Israeli rabbi: Coronavirus outbreak is divine punishment for gay pride parades

Meir Mazuz falsely claims Arab states spared, because they ‘don’t have this evil inclination’; modern Orthodox group blasts him for ‘inciting against the LGBT community’

By TOI staff

Ultra bigot Rabbi Meir Mazuz speaks at a press conference the 'Yachad' political party in Bnei Brak, March 27, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

An Orthodox Israeli rabbi has claimed the spread of the deadly coronavirus in Israel and around the world is divine retribution for gay pride parades.

The remarks by Rabbi Meir Mazuz, reported by the Israel Hayom daily on Sunday, drew condemnation from rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which urged him to apologize.

An influential Sephardic rabbi, Mazuz is the former spiritual leader of the defunct ultra-nationalist and homophobic Yachad party, and is head of the Kiseh Rahamim yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

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On Saturday night he gave a talk at the yeshiva, during which, according to the report, he said a pride parade is “a parade against nature, and when someone goes against nature, the one who created nature takes revenge on him.”

Mazuz said that countries all over the world are being called to account because of their gay pride events, “except for the Arab countries that don’t have this evil inclination.” That was why, he claimed — falsely suggesting there has only been one case of infection in the Arab world — they have not seen a spread of coronavirus.

The outbreak in Iran, one of the most serious in any country, he explained as being due to the wicked ways of Iranians and “their hatred of Israel.”

According to the newspaper, Mazuz had earlier claimed Israel would be protected from the coronavirus.

“It is regrettable that in times like these when the whole world comes together to eradicate coronavirus, Rabbi Mazuz finds it appropriate to blame the virus’s outbreak on the LGBTQ community. We harshly condemn his statements and urge him to apologize,” the ADL’s Israel branch said in a statement.

The modern Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah group also condemned Mazuz’s remarks.

“Using this time of need to incite against the LGBT community is unacceptable. Trying to get people to return to religion cannot come at the price of harming others,” it said in a statement.

Israel has thus far had 39 cases of coronavirus, including 14 new cases announced on Sunday night, but no deaths.

Mazuz is no stranger to controversy or hateful rhetoric. In November 2015 he claimed gay pride parades and other forms of “sinful behavior” were the reason terrorists murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin on October 1, 2015.

At a memorial event for the Henkins, Mazuz said that their shooting death at the hands of Palestinian terrorists had been a form of divine retribution.

In 2016 Mazuz attributed the collapse of a Tel Aviv parking garage that killed six people and an explosion that destroyed the Amos-6 satellite to Shabbat desecration.

Israel has two major gay pride parades each year, one in Tel Aviv and another in the capital, Jerusalem, which is billed as promoting tolerance.

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In Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, abused women are finding a way out

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men rally near the northern city of Haifa on Dec. 9, 2013, following the arrest of a young man who refused to serve in the Israeli army. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Via The WP

Two days after giving birth, Reut carefully swaddled her fifth child and took a taxi from the hospital to a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

It was a journey filled with complicated emotions.

Vulnerable and scared, she was heading to an unfamiliar place but finally was escaping more than 10 years of humiliating verbal, physical and sexual attacks by her husband. He was so controlling, she said, that he even decided when she could use the bathroom, which forced her to wear diapers.

Reut’s story might not be so different from many other cases of domestic abuse. But what sets it apart is that Reut grew up in Israel’s deeply devout and insular ultra-Orthodox community — and is willing to talk about her experience so that other women like her know there is a way out.

Suffering for nearly a decade, Reut said she believed it was God’s way of testing her.

“I thought if I endured, I would find a better place in the world to come,” said Reut, 32, who spoke on the condition that her full name not be used.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim, make up roughly 9 percent of Israel’s Jewish population of 6.5 million. But with women having an average of nearly seven children, the community is expected to grow rapidly.

Haredim are exempt from military service, and many shun work to focus on religious studies. They largely segregate themselves from the rest of society. That presents a challenge for the Israeli government, which would like to see them sharing the national burden.

Changes are happening, but slowly. More Haredim are signing up for the army, and an increasing number of Haredi women are working outside the home, giving them more contact with the rest of the world.

In turn, abused women such as Reut are realizing that they have options. And they are starting to seek help.

“Domestic violence is universal — it happens in every part of society. But we have noticed an increase in the number of Haredi women seeking help in recent years,” said Ayala Meir, director of the family services department at the social welfare ministry.

Reut and her children moved to Jerusalem to one of only two shelters in Israel dedicated to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish women. It is set up to accommodate their dietary and religious needs.

Run by the nonprofit organization Bat Melech under the auspices of state welfare authorities, the shelter will soon expand from 17 spaces to 24.

There is already a waiting list.

Between 15 and 20 Israeli women are murdered each year by their partners, but Meir said religious women have not been included in those statistics until now. In one grisly case this year, a husband said he had been directed by God to kill his wife and walked through the neighborhood with her severed head in his hands.

“The community is difficult to penetrate. It is very insular — they try to solve problems inside the community,” said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. He said the police can get involved only when someone complains or provides information. Often people do not complain.

“All abused women worry about leaving their husbands or breaking up the family, but in the Haredi community, it is even harder. The community lacks understanding, and the women can pay a high price,” said Orly Tobolski-Hadad, spokeswoman for Bat Melech.

Often, they have no one to whom they can turn. Discussing marital problems with, say, a girlfriend or mother is viewed as inappropriate.

Rabbis and community leaders tend to turn a blind eye to the abuse, fearing it might damage their community’s reputation. In some cases, violent husbands and their abused spouses are counseled to stay together and work out their “differences.”

“There are good people in the Haredi world, but when it gets to domestic violence, no one wants to know, and the rabbis do not have the time or tools to deal with it,” said Heidi Moses, a lobbyist for women’s rights who grew up in the Belz Hasidic sect. “When a woman complains, she is told she must have dreamed it or that she must give in more in bed, then her husband won’t be so frustrated.”

Moses, the daughter of an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member, Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses, said she became estranged for a while from her family after she divorced her husband.

In Israel, rites of passage are overseen by religious authorities. For Jews, the rabbinical authority or rabbinical courts grant divorces.

One woman at the Bat Melech shelter said her former husband was instructed by the rabbinical authority to work it out. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because he continues to stalk her.

“He went there and said he still loved me, that he did not mean to hurt me,” said the woman, a mother of three. “They said he had one month to try to win me back.”

“I just can’t understand why they would try to set someone up for the cycle of violence again,” she said.

For Reut, family intervention eventually saved her from her husband’s abuse. When she became pregnant with their fifth child, he sent her out to work as punishment. Her mother stepped in to care for the other children and noticed something was very wrong.

With the help of her family, Reut devised an escape plan: She would wait until the baby was born, then go straight from the hospital to the shelter. Her mother would bring the other children.

For the next 40 days at the shelter, Reut rested and began to deal with the trauma of her abuse.

“My husband used to make me leave the hospital straight after each birth. He immediately put me back to work,” she said. “It was amazing — I didn’t really know what it meant to rest, because I didn’t have any for 10 years.”

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