Learning in "capsules" in Har Etzion yeshiva
Learning in "capsules" in Har Etzion yeshiva Gershon Ellinson/Flash90

According to a document that compiles data from the various religious-Zionist educational institutions across the country, there is currently an extremely low number of coronavirus cases among the various schools and yeshivas, suggesting that adherence to the government’s coronavirus regulations is high among the sector’s students.

As of last Wednesday, there were just 34 active cases of coronavirus out of the around 12,000 students learning in yeshiva high schools, hesder yeshivas, and seminaries.

Nonetheless, the recent rise in the infection rate across the country has affected this sector too, where educators estimate that from last week onward, dozens more students have contracted the virus, for a total of around 90.

Indeed, a number of yeshivas are already reporting an increase in contagion, and in some of them, the decision has been taken to switch to distance learning via Zoom, as a preventive measure. Those who are confirmed virus carriers have been sent to “coronavirus hotels” (run by the Home Front Command). Those who are obligated to enter quarantine have been either sent home in a safe manner (i.e. not via public transportation), or have remained in yeshiva if the premises allow for them to self-isolate according to the regulations established by the Health Ministry.

According to official data from the various institutions within the Magen Yisrael program, at the end of last week around 0.1% of students were coronavirus carriers, as contrasted with a figure of 5.8% in the general population. Around 28,000 tests have been conducted in these yeshivas throughout the winter semester – that is to say, between mid-October and the end of December.

Moshe Gutman, director of the Association of Yeshiva High Schools, told Arutz Sheva that, “We are now seeing a rise in contagion as a result of the Hanukkah vacation period. We expected this, and we made the appropriate preparations in advance, but nonetheless it’s no simple matter to deal with it. In the past, we saw success in controlling infection spread in a very effective manner due to the extensive testing that was conducted in any yeshiva where cases were discovered.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “specifically now [when the number of cases is rising], we are only being allocated 600 tests per day, as opposed to the 2,000 per day we had previously, for all the yeshivas together. We have appealed to the Health Ministry to deal with this issue urgently and to enable us to develop an outline that will enable the yeshivas to continue to function.”

The head of the Association of Hesder Yeshivas, Uri Pinski, explained that, “The yeshivas are certainly being impacted by what’s going on in the rest of the country, which is in the midst of a third wave of the epidemic. This is even more true given that our students only recently returned from home after the Hanukkah break. Thank G-d, the number of sick students in the Zionist yeshivas is very low in comparison with the general population – our yeshivas are some of the safest places to be, thanks to the effective dissemination of information regarding the importance of adhering to the guidelines, discussions held, and the personal examples displayed by the yeshivas’ administrations. In addition, the outline agreed to with the Health Ministry was reasonable and something that it was quite possible to comply with. Of course, siyatta diShmaya [Heavenly help] was also vital.

“I send my best wishes to the entire country that we merit to see a reduction in infection rates that will enable us to emerge from this third and hopefully last lockdown, and to return to normal life,” he concluded.

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