Haredim dictating Israel's COVID-19 response

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Oct 15, 2020, 8:34:34 PM10/15/20
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A message from Hiddush

Oct. 15, 2020
27th of Tishrei, 5781

Dear Friends,


Many issues of religion and state are emerging these days, but most of them during this period are directly related to the corona crisis: the right to prayer, the right to marriage, the right to study Torah, equal status of women, Shabbat, and others. Therefore, we have placed the emphasis in this newsletter on issues related to the ultra-Orthodox sector and the pandemic.

Everyone in Israel these days is aware that this conflict preoccupies the public, the politicians and the media in the most intense way. A public outcry erupted last night following a police operation, following complaints from neighbors, to shut down the wedding of an ultra-Orthodox family held in a private house in the Jerusalem area, with dozens of guests in violation of the law prohibiting this during the pandemic lock-down. The incident escalated into violence and conflicting accounts are being pushed by the police and family members, associated with the Kach movement and Rabbi Kahana. Haredi politicians hurried to accuse the police of unusual violence against haredim, and the subject will surely remain in the news for quite a few more days. 

The response of Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of Agudat Israel is particularly interesting. He himself participated several times during this period in mass weddings in violation of the law, and now he announced: "The right to marry does not fall short of the right to demonstrate. Attempting to prevent marriages is a blatantly anti-democratic act, which can not pass in any reformed country."

We would also be happy to sign this declaration, if we did not know he himself does not believe in it, of course. He does not recognize the right to marry at all, which is indeed a fundamental right in any reformed democracy, and he and his party deny hundreds of thousands of Israelis the right to marry in the name of their religious belief that Jews are not allowed to marry in a civil ceremony or in a non-Orthodox religious wedding. This is purely hypocritical- using democratic rhetoric to justify religious coercion and disregard for health, public order, and security.

So is the lawsuit filed by Porush's colleagues in the United States, Agudath Israel of America, which sued Governor Cuomo of New York, demanding the abolition of the restrictions imposed on synagogue gatherings due to the danger of the pandemic. The federal judge dismissed their lawsuit last week, but it is worth mentioning again that the main grounds on which the claim was based was the right to freedom of religion. In this case too, just as in Porush's remarks about the right to marry, this is an exploitation of the values of democracy and not an internalization and adoption of these values. Agudath Israel does not believe and is not interested in allowing freedom of religion as long as it is not about its own religious freedom. When it comes to the religious freedom of Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Women of the Wall, and others - they turn their backs on this freedom and act through their political representatives in their respective countries and directly from the United States to deny this freedom to others. 

Hiddush works with NGOs and activists in Israel and North America to promote religious freedom and true equality, and Hiddush’s recent action, described below, is but one example of the battle we are leading and its importance for the future of the State of Israel and the unity of the Jewish people.

Shanah Tovah & Chag Sameach,

Uri Regev & Stanley P. Gold, 
Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel


Should ultra-Orthodox sector determine Israel's pandemic response?

In Israel, response to COVID-19 pandemic is largely dictated by the fragile political reality and the extraordinary weight of the ultra-Orthodox political parties.

The same virus is affecting the whole world, but countries deal with it in varying ways. Responses to COVID-19 are sometimes dictated by professional health considerations, and sometimes by political, economic, and cultural considerations. In Israel, they are largely dictated by the fragile political reality and the extraordinary weight of the ultra-Orthodox political parties. On the one hand, the leaders of the coalition are reluctant to upset them, and on the other hand, the ultra-Orthodox politicians themselves are reluctant to face the rabbinical leadership of these parties, which has been illustrated in the past and continues to this day. This proves that their decisions are not always guided by medical and health considerations, nor even by health of their followers, but rather by conceptions of fundamentalist beliefs expressed, for example, in statements such as: "The danger of shutting down Torah study and the yeshivas is greater than the danger of COVD-19" and the principled notion that the corona virus is not a natural phenomenon at all but an expression of God’s will.

This reality is expressed in different ways, for example: the decision to impose a national lock-down rather than implement the recommendations of medical authorities, including the Corona Tzar, to impose a differentiated closure, which mainly means the imposition of a closure on ultra-Orthodox cities, in which the rate of infection and the severity of the disease are dramatically higher than in other parts of the country. A few days ago, one of the ministers explicitly admitted this in an interview: ‘We refrained from imposing a differentiated closure so as not to upset the ultra-Orthodox!’

Similarly, the police conduct in dealing with the closure violations in the ultra-Orthodox sector, including continued activities of synagogues and ultra-Orthodox schools contrary to the prohibitions imposed by law, the holding of large weddings, events during the holidays [Simchat Torah dancing, Simchat Beit Hashoeva, High Holy Day prayers, and more]. The police maintain limited supervision and enforcement, although sometimes they get violent, whether it be ultra-Orthodox protesters and crowds against the police or police violence. In general, it is a matter of limited and symbolic enforcement, meaning: extremely problematic [and it points to its political affiliation, at least in part, with the existence of a "state within a state"].

There are reports of tacit agreement between the police and Hasidic courts, wherein lies most of the disregard for the provisions, or other ultra-Orthodox groups, according to which, for example, as long as they keep the forbidden Simchat Torah dancing inside closed buildings and without publicizing them - the police will not intervene. With the incredible publication of statistics, according to which, during the holiday season only one fine was imposed on a synagogue, which held prayers in violation of the law, even though everyone knows that this took place on a very large scale. The conduct of broad circles in ultra-Orthodox Judaism can be represented in the following examples:


Hiddush to petition Supreme Court if yeshivas open before state schools

Hiddush to Corona Cabinet and the other relevant authorities: We will appeal to the Supreme Court if you make an exception for ultra-Orthodox education and permit gender discrimination.

