Iran-Israel: Ultra-Religious Political Leaders Causing Unnecessary Deaths – OpEd


Ultra-religious political leaders in both Iran and Israel have caused lots of unnecessary deaths. Iran’s Imam Muhammad Saeedi opposed imposing health restrictions in the city of Qom, home to the country’s top Islamic clerics, which each week has thousands of pilgrims paying their respects by kissing and touching the numerous shrines and landmarks.

And Israel’s Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman, was reported by members of his own religious community as having violated the orders of his own Health ministry by attending worship service with ten or more men that had been forbidden, in order to prevent the spread of the corona virus in Israel.

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in Israel, Litzman acted to exclude the ultra-Orthodox community from social-distancing rules. He even promised that the Messiah would come and eliminate the pandemic.

Litzman’s views are Israel’s version of America’s evangelical groups-as in the case of Florida and other southern states, where their leadership have been telling their followers to continue to go to worship services, despite what the governmental authorities are telling them about the danger this poses to their own health and the health of the public.

Indeed, Litzman’s Ultra-Orthodox views are close to those of the religious leaders of Pakistan and Iran. In Pakistan, powerful Muslim clerics forced the government to leave mosques open throughout Ramadan. Mullah Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, ordered adherents to pack communal prayers and Friday worshipers were shoulder-to-shoulder.

And instead of quickly quarantining Iran’s holy city of Qom, Imam Mohammad Saeedi campaigned for pilgrims to keep on visiting: “We consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing. That means people should come here to heal from both spiritual and physical diseases.” he said.

In May infections were rising in country’s southwest despite declines elsewhere as total infections hit 106,220 and the death toll reached 6,589.

But a report by the research arm of Iran’s parliament said 11,700 may have died. In Tehran, the municipal council said it had to add 10,000 new graves to its largest cemetery, Behesht e-Zahra.

So between 6500 (government) and 11,000+ Iranians have died because of narrow minded religious politicians in Iran; and in Israel where the Ultra-Orthodox are only 11% of Israel’s population they made up more than half of the early cases of Covid-19 in Israel but that is changing now for the second wave.  

Now (August 3, 2020) the number of deaths from coronavirus in Iran is revealed to be nearly triple what Iran’s government claims, a BBC Persian service investigation has found. The government’s own records appear to show almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to 20 July, versus 14,405 reported by its health ministry. The number of people known to be infected is also almost double official figures: 451,024 as opposed to 278,827. In recent weeks, Iran has suffered a second wave steep rise in the number of cases.

The Torah has several commandments regarding personal and public safety. For instance, Jews are instructed to build a fence around any flat roof, to prevent anyone from falling off the roof.

The 12th century Spanish/Moroccan/Egyptian Philosopher and M.D. Rabbi Moses Maimonides explains this to include any dangerous situation, such as an unguarded swimming pool. In addition to removing hazards, the Torah twice commands Jews to protect our health, safety and well being. For example, the Talmud forbids walking near a shaky wall, lest it fall and injure the passerby.

I am sure that Sharia law also contains such statements of caution. But we still need religious leaders who can find them and follow them.

We also need religious and political leaders who will respect scientific evidence and act on this evidence, especially in the areas of public health and global carbon based climate change.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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