Charedi community 'blind' to impact of Covid, says top rabbi

Many ‘think it is a Zionist conspiracy’, says Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weiss, a former UK minister who sits on the Council of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate


A former UK rabbi now on the Council of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has spoken out on why sections of the Charedi community continue to remain “blind” to the devastating impact of Covid-19, insisting: “They think it is a Zionist conspiracy and goodness knows what.”

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weiss, who made aliyah in the 1980s before becoming the first UK-born rabbi elected to the council two years ago,  said the lack of communication between strictly-Orthodox communities and the outside world had contributed to the breakdown in communication over the seriousness of the virus.

The Manchester-born rabbi said: “In the small Charedi communities many of them don’t know what it is all about. They don’t read newspapers. They don’t have connections. They don’t the outside world.

“They think that they are being attacked, and that people are dying and they are not being treated properly. 

“They don’t realise they are not looking after themselves. I wouldn’t want to make generalisations – there are many, 80-90 per cent, who observe all  of the rules.

“But there are those who don’t. They think it’s a Zionist conspiracy and goodness knows what.

“They don’t understand what is happening. It is a very sad thing. You would expect religious Jews to  more particular than others. And unfortunately they are blind.”

Rabbi Weiss also highlighted the cramped living conditions usually facing Charedi families in communities in Israel and abroad.

“You have to understand the conditions that they live in,” he said, during an interview with KAN, Israel’s public broadcasting corporation. “It might be the case that they know there’s such an infection.

“But they really are limited in their possibilities of keeping distance from one another because  of families with 10 or 11  children in a flat of three or four rooms.

“It is very difficult. There is bound to a higher rate of infection amongst these close-knit people.”

In Israel,  the rabbi is in charge of the rabbinate in Bnei Brak, a city in which the Charedi community has repeatedly clashed with the authorities over attempts to enforce strict Covid lockdown regulations.

Just like in Stamford Hill, north London, numerous weddings have been going ahead in the Israeli city.

“Three weeks ago there were about 100 weddings  - all 20 to 30 people,” he revealed. “That’s OK.It is when you get these grand events .. that is a terrible thing.”

Rabbi Weiss – who has been leader of the Kefar Haroeh community for over 30 years, considered to be the crown in the jewel of the religious Zionist world -  also cited the problem of a minority of rebbes, or Chasidic spiritual leaders, making false claims about Covid.

“It only needs one or two .. this has great effect,” he said. “They see that in Israel they allow demonstrations, so why not a wedding?   Why in Balfour can you have thousands of people and not at wedding that only happens on one occasion?

“They see it as an attack on them.  But they don’t realise they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. This is a very sad thing.”

He added: “The Charedi community feels attacked by others  – but a religious Jew has a greater duty to observe the laws of the Torah.

“I feel coronavirus has not only brought a plague, it has brought a blindness. G-d is the controller of all this. He wants us to take care.”


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