Israel Police Allow Thousands to Attend Funeral of Rabbi Who Died of COVID-19

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The funeral procession for the Admor of Pittsburgh, in Ashdod, October 5, 2020.
The funeral procession for the Admor of Pittsburgh, in Ashdod, October 5, 2020.Credit: Meir Oliel

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis participated in the funeral procession of the Rebbe of the Pittsburgh Hasidic dynasty, who died of the coronavirus on Monday, with the approval of the police. 

Some mourners briefly clashed with police during the procession, which ended with no arrests. According to their agreement with the police, the participants at the Ashdod funeral were expected to be divided into capsules in the cemetery, while following Health Ministry guidelines, wearing masks and keeping a distance of two meters. However, it did not appear that guidelines are being properly adhered to.

Under the most recent lockdown restrictions, participation in funerals is limited to "close family members" alone, and all gatherings are limited to 20 participants in an outdoor setting.

The 65-year-old Mordechai Yissachar Ber Leifer was hospitalized in serious condition with the coronavirus for the past two months.

The funeral procession for the Admor of Pittsburgh, in Ashdod, October 5, 2020.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The police said they were deploying large forces to enforce lockdown restrictions at the mass funeral service which started at 1 P.M., and police helicopters were also seen flying over the area.

"The police call on the participants to obey police instructions, to maintain public order and to adhere to Health Ministry coronavirus guidelines regarding fully," said a police statement released shortly before the funeral began.

Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman condemned the event in a Facebook post, writing: "Surprised? me neither. The images we see are a spit in the face of an entire country. The ultra-Orthodox community is trying to reach herd immunity because of the absent government and the submission of [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] to the ultra-Orthodox parties ... In order to restore health and the economy and end the closure as soon as possible, Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties must move to the opposition benches. And the sooner the better."

Rebbe Leifer led his small congregation in Ashdod and was never involved in politics. Like his father, the Rebbe was known, among other things, for the many melodies he wrote, some of which were very well known to the ultra-Orthodox public. His congregation say that he had been very careful since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and observed social distancing measures.  

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