Podcast: Yehoshua Pfeffer on Haredi Society and the COVID-19 Crisis

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Like so many nations around the world, Israel has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of today, the Jewish state has over 14,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and over 180 deaths. Among those who have suffered most from the pandemic are Israel’s ultra-Orthodox. The haredi public was slow to recognize the threat of the disease—keeping its synagogues and houses of study open even as the rest of the country closed down. Many haredim initially failed to observe the “social-distancing” protocols that have helped to slow the virus’s spread, and the results are clear: confirmed coronavirus cases in the haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in predominately ultra-Orthodox cities like Bnei Brak are among the highest in the country

Though things have begun to turn around, with more leading rabbis instructing their followers to observe social distancing to curb the pandemic, the question remains: why was the haredi public initially so reluctant so join the rest of Israel in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19?

No one has written about this with more insight, nuance, and wisdom that Tikvah’s own Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer. In an essay for Tzarich Iyun, Tikvah’s journal of haredi thought, Rabbi Pfeffer explores the principles and ideas that have been behind the haredi response to the virus and takes a hard look at the societal vulnerabilities this crisis has exposed. He joins this week’s podcast to discuss his important essay.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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