3 Photos An Israeli police officer wearing protective gear waits to detain an ultra-Orthodox man as he prays in a synagogue because of the government’s measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 2, 2020. ?On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a police cordon around the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, to limit movement to and from the city. Bnei Brak has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) BNEI BRAK, Israel — Early this week, the streets of the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak were bustling with shoppers as ultra-Orthodox residents, obeying their religious leaders, ignored pleas to stay home in the face of the coronavirus threat.
By Friday, Bnei Brak had become the country’ worst hot spot and now resembles a ghost town. One expert estimated that nearly 40% of the city’s population might already have been infected.
The city has become a lightning rod for anger and frustration by some secular Israelis who allege insular Haredi communities — with disproportionately high numbers of confirmed cases — are undermining national efforts to contain the virus.
The pandemic also has threatened to upend deep-seated customs in the religious world, including blind obedience to religious leaders and the belief that religious studies and traditions take precedence over the rules of a modern state.
The crisis is rooted in a combination of factors. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox tend to live in poor, crowded neighborhoods where sickness can quickly spread. Synagogues, the centerpiece of social life, bring men together to pray and socialize in small spaces.