In Hiddush’s strongly worded letter, we demanded that ultra-Orthodox educational institutions in Israel not be exempted from the restrictions imposed upon Israel’s entire education system and that the exclusion of ultra-Orthodox female students be prevented.

Hiddush’s communication followed media reports of a unilateral plan, according to which ultra-Orthodox schools would open their doors, whether with the approval of the authorities or without it. According to the media and unnamed ultra-Orthodox figures, the plan is based on leaving female students at home so that the male students would have more free classrooms in order to allow bigger distance between the students.

On Tuesday, in an urgent letter, Hiddush wrote to the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Health and Education, the Speaker of the Knesset, the Attorney General, and the Acting Commissioner of Police, demanding equal treatment of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions and all other educational institutions regarding their being shutdown due to the high infection levels.

In the letter, Hiddush writes that: "For a long time now, the media has been reporting on the Israeli government making dangerous and unwarranted pandemic-related decisions under ultra-Orthodox political pressure, reflected also in the police’s conduct in relation to this sector... Just yesterday, footage of an ultra-Orthodox school was seen, operating, as if there was no lockdown."

Hiddush notes that: "To the extent that the health authorities maintain that keeping schools open poses a real danger at this time, you have shut them all down - It is necessary for the Corona Cabinet, Health and Education Ministries and law enforcement authorities to clearly and firmly manifest that they will not put up with the violation of the law and the illegal opening of schools, at the risk of public health and well-being. Politically motivated concessions to one sector in the population cannot be allowed."




The Center for Women's Justice (CWJ), in partnership with Hiddush, AAJLJ, J-PLAN, and Ruach Hiddush will provide an overview of one of the most explosive areas in the clash between the rabbinic establishment and the monopolistic authorities granted to it on the one hand, and women's rights, civil liberties, and human dignity on the other. Dr. Weiss' presentation will commence with a landmark Supreme Court case she and the CWJ team have recently submitted to the Supreme Court, regarding the the decision to revoke the Jewish status of three generations of an immigrant Israeli family .


Analysis from the Legal Battlefield: Israeli Courts vs. Converts, Mamzerim, Adultrous Women and Immigrants 


Monday, October 19, 2020 at 12:00 PM Eastern Time [9:00 AM Pacific Time; 7:00 PM in Israel]. 


  • Dr. Susan Weiss, Esq., founder and Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ). Susan has been actively working to find solutions for the problems of Jewish women and divorce for over 20 years, first as a private attorney, then as the founder and director of Yad L'Isha from 1997-2004, and now as the founder and executive director of CWJ. Her book 'Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel's Civil War' was published by Brandeis University Press.

Please register for the Zoom webinar at THIS LINK



"The Synagogue and Jewish Liturgy confronting COVID 19" [Israeli, American and Global Jewish Perspectives and Prospects]. 


Monday, November 2, 2020 at 12:00 PM Eastern Time [9:00 AM Pacific Time; 7:00 PM in Israel]. 


  • Rabbi Prof. Lawrence A. Hoffman was ordained as a rabbi in 1969, received his Ph.D. in 1973, and taught from then until 2019 at HUC-JIR/New York. From 1984 to 1987, he also directed the School of Sacred Music. In 2003, he was named the first Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual. He taught classes in liturgy, ritual, spirituality, theology and synagogue leadership. For almost forty years, he has combined research, teaching, and a passion for the spiritual renewal of North American Judaism.
  • Rabbi Prof. Dalia Marx is the Rabbi Aaron D. Panken Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at HUC-JIR's Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem, and teaches in various academic institutions in Israel and Europe. Marx, tenth generation in Jerusalem, earned her doctorate at the Hebrew University and her rabbinic ordination at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem and Cincinnati in 2002. She is involved in various research projects and is active in promoting liberal Judaism in Israel. Marx writes for academic and popular journals and publications.

Please register for the Zoom webinar at THIS LINK

Hiddush's Webinar Series, Recorded

  1. Threats to Democracy in Israel and Beyond - Between the Coronavirus and Populism - With Prof. Karine Nahon and Rabbi Prof. Michael Chernik
  2. “And Our Households Were Saved”: Jewish Bioethics, Pesach, and Health Considerations During the COVID-19 Pandemic - With Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff
  3. Israel's Unfolding Democratic Crisis - Current Constitutional Challenges and Rulings Explored - With Prof. Rivka Weill
  4. A Plague Has Appeared in Our House" - A discussion of the medical, social, religious, and political impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Israel and the American Jewish Community
  5. The Israeli Coalition: Deathblow to pluralism or opportunity for change? - With Rabbis David Saperstein and Uri Regev
  6. Are Israel's Rule of Law & Supreme Court at Risk? - With Professors Mordechai Kremnitzer & Howard Kislowicz
  7. "Who is a Jew?" - Rabbinic and Historical aspects, and Current Controversy - with Rabbis Marc Angel and David Ellenson
  8. "Who is a Jew?" -The current state of the law, pending cases, & upcoming legal clashes - with Advocates Nicole Maor and Uri Regev
  9. The True Meaning of the Barak Legacy - with Prof. Rivka Weill
  10. Jewish Theocracy vs. Democracy - the Battle over Israel's Identity - with Prof. Alex Kaye
  11. Women and the COVID-19 pandemic; law, politics, religion, state - with Prof. Ruth Halperin Kadari
  12. The unfolding of Modern Orthodoxy in America and in Israel? Is change really happening? - Moderator: R. Asher Lopatin. Speakers: R. Daniel Landes, Daphne Lazar Price, R. Avram Mlotek
  13. How Israelis really feel regarding religious freedom & equality - Speaker: Rabbi Uri Regev, following the publication of Hiddush's 2020 Israel Religion & State Index

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