Who’s the Boss?

After two weeks of not enforced and no adhered to lockdown, Israel is today heading towards a real closure, with commerce, workplaces and schools almost completely shut down and with severe limitations on gatherings and even the distance you are allowed to be away from your home.

While it is clear that the hardship and economical damage of this harsh measure will be significant, the powers that be in the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office made the decision to go ahead, and they are being backed up by the majority of the government.  The police already let it be known that enforcement will be strict and five thousand extra personnel will be deployed to make sure that Israelis will adhere to the limitations put on their lives, at least for a couple of weeks. Netanyahu appeared on television and made every effort to scare the people into abiding by the lockdown rules, a tactic which has worked for him often in the past. So Israel will come to a halt.

Well, maybe not everywhere. There is one (significant) segment of the Israeli population that will not listen to Netanyahu and will mostly ignore the guidelines issued, for the very simple reason that for them Netanyahu is not the authority. They have their own Boss. His name is Chaim Kanievsky. He is a ninety-two-year-old leader of an Ultra-Orthodox community in Bnei Brak and his word is law, at least for his thousands of followers. And if not Kanievsky it will be Yisachar Dov Rokeach, or Gershon Edelstein or Yisroel Hager, all leaders of the splintered Ultra-Orthodox community who are united in defying secular law.

And the rabbi at this point has not made up his mind yet and confusing and mixed up messages are send from his court. Israeli politicians visit him to make sure that their actions will not raise the ire of the Rabbi and to reassure him that they will not oppose his decrees. (The ultra-orthodox ministers in the government did abstain from the vote on the lockdown). Also Netanyahu, who has been aligned with the Ultra-Orthodox parties for many years (at incredible expense to the Israeli taxpayer) and will not go against the will of the Boss from Bnei Brak, or at least agree to turn a blind eye to transgressions in the orthodox community.

In Dutch there is an old saying (which is hopelessly outdated but still real here): “Man Proposes, but God Disposes”. In Israel, the legally elected government may propose, but the Rabbi decides. During the previous lockdowns, repeatedly the Ultra-Orthodox community was in the news because, schools and Yeshivas remained open, weddings were held and violations were rampant.

And while this time around, the police has clearly stated that enforcement will not be selective and action will be taken wherever it is required to enforce the lockdown rules, events of the past days have clearly shown otherwise.

At a wedding in Beitar Ilit, with hundreds of participants, was allowed to take place without too much interference. The police arrived in large numbers but did stand by idle until the late hours when, so it appears, the commanders only went in to receive the blessings of the Rabbi whose grandson was getting married. Of course, when this blatant violation of the rules reached the press, the newly appointed commander of the Israel Police suspended the officers in question and the events will be investigated. Even more serious, many of the participants noted to the press that prior arrangements with the police were made whereby only after 11pm the wedding would be halted.

A major source of infection spread has been the school system, in particular the ultra-orthodox schools and Yeshivas and they are to be closed under the lockdown rules, since the whole school system is to close. During previous lockdowns, the ultra- orthodox schools and yeshivas stayed (at least partially) open and they became a source of infection like no other. This time around the rabbis still have not decided what to do about the schools and the whole of Israel is holding its breath. Will the Boss decide to follow the lockdown rules or again defy them and rely on the Almighty to save his followers from the disease?  A couple of hours ago it was reported from the court of Kanievsky that the Rabbi has decided to allow the closure of the schools and yeshivas “for a couple of days”. Isn’t he aware that two weeks’ lockdown is significantly more than “a couple of days”?

They do not need to worry about enforcement because the Police already let it be known that they will not be able to enter schools to disperse the pupils so the Rabbis already know that their transgressions will remain unanswered and unchallenged. The excuse the police uses is that entering the schools and removing pupils forcefully is not an option, but all schools in Israel are fenced for security reasons so the only thing to be done by the Police would be to lock the gates.

Of course the decision by the Police comes from the political echelon. Netanyahu will prevent disenchanting the Religious parties at any cost, also if it means a continued spread of the Corona virus and a lengthening of the lockdown.

Israel is ruled and controlled by the religious minority and with every retreat the government makes, the position of the religious forces in Israel society will be strengthened. And it often appears the general population is willing to suffer the consequences, whatever those may be.

But the price to be paid will soon become too high to bear but by then it will be too late.  

I hope you found this article interesting and I welcome any comments you may have.

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