Funeral of hardline rabbi’s wife obeys virus rules despite prediction of crowds

A funeral for the wife of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was held Wednesday without incident, despite concerns the burial could draw a large crowd in violation of emergency ordinances against the coronavirus.

The funeral, held in Petah Tikva, was for Aliza Friedman, 80, whose husband Tzvi Friedman is a leader of the so-called Jerusalem Faction.

The hardline group is known for leading protests against mandatory military service and in recent days has been linked to numerous gatherings that breached the virus restrictions.

Aliza Friedman’s cause of death was not immediately clear. News site Kikar Hashabbat reported that she suffered from underlying health problems.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, whose ministry oversees police, said that the funeral being held in accordance with the directives was proof the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are adhering to ordinances.

“This is a funeral that in a normal situation thousands would be participating in. There is a reason for optimism,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ahead of the burial ceremony, a large number of police officers were deployed to the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, where the funeral procession set out from.

According to Channel 12 news, officers reached an agreement with Jerusalem Faction leaders that the funeral would be held according to Health Ministry guidelines.

Despite the funeral meeting the emergency directives, the Jerusalem Faction was linked Wednesday to at least two violations.

In Modiin Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank, police arrested six Jerusalem Faction members for praying at a synagogue. The worshipers refused a police order to disperse and scuffled with officers sent to the synagogue, according to Hebrew media reports.

In Bnei Brak, municipal workers welded shut a door of a Jerusalem Faction synagogue that allegedly continued to host prayers, according to a video clip.

Separately, a video clip shared online showed ultra-Orthodox community members in Beit Shemesh protesting police attempts to force them to comply with social distancing regulations. The video showed a minor calling officers, unseen, “Nazis,” and then trying to cough in their general direction.

Israel has ordered the closure of synagogues as part of its measures against the virus and barred gatherings in public spaces, including for prayers or weddings.

The government has also limited funerals to 20 participants and required they be held in open areas, while circumcision ceremonies have been capped at 10 people.

Earlier in the week, hundreds of people took part in a funeral in Bnei Brak for a leading figure in the Jerusalem Faction, with mourners crowding in contravention of social distancing rules. The funeral prompted fierce criticism of police, who were on hand to oversee and secure the event but did not intervene to ensure it complied with the virus restrictions, arguing that doing so could have led to clashes that would draw thousands to the streets.

Following the incident, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a prominent leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Bnei Brak, called on his followers to pray individually. Kanievsky said that anyone not adhering to the instructions of doctors was a rodef, or threat to society.

In a video (Hebrew) from Wednesday shared on social media, a man could be heard chewing out a group of worshipers who were leaving a synagogue in Bnei Brak after apparently praying there.

“Get out here, murderers,” the man can be heard yelling. “I’ll snitch 10 times… each time starting today, I’ll call the police.”

Police on Tuesday set up checkpoints around Bnei Brak and were checking IDs of anyone trying to enter, as the government reportedly considered placing a cordon around the city of nearly 200,000, which has the highest infection rate in the country.

As of Wednesday the city had 730 cases, the second highest of any city in the country behind Jerusalem, which had 781, despite having less than a quarter of the residents of the capital.

Authorities have upped enforcement of social distancing regulations in Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox areas, where some have flouted rules against congregating or leaving home for nonessential reasons.

Overall, there have been 5,591 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel as of Wednesday, with 21 deaths.

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