TEL AVIV, JAN. 21 -- Shoshi Priel, principal of a special school for emotionally disturbed children, has no doubt why Israelis have escaped serious injury in recent Iraqi missile attacks: "It all begins with God."

At 7:20 a.m. Saturday, an Iraqi Scud-B missile slammed into a concrete bomb shelter only about 100 feet away from a building at her school.

The missile struck at a time of day when 120 children would ordinarily have been filing into the school if classes were in session; because it was Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, the school was closed. If the children had been there, those who were not killed in the courtyard by the missile's impact would almost certainly have been killed or wounded inside the heavily damaged building.

"If it had not been Shabbat {the sabbath}, I hate to think," Priel said, her voice trailing off as she shuddered in the cold winter drizzle.

As the effects of 10 missiles falling on Tel Aviv over a two-day barrage are tallied, only 20 people have been injured, most of them sustaining slight wounds from flying glass or debris, according to civil defense authorities.

Although the reinforced-concrete bomb shelter by the school was designed to withstand a direct hit by most types of artillery shells or rockets, the Scud missile ripped away a corner of the above-ground portion of the structure and peeled away reinforcing rods like strings of spaghetti, leaving the interior vulnerable to the force of the blast.

Surveying the wrecked school this morning, Priel said: "If it is only walls and stones, you can build it again. If it's children, you can't replace them. Thank God!"

The word "miracle" is on the lips of many secular Jews in Israel, but it is a more precise providence that holds sway in the Orthodox community of B'nai Brak, east of Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem's Mea Shearim Orthodox quarter.

In Mea Shearim, where the religious beliefs of some ultra-Orthodox Jews are so messianic that they believe the Zionist state of Israel has no right to exist until the appearance of the Messiah, black-garbed Hasidim, or mystics, stroll uncaringly through the streets at night despite warnings by civil defense authorities to stay close to home during the most likely times of bombardment.

Most are without their government-issued gas masks because, they say, they have been told by their rabbis that there is no need for them.

Following Friday night services at the Taldot Aharon religious school, according to the Hebrew daily newspaper, Haaretz, none of the students ran home at the sound of sirens, as they had been instructed. Instead, they congregated at the school's synagogue to pray, while their rabbi sat at the head of a long table and ate a sabbath dinner.

"Our faith in God is our gas mask," one of the students was quoted as saying.

Gas masks have proved to be a problem for Orthodox Jews, who balked at cutting their beards to assure a tight fit for the rubber face covering. Even though the Jerusalem rabbinate issued an emergency decree waiving prohibitions against shaving, few Orthodox men followed the advice.

When Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz, who is Orthodox, showed up for a cabinet meeting bearded, he told a reporter that if he looked closely he would see the beard at least had been trimmed.

"It looks nice," stumbled the reporter.

The Council of Elders of Mea Shearim, a group of 10 senior rabbis, is scheduled to meet this week to consider drafting a curse against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a practice which stems from ancient Hasidic rituals. It is believed that if the subject of such a curse is evil, he will die within 30 days.

The rabbis' action would not be without risk, however. The belief also holds that if God does not view the subject of the curse as truly evil, the same fate visits those who issued it.