The grand rabbi of the Kiryas Yoel branch of the Satmar hassidic community has contracted coronavirus.
Grand Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, 73, was tested positive on Friday for Covid-19, but has been in isolation in his home since last week. It appears the grand rabbi caught the virus from his personal assistant.
Last week, Teitelbaum ordered all of the Satmar Kiryas Yoel institutions shut because of the pandemic following a conference call between assistant to US President Donald Trump Avi Berkowitz and several hassidic rabbis.
Grand Rabbi of the Satmar Williamsburg branch Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, Aharon’s brother, who was also on the conference call, similarly ordered all the US institutions of his community shut, and ordered the Israel institutions to be closed this weekend.
Over Shabbat, Satmar Williamsburg hassidim in Israel prayed in small prayer services.
In Israel, Satmar is part of the Eda Haredis association of radical, anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox communities, but unlike Satmar, the Eda Haredis organization has not shuttered its yeshivas and synagogues.
It has closed its girls’ schools but its boys’ schools remain open.
Large parts of the ultra-Orthodox community have been slow to react to the coronavirus pandemic, and have specifically kept open educational institutions because of their belief that Torah study provides metaphysical benefits to the physical wellbeing of the Jewish people.
The senior rabbinic leadership of the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic world Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein have ruled that schools and yeshivas should remain open, although have conceded that class sizes should be reduced and students required to be two meters apart.
After some 100 people were found to be infected with the coronavirus in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park in New York City, Berkowitz reached out to hassidic leaders to persuade them to close their institutions, a request that was quickly met.
Government officials in Israel have also been in touch with Kanievsky and Edelstein but have not yet been able to persuade them to order their institutions to close, even though their operations contravene government orders.
A police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post last week that enforcement of the government orders could soon be stepped up.