Put the Belzer Rebbe on trial

Thousands of chassidim were present on Wednesday evening at the wedding of the Belzer rebbe’s grandson. Guests assembled in a closed hall in blatant disregard of government directions regarding social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Israel is reported as being in the unenviable position of having among the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world relative to its population, and desperate attempts are now being made to prevent its spread in order to avoid the need of further drastic steps including the imposition of a lockdown.

When Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the National Coronavirus Project Coordinator, heard of what had taken place, he was furious and rightly so. Most Israelis are doing all they can to stop the spread of a pandemic that has already killed hundreds and is having a devastating effect on our economy, and there are the Belzer chassidim behaving as though nothing had happened.

The Belzer rebbe, Yissachar Dov Rokeach, should have known better. At 72 years of age he is hardly elderly and decrepit and knew exactly what he was doing. People were prevented from entering the wedding hall with cameras and smartphones in a vain attempt to avoid the event being photographed. Police directions regarding the wedding were simply ignored.

Now Rokeach is no ordinary rabbi. He has a large following of disciples at his beck and call, who hang on his every word. Had he told them, as most Israelis have had to tell their own families, that their children’s wedding would only be attended by the immediate family, they would have respected his wishes.

Going ahead with a huge extravaganza not only puts at risk the lives and health of the thousands who were present, but may well also turn some of them into carriers, who will then transmit the virus to many others thereby endangering the population at large.

In that sense, the Belzer Rebbe is an accessory after the fact and as such should be put on trial. However, since his chassidic court is represented in the government coalition, that will unfortunately just remain wishful thinking.

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.
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