Coronavirus Cases Spike in Israeli ultra-Orthodox Neighborhoods

Hundreds of new cases of the coronavirus appeared in ultra-Orthodox enclaves in Israel over a short period of time, internal Health Ministry figures obtained by Haaretz show, revealing a growth rate that far exceeds the national average.

These official Health Ministry figures, which are kept confidential, are given to the Interior Ministry which passes them on to the local authorities every morning.

The number of infected people in Bnei Brak increased eightfold between Monday and Thursday last week. On Monday evening there were 30 confirmed cases, and on Thursday the number was 244. In Jerusalem’s Haredi community there were 78 confirmed cases on Monday, and on Thursday – 314, a fourfold spike. In the Haredi town of Betar Ilit the number of people with the virus went from two on Monday to 24 on Thursday, and in Beit Shemesh, the number jumped from four to 34 in that period.

The virus is spreading faster in ultra-Orthodox communities than in the main secular cities. In Tel Aviv, the number of patients doubled in the same three-day period last week (85 on Monday and 191 on Thursday), as it did in Herzliya (from 18 to 39), Ramat Gan (20 to 42), Netanya (20 to 53) and Ashdod (24 to 51).

Bnei Brak Mayor Abraham Rubinstein released an urgent statement to residents on Friday: “There are moments when one must stop and simply cry out a warning. In Bnei Brak, unfortunately, there are 300 corona patients. This is a high rate of infection; it is the most dangerous anywhere in Israel, and the forecast is even more terrifying. This is the time to wake up! The rabbis of the city and its great teachers are crying out: Stop your know-it-all minyans of more than ten men,” he said, referring to the quorum required by Orthodox law to hold public prayers. “Keep your distance and stop storming the supermarkets. Just stay home and be careful. This is dangerous, it’s terrifying and you need to understand: It’s a matter of life and death,” Rubinstein said.

Sources in some ultra-Orthodox towns say the Health Ministry does not inform people that they need to go into isolation due to contact with someone who has the virus. Some also say that the Health Ministry is not cooperating with the local authorities that want to act independently to prevent the spread of the virus in Haredi neighborhoods, which are densely populated and hence a major potential source of infection.

The greatest obstacle is that many ultra-Orthodox people are not connected to mass media. About half of ultra-Orthodox people don’t have smart phones, but rather only phones that have been approved by their rabbis, which can’t receive a message instructing the user to go into isolation.