PERSPECTIVE/VIEWPOINT - COUNTRY/REGIONAL
Year : 2020 | Volume
: 2 | Issue : 2 | Page : 132--133
COVID-19 and Psychosocial Issues: Israeli/Middle East Perspective
Department of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel
Prof. Zvi Zemishlany
69 Levi Eshkol Street, Tel Aviv
The number of confirmed cases and fatalities in the Middle East countries has been relatively low in comparison to some countries in Europe and the United States, in spite of the economic, political, cultural, and medical differences. One explanation may be the closed borders and lack of migration in the Middle East, with the exception of Iran, largely to its close economic ties with China and mismanagement. The distribution of the infected cases in Israel reveals two distinct populations with disproportionately high infection rate: the elderly people leaving in nursery homes (like in the rest of the world) and ultra-orthodox Jews. Ultra-orthodox Jews comprise about 12% of Israel's population, but they accounted for more than one-third of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 and as much as 60%–70% of Israel's COVID-19 cases in major hospitals. Ultra-orthodox communities initially resisted physical-distancing measures regarding the closure of synagogues, religious schools, and prayer services, due to their shared belief that practicing the religious services and rituals as usual will protect them from harm. This seemed to be helpful in alleviating feelings of stress and anxiety from the pandemic on one hand but placed people in harm on the second hand. Thus, social factors such as sense of belonging, social support and religious beliefs, known to increase resilience, and coping with adversity in uncontrolled disasters turned to have a harmful effect on coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, a disaster that its consequences can be partially controlled. This is an interesting social phenomenon worth further study.
|How to cite this article:|
Zemishlany Z. COVID-19 and Psychosocial Issues: Israeli/Middle East Perspective.World Soc Psychiatry 2020;2:132-133
|How to cite this URL:|
Zemishlany Z. COVID-19 and Psychosocial Issues: Israeli/Middle East Perspective. World Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Apr 1 ];2:132-133
Available from: https://www.worldsocpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2020/2/2/132/292132
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has been an unusual and unfamiliar event affecting most countries across the globe, leading to significantly increased stress at community, family, and individual level. Similar to the psychological consequences following exposure to disasters, wars, and terrorism, the pandemic has been associated with heightened fear, anxiety, depression, reduced sense of safety, limited access to basic necessities, financial worries, and disruption of regular life of individuals and communities. The fears were fueled by the media emphasizing the rapid dissemination of infection and our limited knowledge on how to treat it.
The number of confirmed cases and fatalities in the Middle East countries has been relatively low in comparison to some countries in Europe and the United States, in spite of the differences in economic, political, cultural, medical facilities, and measures taken. The reason for this is not known yet. One explanation may be the closed borders and lack of migration in the Middle East, with the exception of Iran, largely to its close economic ties with China and mismanagement.
As of May 15, 2020, the confirmed number of infected cases in Israel is 10,829; 265 people have died. The distribution of the infected cases in Israel reveals two distinct populations with disproportionately high infection rate: elderly people with background diseases leaving in nursery homes (like in the rest of the world) and ultra-orthodox Jews. This article focuses on the coping of the ultra-orthodox Jews with the stress of COVID-19 threat.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Covid-19
Ultra-orthodox Jews comprise about 12% of Israel's population, but they accounted for more than one-third of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and as much as 60%–70% of Israel's COVID-19 cases in major hospitals, according to the estimates.
Orthodox Judaism is a collective term for the traditionalist branches of contemporary Rabbinic Judaism, advocating a strict observance of Jewish Law, which is to be interpreted and determined only according to traditional methods and in adherence to the continuum of received precedent through the ages. Very roughly, it may be divided between ultra-orthodox, which is more conservative and reclusive, and modern orthodox Judaism, which is relatively open to outer society. Ultra-orthodox communities follow the orders of their religious leaders (rabbis). Many of them do not own smartphones or televisions, leading to lack of knowledge about the nature of the coronavirus and about infection prevention.
Ultra-orthodox neighborhoods initially resisted physical-distancing measures, especially regarding the closure of synagogues and religious schools, and for weeks, many ignored government bans against large weddings, funerals, and prayer services. This, and living in densely populated communities and overcrowded accommodation, led to a significant spread of COVID-19 in this population, which has forced the imposition of exceptional containment measures in these communities, including a beefed up military presence in their neighborhoods. It took several weeks until the turning point for the community's leadership, after a senior rabbi finally urged his followers to obey government stay-at-home orders. Similar attitudes and behaviors have occurred around the world among the Christian and Muslim worshippers gathering in churches and mosques. As an example, the Muslim Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation that took place in New Delhi in early March became a coronavirus super-spreader event with more than 4000 confirmed cases.
Religious Affiliation and Coping With Disasters – a Double-Edged Sword?
This consequence is interesting and in line with what is known on the role of the social factors in coping with uncontrolled disasters. It has been shown that social support and sense of belonging are important characteristics of resilience. Sense of belonging refers to people feeling part of a collective, be it the neighborhood, the immediate community, the nation, or a religious group. It is characterized by mutual concern, connection, community loyalty, and trust that one's personal needs will be fulfilled by means of commitment to the group as a whole. Research indicates that religious beliefs and behavior help individuals to cope more effectively with adversity, either external adversity (e.g., problematic and challenging environmental circumstances) or internal adversity (detrimental predisposition or vulnerability to mental disorders). Religious activities, which take part in small groups and large communities, may foster stronger social networks and greater availability of social support that may strengthen effective coping with stressors. Studies from Israel investigating stress-related responses after 3 and 7 years of exposure to continuous rocket attacks from Gaza Strip have shown that the religious inhabitants of a settlement near the border reported fewer and less severe stress-related symptoms and higher level of functioning compared to city and secular inhabitants. The authors concluded that religiousness combined with common ideological convictions and social cohesion is associated with substantially higher resilience as compared to the secular metropolitan urban populations.,
The ultra-orthodox communities in Israel (and probably extremely religious Muslims in the Middle East) have not complied with the needed official measures of seclusion and physical distancing due to their shared belief that practicing the religious services and rituals as usual will protect them from harm. This was helpful in alleviating feelings of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic on one hand but placed people in harm on the second hand. Thus, the same social factors known to increase resilience in uncontrolled disasters turned to have a harmful effect on coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, a disaster that its consequences can be partially controlled. This is an interesting social phenomenon worth further study.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
|1||Zemishlany Z. Resilience and vulnerability in coping with stress and terrorism. In: Kumar U, editor. The Routledge International Handbook of Psychosocial Resilience. London: Taylor and Francis; 2016.|
|2||Krok D. Religiousness and social support as predictive factor for mental health outcomes. Arch Psychiatry Psychother 2014;4:65-76.|
|3||Kaplan Z, Matar MA, Kamin R, Sadan T, Cohen H. Stress-related responses after 3 years of exposure to terror in Israel: Are ideological-religious factors associated with resilience? J Clin Psychiatry 2005;66:1146-54.|
|4||Gelkopf M, Berger R, Bleich A, Silver RC. Protective factors and predictors of vulnerability to chronic stress: A comparative study of 4 communities after 7 years of continuous rocket fire. Soc Sci Med 2012;74:757-66.|