Thursday, January 27th | 25 Shevat 5782

August 10, 2020 3:24 pm

As Israel Struggles With COVID-19, Belzer Rebbe Exacerbates Problem

avatar by Martin Peretz


People wear protective masks as they walk around central Jerusalem, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, July 7, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.

“Israel remains among the top countries globally as well.” Top, mind you. Number 8, in fact, proportionate counting by population. Wow! Except this is not a beauty contest or an international soccer tournament. It is the dire counting of coronavirus contagion, country by country, enumerated proportionally and daily by the respected Johns Hopkins Medical School in its punctilious dispatches to everyone and anyone who wants them. In Israel’s league are India, Brazil, South Africa and other scientifically and medically-backward countries, so much so that one doesn’t quite trust their health statistics. They might be even worse. One does, however, trust Israel’s numbers and they are horrific. So let us face the facts. Professor Roni Gamzu, the Israeli coronavirus czar, announced — yes, proclaimed — that Israel’s morbidity rate was the “highest in the world.” Are we, are you going to continue to ignore the statistics of death?

At the beginning, there was the excuse of Bnei Brak, as of other pious communities of men, just enclaves where the secular authorities have about as much license as the Ramallah police. It did take some time for the rules to be obeyed, doubtless resentfully and maybe crudely. Still and after all, even the ultra-religious sometimes recognize the police — although they live without television or secular papers. The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox press doesn’t alert you to what one shouldn’t know. Still, in a suburb of Tel Aviv, women are somehow more alert to the wider world than in most other Hasidic enclaves. Plus: death is finally death, and it cannot be overlooked. Even in anticipation. So more and more the Hasidim have come to attention.

But not all. Anyway not Belz. A gedillah hot mir batrasket: the Belzer rebbe had a grandson who was to be married. The Belzer’s eldest son had died young years ago. So just last week his yoyrush’s son was bestowed on his bride. Or she, the kalah, was bestowed on him. There wasn’t a mother around. Maybe the cameraman couldn’t find her — or didn’t look. Yet there wasn’t much bestowal anyway. Except that at least in the 15-minute film made of the wedding the kalah was to be seen for several seconds wandering on the bimah but actually ignored. Not that the chos’n had much of a role either. It was his grandfather who commanded attention. And his thousands of nameless and ecstatic chassidim. Plus hordes of little boys, also ecstatic. You can watch the whole simcha on YouTube. Look for “Belz wedding.”

At least you aren’t really there. Where Gamzu says, “We are seeing celebrations where the rules are being violated, and this cannot go on. Whoever does this is behaving in manner similar to Russian roulette. These gatherings represent the number one risk.” After watching this one you can watch other chasenes…if you have the stomach.

Martin Peretz was editor-in-chief of The New Republic from 1974 to 2013.

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