February 28, 2021
Middle East

10,000 mourners defy Covid-19 restrictions at rabbi’s funeral in Jerusalem

independent.ie– Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis flouted the ban on public gatherings to attend the funeral of a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem.

The funeral procession for Rabbi Meshulam Soloveitchik, who died aged 99, wended its way through the streets of Jerusalem in the latest display of ultra-Orthodox Israelis’ refusal to honour coronavirus restrictions. Police estimated that more than 10,000 people joined the procession and said they had issued dozens of tickets for failing to heed lockdown rules.

The phenomenon has undermined the country’s aggressive vaccination campaign to bring a raging outbreak under control and threatened to hurt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March elections. One challenger accused Mr Netanyahu of failing to enforce the law due to political pressure from his ultra-Orthodox political allies.

Densely packed throngs of people gathered outside the rabbi’s home, ignoring restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Many did not wear masks. Thousands of black-garbed ultra-Orthodox funeral-goers coursed past the city’s main entrance toward the cemetery where Mr Soloveitchik was to be buried. A handful of police officers blocked intersections to traffic to allow participants to pass, but appeared to take no action to prevent the illegal assembly.

It is understood Mr Soloveitchik, a leading religious scholar who headed a number of well-known seminaries, had recently suffered from Covid-19.

Israel’s Health Ministry has recorded more than 640,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least 4,745 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Israel has recently been averaging over 6,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus each day, one of the highest infection rates in the developing world. At the same time, Israel has vaccinated over three million of its citizens, also one of the highest rates per capita in the world.

Health experts say it will take several weeks for the vaccination campaign to have an effect on infection and hospitalisation rates. But large public funerals like that for Mr Soloveitchik in Jerusalem, and for a prominent Arab sheikh killed in Jaffa last week, have confounded efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.

A disproportionate number of Israel’s coronavirus cases are within the country’s ultra-Orthodox minority. The strictly religious community, which makes up around 11pc of Israel’s 9.2 million people, has been accounting for about 40pc of the new cases.

Many ultra-Orthodox sects have kept schools, seminaries and synagogues open, and held mass weddings and funerals in violation of lockdown restrictions.

Mr Netanyahu has long relied on ultra-Orthodox parties for support, and critics say he has refused to antagonise his allies ahead of critical elections.

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