White House Urges ultra-Orthodox Leaders to Implement Coronavirus Guidelines in Communities

'We told them that yes, this means no yeshiva studies, no minyans at synagogues, no weddings, no bar mitzvahs, and so forth,' explained an administration official

Jewish ultra-Orthodox girls wear face masks during celebrations of the Jewish festival of Purim in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 10, 2020.
Oded Balilty / AP

The White House held a phone briefing on the Coronavirus epidemic with ultra-Orthodox community leaders on Tuesday, in an attempt to convince them to better implement the guidelines for slowing the spread of the virus in their communities.

The call was initiated by Avi Berkowitz, an assistant to President Donald Trump and a close adviser to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. Berkowitz, who grew up in an Orthodox family, asked to hold the briefing following reports on ultra-Orthodox communities in New York and elsewhere that were continuing to hold large gatherings, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

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An administration official told Haaretz that there were approximately 15 community leaders on the call, most from New York and New Jersey. The call focused on explaining the guidelines that the administration is promoting in order to slow the virus, and the “practical implications” of these guidelines for ultra-Orthodox communities.

“We told them that yes, this means no yeshiva studies, no minyans at synagogues, no weddings, no bar mitzvahs, and so forth,” the official explained. “We emphasized the fact that this is truly Pikuah Nefesh, and that someone who looks healthy could turn out to actually carry the virus and infect others.”

Israel faced a similar challenge this week after the most prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi in the country decided against the guidelines issued by the government to keep religious schools (Yeshivot) open during the Coronavirus crisis.

In addition, on Tuesday evening, Channel 12 aired footage of an Ultra-orthodox wedding in Beit Shemesh with 200 guests, a clear violation of the government guidelines that prohibit any gathering of more than ten people.