkot of the Hasidic sects during the holiday. And so, on the eve of the Sukkot festival last Friday, there were huge events every evening in those communities, at a time when large police forces were deployed dozens of meters away, but refrained from entering.

The police naturally knew ahead of time about the events planned in those Hasidic sects, and on the eve of the holiday reported that they had summoned the representatives of the communities for “explanatory talks,” in which it was made clear that they must not violate coronavirus regulations. The police even noted that District Commander Doron Yadid instructed the commanders to practice “uncompromising enforcement” against any violation of the directives.

The Hasidic sects were pleased with the understandings and are meticulously barring people who are not part of the community from participating in them. One sect even issued official invitations and only those holding them are permitted to enter.

“Every Hasidic sect placed security guards at the entrances to check who enters,” says one of the Hasidim. “The moment they see someone who is not connected to us they immediately make sure to throw them out. Of course there’s a total ban against documenting what goes on inside.”

The source says that the events are taking place as usual, and on Sunday, many thousands participated in the Simhat Beit Hasho’eva ceremony of the Toldos Aharon sect, and over 1,000 took part in the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok ceremony.

“There’s an orchestra and dancing like every year,” he said.

Despite everything, is seems the police are really insisting on closing their eyes and sealing their ears, and up to this moment have not sent forces to these events. On Sunday, large forces entered the neighborhood and remained only a few dozen meters from the study halls where the events took place, but refused to enter.

However, police sources claim that these events did not take place at all. "These are false claims and we reject them outright. The police did not allow Hasidic representatives to hold mass events during the holiday and did not condition any such permit," said a statement by the Jerusalem Police.

Israel Police said in response that "these claims are false and we categorically reject them. As part of the police's preparation ahead of the Sukkot holiday and the explanatory efforts, police representatives met with various representatives of the public for the aim of creating cooperation and explaining the meaning of violating [coronavirus] restrictions and the enforcement that would ensue."

"Contrary to the allegations, the police enforced the regulations whenever and wherever was needed. Only partial documentations have been released since last night, which do not represent the events the preceded. Police forces acted to enforce the regulations in the area and dispersed several gatherings that were forbidden while handing out fines to the lawbreakers," the statement added.

"Rocks and other objects were thrown at the police officers while they were enforcing the regulations. Two police officers were injured and taken to receive medical treatment. In addition, damage was caused to several police vehicles, as well as private cars and property. At least 18 people suspected of violating public order and hurling stones at police officers were arrested overnight, and others who flouted restrictions were fined," the statement read.

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