Leader of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Community Tests Positive for Coronavirus

The 92-year-old Chaim Kanievsky broke quarantine on Yom Kippur and hosted people at his home, despite having been exposed to an infected person

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The leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
The leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Chaim KanievskyCredit: טל כהן

The leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, has tested positive for the coronavirus, his family said on Friday.

“The rabbi feels well and is continuing with his studies, of course under close medical supervision,” his family’s statement said, adding that the rabbi asks that the public pray for his health.

The 92-year-old Kanievsky broke his quarantine at the end of Yom Kippur and received people at his home, despite the fact that he had been exposed to an infected person. His driver was diagnosed with COVID-19 on the eve of Yom Kippur.

In the last few days several of the members of the rabbi’s household contracted the virus, including two who are in constant daily contact with him.

Kanievsky’s family told Haaretz that from the moment they began feeling symptoms, those who were ill immediately quarantined themselves. The family also said that the people who see the rabbi often are tested beforehand, or have already contracted and recovered from the virus.

On Wednesday night, Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, another leader of the community, called on worshipers to conduct all prayers in open areas, refrain from hosting during the upcoming Sukkot holiday and to wear masks. They also asked that those in high-risk groups take special care.

On Sunday, Kanievsky ordered the rabbis of Bnei Brak to stop the minyans (prayer quorums of at least 10 men) throughout the city entirely and to pray individually to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In the midst of the first wave of infections, when the government ordered the closure of the education system, Kanievsky ordered the continuation of studies in yeshivas and Talmud Torah (religious schools), stating that “cancellation of Torah” is more dangerous than the virus.

However, a few days later, on the orders of his co-leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the yeshivas and Talmud Torah closed their doors.

Throughout the crisis, Kanievsky encouraged his followers to continue their studies, while wearing masks and social distancing.

The Health Ministry recorded 5,063 new cases of the coronavirus Saturday. The total number of active cases stands at 71,908, with 839 people in serious condition and 224 on life support. The death toll rose to 1,679.

Meanwhile, it emerged that at least 1,100 yeshiva students who participated in a Rosh Hashanah prayer service at a synagogue of the Ger Hasidic sect in Jerusalem have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Last week, it was reported that 260 members of the Haredi group tested positive, but since then hundreds more have been diagnosed.

Many of the students who tested positive returned to their family homes after the Jewish New Year, before they discovered that there was widespread infection in the beit midrash, sparking concern that they may also have infected their family members.

* Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Rabbi Kanievsky had died after contracting the coronavirus. We wish the rabbi a full and speedy recovery.