"The Wailing Wall" by Plamen Matanski / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with secular Israeli officials over coronavirus measures

Sep 7, 2020

By Steve Hendrix

Israel’s rapidly escalating coronavirus crisis is aggravating a religious divide in the Jewish state, with ultra-Orthodox leaders accusing mostly secular health officials of discrimination and fostering anti-Semitism by focusing on outbreaks in highly observant communities.

As the government struggles to contain the outbreak, ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis, cabinet ministers and parliament members have resisted attempts to curtail activities in ultra-Orthodox areas, including many that have emerged as covid-19 hot spots.

Facing particular ire has been Ronni Gamzu, the pugnacious former hospital administrator appointed last month as the government’s “corona czar.” Gamzu has clashed with religious leaders over his efforts to impose targeted lockdowns on neighborhoods with high infection rates, block a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of a revered Hasidic rabbi in Ukraine and compel virus testing for thousands of foreign students who have recently arrived to attend religious schools, or yeshivas.

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