(JTA) – Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the foremost rabbinic leaders in the haredi Orthodox Jewish community in Israel and a major authority for communities in the United States, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Yeshiva World News.
The 93-year-old rabbi was tested after multiple members of his family tested positive, as did his personal driver.
The news comes as Orthodox communities in the United States and Israel are in the midst of major outbreaks of COVID-19, after being hit hard during the initial wave of the pandemic in March and April. The death of Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, known as the Novominsker Rebbe, who had been outspoken in warning his community about the threat of the virus, in late April was a major blow — as was his funeral. Major rabbis are often mourned by thousands at large public funerals, but Perlow, 89 at the time of his death, was commemorated with a funeral broadcast by telephone and a graveside funeral for family members only.
Kanievsky has expressed some skepticism about measures to contain the virus. In mid-March, he and another major Orthodox rabbi in Israel called for yeshivas to remain open, citing the protections provided by the study of Torah. He later changed course, calling for his followers to pray alone rather than in groups and making the surprising ruling that his followers should answer their phones on Shabbat to receive test results.
But as recently as last month, Orthodox publications reported that Kanievsky said yeshiva students should not be tested for COVID-19 because it would take time away from Torah study and disrupt the functioning of yeshivas, though some media outlets reported that his comments were meant to address the specific circumstances of those who had been tested and remained in pods.
Haredi Orthodox Israelis are more than 2.5 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus than other Israelis, the country’s COVID czar said this week. The test positivity rate in haredi Orthodox cities including Bnei Brak, where Kanievsky lives, is currently over 25%.