The Haredi media, religious identity, and the COVID 19 crisis
Newly published in the international journal, ISRAEL AFFAIRS from Professor Yoel Cohen*, Ariel University
The Media, the Bnei Beraq population and the Corona-COVID 19 crisis
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Israel in March 2020 and the government imposed a number of lockdowns, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis instructed their followers to continue attending synagogues and engage in Torah study. As a result, the relative number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities in the Haredi community was higher than that of the Israeli population as a whole. This article examines the role of the mass media during the crisis in Israel’s largest Haredi city of Bnei Beraq, via interviews with 405 of the city’s residents. It shows that despite rabbinic bans on exposure to the secular media and to the Internet, many Haredim were exposed to them and hence less dependent on the Haredi media.
The article shows that at a time of high crisis, the Haredi community, like the rest of the general population, wants to be informed and looks for all sorts of sources of information with many not limiting themselves to the Haredi media. If anything, the COVID-19 crisis illustrated that unless the Haredi media are able to provide comprehensive news coverage of crises, the Haredim will go elsewhere in search of information. As reflected by respondents’ mediocre responses regarding the ‘level of understanding’ of media reporting, and the general media credibility, there is a need to professionalise the Haredi media, for example, by employing specialised journalists with knowledge of, and contacts within, the medical world.
Be that as it may, the crisis exposed the differences among the three Haredi sectors: the Lithuanian Haredim followed the media in general to a lesser extent than the Hassidim yet were more inclined to use secular Internet news websites, whereas the Hassidim were more inclined to restrict themselves to the Haredi news websites. As for the modern Haredim, while seeking by definition to be integrated into the non-Haredi world to a greater extent than their Haredi counterparts, during the COVID-19 crisis they spent less time than the Hassidim in information gathering in general, and showed greater confidence in the Haredi media than the other two Haredi communities. Nevertheless, modern Haredim were inclined to use secular news websites more than the other two groups, and in this respect the pandemic has given this stream a major boost in a central field it deems to be of high importance.
Please see attached study for figures, statistical data, results, etc.
Yoel Cohen is an Associate Professor from Ariel University’s from the School of Communications (School Chairman 2009-2011). His research interests include media and religion in Israel and Judaism; religion and news; foreign news reporting; defence and the media. He completed a doctorate in political sociology at City University London. His book publications include God, Jews & the Media: Religion & Israel’s Media (Routledge); Whistleblowers and the Bomb: Vanunu, Israel and Nuclear Secrecy (Pluto) / The Whistleblower of Dimona: Vanunu, Israel & the Bomb, (Holmes & Meier); Media Diplomacy: the Foreign Office in the mass communications age (Frank Cass). His research has appeared in the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics; Gazette; Journal of Media & Religion; Israel Affairs; Review of International Affairs; Encyclopedia of Religion, Communication & Media. He was departmental editor, Israel Media, Encyclopaedia Judaica. Professor Cohen is available to be interviewed in both English and Hebrew.
*Professor Cohen authored this study in partnership with:
Bruria Adini is Head of the Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Israel.
Ahuva Spitz is Head of the Department of Nursing, Lev Academic Center, Jerusalem, Israel; & Academic Adviser, Shaare Zedek Hospital, Jerusalem.
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