MK Gafni tells PM: Leave our schools open, no harm will result

Degel HaTorah MK clarifies that his party intends to abide by the ruling of its spiritual head, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.

Y Rabinovitz ,

MK Moshe Gafni chairing a committee meeting
MK Moshe Gafni chairing a committee meeting
Ezra Landau

Following a day of tumult surrounding the resumption of studies in many haredi institutions serving boys between the ages of six and thirteen (below yeshiva age), haredi MK Moshe Gafni has made his party’s position clear: They will follow the ruling of their spiritual head, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who ordered boys’ elementary schools to open.

Last week, leading haredi rabbis, community leaders, and representatives from some of the largest hassidic courts met with government representatives including Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the coronavirus project manager, and General (res.) Ronni Numa, the project manager for the haredi sector. However, the outline developed after a series of meetings was rejected by the Blue & White members of the coronavirus cabinet, according to haredi sources, and a few days later, Rabbi Kanievsky ordered the resumption of Torah learning for all boys.

Predictably, his ruling, and the subsequent opening of many schools in the Lithuanian haredi sector, caused a political storm, with the Prime Minister begging haredim to heed the government’s guidelines and the Health Minister threatening to cut off funding and even revoke the licenses of institutions that opened in breach of the law.

On Sunday, police visited a number of schools in the haredi-majority cities of Elad and Modi’in Illit, issuing fines to principals and ordering a number of them to report to police stations for questioning. Throughout the day, haredi MKs refused to comment on the standoff, and have not granted interviews to media outlets, but on Sunday evening the haredi website Behadrey Haredim revealed that MK Moshe Gafni had spoken with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the matter and had clarified that his party intends to abide by the ruling of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, widely perceived as the leader of Litvish haredi Jewry.

Gafni is the head of the Degel HaTorah faction, a component of the United Torah Judaism party that represents Litvish (non-hassidic) haredi Jewry. The party’s other faction, Agudat Yisrael, representing various hassidic courts, has yet to make its position known on recent developments.

A statement from MK Gafni’s office noted that one of the results of Gafni’s conversation with Netanyahu was that the issue is being revisited, with the government prepared to draft new guidelines including dividing classes into smaller units and using larger spaces to accommodate them while adhering to social distancing guidelines. This will be possible via use of girls’ classrooms, as haredi girls have not resumed studies.

Behadrey Haredim also reported that MK Gafni told the Prime Minister that: “We believe that no harm will come from following the guidance of the gadol hador [Torah leader of the generation].”

Meanwhile, a statement from the office of the government’s coronavirus project manager for the haredi community, issued on Sunday evening, emphasized that preschools had been reopened due to the requests of local authority heads, and reiterated that classes for older grades have not been granted permission to resume studies.

“Despite the drop in the rate of contagion, it is important to stress categorically that classes for students over the age of six are not to resume,” the statement read. “Institutions that breach the guidelines and operate against the law risk administrative or criminal proceedings being opened against them, as well the revocation of their licenses and cancellation of budget funds.”