Corona and the Charedim

Today’s edition of The Telegraph newspaper reports that violence erupted in Brooklyn as the Hasidic community protested against new curbs imposed by the New York municipal authorities in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus.

We Israelis are used to such behaviour. We have seen the police attacked in Me’a She’arim, B’nai B’rak, Beit Shemesh and elsewhere. Of course, one cannot generalize. Not every charedi is a hooligan. However, the inability or unwillingness of their rabbis to control the violent elements within their society should be a matter of concern to us all.

When Prof. Moti Ravid, Medical Director at Maayan Hayeshua Hospital in Bnei Brak, resigns his post following having criticized the charedim for the way they have behaved throughout the corona crisis, it is time that we took the matter seriously.

The protesters call our policemen “Nazis” or “Antiochus”. The only conclusion that one can draw is that those who express such sentiments see those entrusted with enforcing the rule of law and order as enemies and anti-Semites.

The charedi apologist, Abigail Heilbron, tells us in an article on Ynet that there are not a few individuals within the huge charedi community, which she numbers at over one million, who don’t observe the regulations and who, as a consequence, both get infected and infect others.

However, she excuses them by stating that their actions do not reflect charedi ideology. She blames it on overcrowding, large families, unemployment and the lack of social media.

She does not seem to recognize that the conditions she describes exist precisely because of charedi ideology. They don’t believe in birth control, their educational system largely spurns the Ministry of Education’s core curriculum that would have prepared them for gainful employment, and their rabbis forbid them from using the social media in a vain effort to prevent them from having access to the outside world.

The charedim live as a “state within a state”. It is, then, hardly surprising that they take to the streets and protest when the authorities, whether in Brooklyn or B’nai B’rak, seek to impose restrictions.

Whereas the New York police force can handle their antics, their sheer numbers in Israel are a more serious threat to the rule of law and order here. Their population is constantly growing and they will come to represent a real threat to the very future of Israel as a Western, democratic country in the same way as the high incidence of corona among them is a threat to the health of the Israeli population at large.

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.