Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the most senior non-hassidic, ultra-Orthodox rabbi in the world, has said that Jews have been “banished” from synagogues by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the offense given to God by using cell phones in synagogue. In a letter published in the daily ultra-Orthodox Yated Neeman newspaper, the rabbi called for synagogue administrators to ban the use of cell phones in the prayer hall when prayer in synagogues is permitted again. The letter was also signed by Kanievsky’s colleague in the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein.Addressing all synagogue administrators in general, Kanievsky wrote that “For our many sins it has been many weeks since we were banished from our synagogues and study halls, like a servant who came to pour wine for his master and the master poured the jug on his face.”Continued the rabbi “It appears that this is a sign from Heaven for the sin in which the sanctity of synagogues has been cheapened by having cell phones open and speaking on them while people are praying, and this is great disrespect for prayer and the sanctity of synagogues, and is in total opposition to Jewish law.”Kanievsky said that synagogue administrators should therefore completely ban people from praying in synagogue while their phones are turned on, and said that they should warn worshipers about this issue. He said that administrators in Israel and around the world should ensure that a cupboard or other storage facility outside of the prayer hall for worshippers to deposit their cell phones.The ultra-Orthodox community has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, with a high number of infections and deaths relative to their proportion of the population. Kanievsky and Edelstein were both reluctant to shut synagogues, schools and yeshivas at the beginning of the government’s lock down regulations, although Edelstein came on board with the directives sightly sooner than Kanievsky and became very stringent about adhering to the social-distancing guidelines. The difference between the positions of the two rabbis on the public-health crisis were underlined when Kanievsky sent a letter for publication to Yated Neeman in mid-April saying educational institutions should reopen immediately, which Edelstein then instructed the newspaper management not to publish.