Kiryas Joel Satmar rabbi is reportedly diagnosed with the coronavirus


(JTA) — One of the world’s most influential haredi Orthodox rabbis has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to multiple news reports.

It is unclear from the reports whether Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, 73, is displaying symptoms.

Teitelbaum is one of two leaders of the Satmar Hasidic sect, which has about 65,000 to 75,000 members living in insular enclaves around the world, most in New York City and surrounding towns. He lives in Kiryas Joel, New York, a town of about 25,000 north of New York City that is home almost entirely to Satmar followers.

His positive test result, which reportedly came just before Shabbat, follows major changes in Kiryas Joel aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Town leaders closed all synagogues, schools and ritual baths on Thursday, a day after leading Satmar rabbis exempted some vulnerable followers from some ritual requirements.

Prior to the closures, the community had been slow to adopt changes that state officials had encouraged. Earlier in the week, Teitelbaum had delivered a speech in Yiddish that expressed skepticism that social distancing policies could have an effect in Kiryas Joel, the Forward reported at the time. (The Forward reported Thursday that Teitelbaum had tested positive for the coronavirus, but its source retracted his information.)

Teitelbaum has led one branch of Satmar hasidim since 2006, when he and his brother Zalman feuded over who would succeed their father. Zalman Teitelbaum now leads a different branch that is centered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Satmar institutions there have closed there as well, after initially responding slowly to the pandemic.

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