In the wake of a renewed spike in new COVID cases in Israel, the Health Ministry, at the behest of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, instituted restrictions on public gatherings. The restrictions come just a few weeks before the high holidays, leading one rabbi to compare Bennett to Yerovam ben Nevat, the rebellious king of Israel who tried to keep his subjects from arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Israel is suffering a spike in COVID as positive test results last week were 3.79 percent with over 100,000 tests conducted. As of Saturday evening, 324 people were in serious condition from coronavirus infection, up from 257 on Thursday, with 16 fatalities recorded over the weekend. On Thursday, authorities approved expanding restrictions on gatherings under the Green Pass system. As of Sunday, gatherings of any size, indoors and out, are limited to those who have been vaccinated, recovered from the virus, or who present a negative COVID test, under the Green Pass system, which will also extend to hotels, restaurants, and gyms. A last-minute exemption allowed prayer services with fewer than 50 participants.
Criticism of the Prime Minister increased after a Facebook Q&A session last week in which he compared not getting vaccinated to committing mass murder.
“The future of the holidays depends on the number of vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve ensured a stockpile of vaccines, and thousands of places across the country where you can get vaccinated.”
Bennett went on to compare not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 to spraying machine-gun fire at innocents. He said a lockdown during the Jewish High Holidays in September will depend on the number of those who do get immunized.
“When you don’t get vaccinated, you’re endangering yourself, you’re endangering those around you, and it’s life-threatening,” he said. “It’s as if you’re walking around with a machine gun firing Delta variants at people.”
During a Facebook Live question-and-answer session, Bennett said that both the third dose for those over 60 and the shots for unvaccinated teenagers will be critical to avoiding a fourth national lockdown in Israel.
Rabbi Michoel Green, director of the Chabad Center in Westborough, Massachusetts, suggested a disturbing Biblical precedent for the PM’s draconian and divisive measures.
“Yerovam [Jereboam] ben Nevat blocked Israelites from entering the Holy Temple with their fellow Judeans,” Rabbi posted on Facebook, noting that ‘Nevat’(נבט) is written with the same letters as Bennett (בנט).
“Naftali Bennett seeks to block Israelis from entering synagogues & approaching the Western Wall with their fellow Jews,” Rabbi Green explained, describing it as “Déjà vu”. Jeroboam reigned the northern kingdom of the ten tribes of Israel from 797-776 BCE. To keep his subjects from making the yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which was under the control of the Davidic dynasty, Jeroboam erected idolatrous golden calves in Beth-El and in Dan and instituted yearly festivals for them. Jeroboam is considered one of the greatest sinners in Jewish history.
“Both BeNT [pun intended] on dividing our people,” Rabbi Green wrote, suggesting that a parallel could be drawn as a gezeira shava, a tradition of a known rule applying to a new case based upon an identical word or phrase in both cases. Rabbi Green suggested that the government of Naftali Bennett could be compared to the kingdom of Yerovam ben Neva due to the similarity between the word Bennett and Navat.