Underground Engagement

Orthodox Jews cannot renounce all customs. They consider their belief in God, tradition and the Torah stronger than any pandemic

Orthodox Jews make their own rules during the pandemic
Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Shlomo, the son of my sister-in-law Ruth, recently got engaged. Celebrations are currently only allowed with 20-30 participants, divided into small, encapsulated groups. And even then, social distancing of two meters must be maintained.

Aviel and I were concerned about attending the engagement party. We know that in these communities the coronavirus regulations are taken only as recommendations, at best. Ruth and her family are Orthodox Jews, and if the Israeli media is to be believed, the Orthodox are villains in the ongoing Corona saga. They pay more heed to their rabbis than to the government. While certainly not everyone behaves this way, that’s how it comes across in the media. Orthodox Jews simply can’t suspend their customs, not even in the face of a health crisis. They consider their faith in God, their traditions and the Torah as stronger than any pandemic.

We arrived around nine o’clock in the evening. Everything was quiet, no music could be heard. A cold wind whistled, the iron gate to the synagogue was locked. Had we gotten the address wrong? We called Ruth and she sent her son to let us in. Masks on, we descended into the basement and were greeted by over 100 people seated together at tables in one large room. There were only two “capsules,” one for the men and one for the women, as is customary at any Orthodox social gathering. Transparent plastic tablecloths had been strung up to separate the two groups.

Plastic film serves as protective walls in Corona times

On the men’s side, the rabbis were talking about Shlomo. At 21-years-of-age, he is an accomplished Torah student. Over on the other side of the flimsy barrier, the women chatted away. Then the DJ took over and loud Hasidic dance music boomed throughout the basement. “Yalla, Messiah!” The yeshiva students danced wildly in circles and even atop the tables. Women on our side of the room joined in, as well.

Suddenly there was silence, you could hear people breathing. At first I thought it might be a power failure. But no: the DJ had received a text message from his youngest, who was positioned outside as a lookout. Police! This scene repeated itself several times throughout the evening.

For Orthodox Jews, God, tradition and Torah trump any pandemic.

Typical Israel! The Orthodox only obey rules that come straight from heaven. At least that’s how they see it. To be fair, not everyone in other sectors of society obey the rules, either. We love Ruth and her family, but we couldn’t stay at this party. After about 45 minutes we said goodbye. They hugged us soothingly: “We are all vaccinated!

You know how the Bible says that we are a stiff necked people. Sure, I can see that, but I also see that it is this same immovable determination that has kept the Jewish people true to their faith all these thousands of years, and still keeps us right here settling this land no matter what!

Israel Today Newsletter

Daily news

FREE to your inbox