Voice of the Jewish News: A dereliction of the duty to preserve life

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Voice of the Jewish News: A dereliction of the duty to preserve life

To call this an own goal is a severe understatement. It's caused deep and lasting damage and hard conversations are already being had. Meanwhile, our evidence is with the police.

Jewish News
This wedding took place before the pandemic but similar weddings are being held every day among some strictly-Orthodox communities
This wedding took place before the pandemic but similar weddings are being held every day among some strictly-Orthodox communities

Last Thursday’s strictly-Orthodox Jewish wedding, attended by 150 people at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in flagrant breach of the lockdown, was a national scandal. It humiliated the Jewish community and sickened the country.

Yet worse than the crime has been the shameless cover-up. The windows of the state-funded Stamford Hill school, whose principal, Rabbi Avroham Pinter, died from the virus last year, were blacked out to conceal the madness within.

As our investigation this week reveals, this potentially deadly social event was far from an exception. Indeed, we are told the school hosted another big wedding days earlier. Steadily, a picture has been built of weddings at various venues every week from June, all with 100-plus guests. At one, the bride was Covid-positive.

Sure enough, large and illegal weddings continue apace in this neighbourhood with carefree abandon, as if the deadliest pandemic for a century was a figment of the outside world’s imagination. As one senior communal figure elegantly put it: “We don’t hold Jewish weddings at certain times because of a plague that happened 2,000 years ago, yet the plague we’re living through now doesn’t appear reason enough to postpone.”

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Yesodey Hatorah pleads ignorance, saying it had “no knowledge the wedding was taking place”. This claim does not bear scrutiny.

The school has a long-standing contract with Simchas Nisuin, a subsidised wedding scheme offered in conjunction with the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. The Union vets the school’s pupils, acts as the its rabbinic authority, and many of its board members are school governors. If this is arms-length, how short is the arm?

Simchas Nisuin charges £7,495 per wedding. For each, the school gets 10 percent. A Freedom of Information request shows how it made more than £75,000 in one year from this wedding revenue stream not so long ago. If the simcha is catered, then kashrut supervisor Kedassia – again under the Union’s auspices – would likely provide certification. We asked. They did not deny it. The Union said it was “shocked” at reports. What we find shocking is that it was shocked.

This week, the UK passed 100,000 Covid deaths. The NHS is on its knees. People are dying without loved ones by their side. We can think of few other acts more disrespectful than holding mass gatherings with no masks or distancing, then denying it or professing blissful ignorance when caught.

Of course this isn’t just a Charedi problem, or a Jewish one. One glance at the Metropolitan Police website gives a flavour of the number of illegal events being shut down. We can only imagine how are being held right now. These haven’t received anything like the publicity of last week’s Yesodey Hatorah wedding. But that’s no excuse for the level of flouting of the law we uncovered this week. Nor can we, as Jews, stand by, when fellow Jews ride roughshod over the fact Judaism places the preservation of life above everything else.

We salute those who came forward to shine a light on what is happening. They are upset and angry and rightly so. People who would never typically speak to a Jewish News journalist have assisted our investigation, such is the strength of feeling. It speaks volumes that they cannot do so openly.

There is much to admire about Stamford Hill’s strictly-Orthodox community, and we fully understand the importance of weddings to its members, but for the life of us we do not know why hundreds must still attend during a pandemic, when the government’s lockdown rules are so very clear.

To call this an own goal is an understatement. It has caused deep and lasting damage, and hard conversations are already being had. Meanwhile, our evidence is with the police.

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