Coronavirus in Israel: 6,861 new cases on Tuesday, 11.6% of those tested
More restrictions expected Wednesday as coronavirus cabinet meets to decide outlines for protests and prayers.
A BOY looks out through a window of a sukkah in Ashdod
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The country is expected to be handed its latest list of restrictions by the coronavirus cabinet on Wednesday, which could include closing down both synagogues and demonstrations, as well as reducing work in the private sector.
The coronavirus cabinet met for more than eight hours on Tuesday, debating how to stop the spread of the infection that threatens to overtake the country. But the meeting disbanded without any decisions being made.
There were 6,861 new patients diagnosed with coronavirus on Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported on Wednesday morning. Some 59,169 tests were carried out, meaning 11.6% of those tested returned positive.
“The decisions will be [made] no later than tomorrow,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
There were many ideas considered at the meeting, according to media reports, such as reducing employee numbers in the private business sector activity by 50%; reducing public sector workers to emergency numbers only; prohibiting demonstrations; closing synagogues; banning gatherings over the Sukkot holiday; closing down marketplaces, including those for the ritual four species used on Sukkot by religious Jews; and heightened enforcement on restrictions for mikveh (ritual bath) use, which are widely used by men the day before Yom Kippur.
However, these regulations are likely only to be implemented after the Yom Kippur holiday due to the political obstacles involved.
At the meeting there were fierce disagreements between members of the cabinet, particularly the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) ministers who were against closing synagogues and Blue and White ministers who want to see protests continue, despite new reports from the United States that gathering at protests leads to a spike in infection.
Several ministers, including Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Arye Deri said that if synagogues are closed then the protests must also be stopped, a position reportedly supported by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, with Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn opposing such a step.
Netanyahu said that “if you make restrictions on public gathering, they must be made equally. The entire country is talking about this.”
“We are in a life-saving situation,” said Deri. “I am willing to go to the rabbis and persuade them to pray more in the public space.” But he said he cannot convince the rabbis to give up the tradition of hakafot if demonstrations continue as usual.
“I am accountable to the public,” he continued, “I will do my best for God. We are a Jewish and democratic government, and for me Judaism is first and most important. If the government decides “no” to praying on Yom Kippur and yes to demonstrations, I do not know that I can stay in such a non-Jewish government.”
In a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday – as the cabinet’s recommendations started to be disseminated – Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau warned that if the lockdown is not enforced on the rest of the public, it will not be enforceable on synagogues.
“If there is no enforcement on gatherings for other things, then it is impossible to close synagogues because people will not listen,” Lau said.
The Religious-Zionist rabbinical association Tzohar called on all those organizing prayer services to “act responsibly” and hold the services in open, outdoor spaces and to limit the length of the service as much as possible.
But Tzohar also called on those organizing demonstrations to suspend the protests until the end of the lockdown, “as a means of acting in solidarity with the Israeli people during this time of crisis and to stand united in the effort to defeat the virus.”
Also, on Tuesday, Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch stressed that “synagogues are not the enemy of the nation.”
“Yom Kippur is a day that centers on the common good of the people of Israel,” said Bloch. “All of Israel visits the synagogue on Yom Kippur in all Israeli communities. Everything must be done to see how, even on this day this year, Yom Kippur will continue to center on the common good.”
She added that “Rosh Hashanah taught us that the public understood the importance and made adjustments to its customs from years past. The discussion should not be to close a synagogue but rather how to preserve the sanctity of Yom Kippur along with keeping all the rules and precepts on the health of the worshipers.”
One rabbi even said that if the government voted to close synagogues before Yom Kippur, the haredi community would not listen.
MK Yaakov Asher, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee where much of the government’s coronavirus decisions are deliberated and voted upon, also sharply attacked the proposals for synagogue closures and restrictions on the sale of four species, saying they were as important as supplying food.
Asher, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, said the system and guidelines for prayer and four species acquisition approved by the government had been meticulously worked out by the Health Ministry to ensure public safety and that there was no need to change them.
“Such a step would unravel the regulations that were agreed upon with hard work, and harm the ability to halt the increase in infections,” he said.
Also, regarding protests, there are differences of opinion. The “Crime Minister” movement is insisting on continuing as usual, while the Black Flag Movement has said that it would accept pausing mass gatherings until after a lockdown.
Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi proposed to establish a team of professionals from the Health and Justice ministries and the Police to examine how to create an outline that police can enforce and that will be healthy for the public. The proposal is expected to be discussed on Wednesday.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the new proposed restrictions in general, saying further changes would create confusion among the public.
“The public is internalizing the regulations and beginning to implement them; there is no reason after five days to issue new instructions,” he said.
The new restrictions come in light of several Israeli hospitals that said they are overcrowded and require shutting down internal medicine wards and elective surgery to accommodate coronavirus patients. However, the Health Ministry stopped reporting data on the crowding of the hospitals on Wednesday amid debate as to how crowded these hospitals really were.
Dr. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the Organization of State Employed Physicians of Israel and deputy president of the Israeli Medical Association, said that medical personnel “were there from the first moment… and treated everyone to the highest standard” and they will be there “even when the system reaches insufficiency due to lack of resources and manpower – and we will continue to give the best care in the hope that we will not have impossible decisions.”
He called on politicians to “remove your hands from the doctors. Let us continue our holy work.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.