Health

Orthodox Jewish communities, coronavirus breeding grounds

By Pablo Duer and Ana Cardenes

Jerusalem/New York, Mar 31 (efe-epa).- Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities have become breeding grounds for coronavirus as most members do not read newspapers, watch television or surf the internet to get informed.

They have large families, pray in a synagogue three times a day and are likely to live in crowded neighbourhoods ruled by the Torah and Orthodox rabbis.

The tendency to isolation and to put religious rules before civil law has generated rejection and confrontation in Israel and other countries.

In London, two members of an ultra-Orthodox community have died from coronavirus.

Hundreds of Jewish people have been infected in New York and there have been reports of violation of self-isolation measures and anti-Semitic incidents.

In Israel, many of these communities took up the lockdown rules two weeks after the government announced them and after the police intervention.

Schools closed on March 13, but yeshivas and synagogues continued their activities until a few days ago and a minority even remained open.

On Monday, the police raided Mea Shearim, a popular ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, where they forcibly removed people from synagogues and fined them.

The Jerusalem Faction, a radical community which broke away from mainstream ultra-Orthodoxy, has called for a protest demonstration this week.

The government plans to order the army to set up spaces for coronavirus quarantine in these areas.

“The spread is partly due to the fact that we did not follow the rules sufficiently because people didn’t understand them. We also have a lot of social interaction,” Tzipi Yarom, a journalist who belongs to the Haredim Mibfnim community in Jerusalem, told EFE.

“The probability that everyone in the community is infected is close to 100%, I think,” she added.

Nechemia Melinovitz lives with his wife and nine children in a three-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem.

He recently received a postal brochure from the ministry of health with information about the pandemics since authorities barely use messaging applications or social media.

With more than a million people, the Haredim community represents 12% of the population of Israel and almost a third of Jerusalem.

Its areas show the highest numbers of infected within the country, more than 4,000 cases and 16 deaths.

Moti Ravid, director at Maynei Hayeshua Medical Center in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, acknowledged that the infection rate is “four to eight times higher in these communities than in other parts of Israel”.

Ravid believes that authorities can do almost nothing to control the spread since an average family has at least 10 members.

A short walk through Mea Shearim helps to understand the problem.

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