Are COVID guidelines irreconcilable with haredi life?

New survey shows that 77% of haredim support government restrictions, but 60% breach them.

Ido Ben Porat ,

Hassidic 'tish,' a central feature of hassidic life
Hassidic 'tish,' a central feature of hassidic life

There are many possible reasons why an individual or a group may find it challenging to adhere to the government’s coronavirus restrictions, even when the said individual or group agrees in principle with the theories the restrictions are based upon.

A recent survey conducted by the Askria polling agency sought to reach a greater understanding of the behavior of the haredi sector in Israel with regard to lockdown policies, and concluded that what some see as intransigence or stubborn disobedience often stems not from disdain for the government but rather from a seemingly insoluble contradiction between fundamental matters of lifestyle and adherence to government policies.

Dudi Dror, director of Askria, spoke with Arutz Sheva and discussed some of the survey’s findings.

“What we found was that within the haredi sector, most haredim – 77% - appreciate the importance of the government’s restrictions on individuals and on businesses,” he said. “However, on a community level, this belief is challenged when, for instance, rabbis order their congregations to open schools in breach of the government’s guidelines, and tell parents to send their children to learn in them.” The survey found that around 60% of haredi parents in such a case send their children to school, even during periods of lockdown when the government forbids this.

“Take the case of a Hassidic man, father of eight children,” Dror says, by way of example. “His life revolves around communal institutions, and that means that the government’s regulations during the coronavirus period are in many cases directly opposed to the way he would normally be living his life. For a secular man who can work from home, this sharp contradiction between normal life and adherence to the guidelines doesn’t exist to anywhere near such a degree. So when we consider haredim from this perspective, we can see that failing to adhere to the guidelines doesn’t stem from contempt for government, for instance, but simply from being placed in an impossible situation.”

When asked whether different streams of haredim displaying varying attitudes toward the government’s guidelines, Dror replied that the survey had revealed quite sharp disparities. “There are Hassidic groups where they have often paid no attention to what the Health Ministry says. Among Hassidim in general, around 41% agree that the regulations are important, as opposed to around 70% in the non-Hassidic (Lithuanian) streams. This is a very large difference, which is partially explained by the fact that in Hassidic circles, there are many more mass events, and failure to attend is seen as divorcing oneself from the community.”

Another interesting finding from the survey was the level of trust enjoyed by various official bodies among the haredi community. 49% of haredim reported that they trust the IDF, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not far behind at 40%. Other government institutions are trusted by around 25% of haredim, but the police are trusted by just 12%.

Now, with elections ahead, it appears that at least one Knesset seat from haredi votes could be up for grabs by non-haredi parties. “Historically, many haredim have voted for the Likud party,” Dror says, “but in the current situation, these votes – amounting to around one Knesset seat – could be up for grabs by Gideon Sa’ar or possibly Naftali Bennett instead.”

With Likud MK Miki Zohar labeling anyone opposed to lockdown regulations as “populist,” and both Bennett and Sa’ar positioning themselves in opposition to the government’s sweeping nationwide measures, the stance of the latter two politicians may find a welcome ear among haredim.