(Haredi) Religion & State in Israel (Coronavirus)


This piece by Nathan Jaffay in the TOI is one of the best pieces on the disproportionate prevalence of the Coronavirus in Haredi society and communities in Israel, which now has the highest per capita infection rates in the world and is now under total lockdown. It touches upon vital questions concerning religion and state and their non-separation. Anyone interested in this phenomenon might want to read it closely.

 

What is especially fine about the analysis here are the distinctions drawn between [1] first wave (spring 2020) and second wave rates and patterns of infection, [2] Hasidic and non-Hasidic (Litvak) and Sephardic Haredi communities, [3] demographic circumstance (large communities in crowded spaces) and communal behavior. Also, the analysis draws on a range of experts, including Dror Mevorach (head of internal medicine at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem), Benny Brown (an lead international expert in Haredi culture and thought at the Hebrew University), Yehoshua Pfeffer (a Jerusalem based rabbi and head of the Haredi Israel division at the rightwing Tikvah Fund), Eran Segal (a virus statistics expert), Yitzhak Ravitz (mayor of the Haredi town of Kiryat Ye’arim).

The reporting is clear how a combination of factors are contributing to the disproportionate spread of the virus among Haredi communities. These include [4] crowded living circumstances, [5] high rates of poverty, [6] high rates of socialization internal to Haredi communities, [7] communal behavior flouting public health guidelines, [8] ideological conflict with the state, [9] disconnect from and autonomy vis-a-vis the larger society, [10] zealous and reckless commitments to a particular way of religious/Jewish life, [11] fatigue and fatalism and misinformation about viral spread in the communities, and [12] a failure of political leadership at the national and local and communal levels to impose lockdowns and other restrictive measures to enforce public health guidelines.

Something is rotten in the State of Israel and in the Jewish body politic. In a Jewish state (i.e. a Jewish majority state) with a large Haredi minority leveraging critical centers of power in the coalitional system of the country, these factors, with their mix of religion and politics, have contributed to a perfect viral storm, creating what one could further cite and with serious trepidation “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” A calamitous index to the non-separation of powers, the virus in Israel constitutes a total legitimation crisis marked by the failure of this experiment in so-called theopolitics (here meaning the systemic con-fusion between political order and religious ethos).

 

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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