Leading Orthodox Israeli lawmaker compares ignoring lockdown rules to murder


(JTA) — A leading Orthodox lawmaker said that not following the country’s lockdown rules to slow the spread of the coronavirus is comparable to murder.

Aryeh Deri, the head of Israel’s Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party who also serves as Israel’s interior minister, made his comments Saturday night and posted a clip of the speech on his Facebook page. He criticized the members of the haredi Orthodox community who deny that the coronavirus is a threat. Israel is preparing for a lockdown to contain an outsized second wave of COVID-19 cases.

“It’s murder,” Deri said of those who disregard the regulations. “It ‘will not stand on the blood of your neighbor,’” he added, quoting Leviticus 19:16, which is an injunction that if one sees his neighbor in danger and has the ability to do something, he must do everything in his power to help him.

Israel’s lockdown will start on Rosh Hashanah and last until after the Sukkot holiday in early October. Members of the haredi Orthodox community, including former health minister Yaakov Litzman, have been criticized for gathering in large groups in defiance of national rules and guidelines.

“It is spreading all over the country,” Deri said, referring to the coronavirus. “It is spreading because many rabbis unfortunately do not follow the instructions. The weddings and restaurants. I walk around and see observant Jews, with beards, walking without masks. I look and want to shout ‘Who gave you permission? This is harmful, you owe it to me (to wear a mask).’”

Deri pledged to do everything possible to allow synagogues to be open for the High Holidays, but he cautioned that this year will be different.

“It is not possible to have the same density as other years,” he said.

The lockdown rules for indoor worship provide a complicated formula for the number of people allowed inside synagogues, which involves the number of entrances to the space and room square footage.

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