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Netanyahu to rabbi's grandson: 'We're pleased he recovered'

Prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi Kanievsky free from coronavirus, says doctor

Leader of Lithuanian branch of Haredi Judaism, 92, criticized for leadership in pandemic, experienced worsening of his condition after contracting COVID-19 in early October

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at his home in the central city of Bnei Brak on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at his home in the central city of Bnei Brak on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

The physician for prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said on Wednesday that the 92-year-old has recovered from the coronavirus.

Following the pronouncement by Dr. Ori Rogowski from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, Kanievsky’s HMO said he is no longer required to quarantine, according to the Ynet news site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Kanievsky’s grandson on Wednesday and told him he was pleased to hear that the rabbi was no longer sick with COVID-19.

“We’re pleased he recovered,” Netanyahu reportedly told Yaakov Kanievsky.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Israeli kids on the first day of the school year in Mevo Horon on September 1, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the premier additionally said the whole country had prayed for Kanievsky’s recovery.

“The entire nation prayed, and is still praying, for the well-being of the Rabbi as an admired leader and a figure devoted entirely to Torah,” Netanyahu said.

The Haredi leader’s grandson in response reportedly claimed that it was a “distortion of the media” that his grandfather had called for virus restrictions to be ignored — Kanievsky has been criticized for instructing schools to open in defiance of regulations.

“The rabbi instructs that regulations should be followed and masks should be worn,” the grandson told Netanyahu, according to Channel 12 news.

Netanyahu also expressed satisfaction at the reduction of transmission rates in ultra-Orthodox localities.

“In a comprehensive partnership, with responsibility and dialogue, we will maintain what has been achieved with hard work and we will lead Israel to being a green and safe country,” Netanyahu said.

Kanievsky is a hugely influential leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, with hundreds of thousands of followers. He was confirmed to have the virus earlier this month and his condition briefly worsened a week after he contracted COVID-19.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is greeted by followers at his home in the central city of Bnei Brak, on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Kanievsky was diagnosed with the virus just two days after the Haaretz daily reported that he violated quarantine, hosting visitors at his home in Bnei Brak following Yom Kippur, despite being required to self-isolate due to his exposure to a confirmed coronavirus carrier.

Kanievsky has faced intense criticism for his handling of the pandemic and rulings given to his followers.

Earlier this month, even as he was receiving treatment for COVID-19, Kanievsky instructed schools to reopen in defiance of government decisions, leading hundreds of schools to illicitly open their doors.

Illustrative — Boys play in a yeshiva school in Beitar Illit that opened in violation of coronavirus regulations, October 18, 2020. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The opening of schools is seen as a massive danger, with many of the ultra-Orthodox areas having high infection rates and indoor spaces understood to be major virus incubators. Schools in the rest of the country have remained shut for that reason.

Kanievsky had already made headlines in March during the first wave of the pandemic, when, despite appeals from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Israel Police, he insisted that yeshivas and schools remain open in defiance of government calls to close them, handing down a ruling stating that “canceling Torah study is more dangerous than the coronavirus.” At the time, there were 200 active coronavirus cases in the country and no deaths.

He changed course two weeks later, as the infections climbed to hundreds daily and as his hometown of Bnei Brak saw widespread infection and later ordered his followers to pray individually rather than in group services and wrote that those who violated social-distancing and health rules, endangering others, are akin to murderers in the eyes of Jewish law and may be reported to the Israeli authorities.

Kanievsky was quoted by an online news report in early September as seemingly encouraging yeshiva students not to get tested for the virus, earning sharp criticism from Israel’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu.

Ronni Gamzu visits the coronavirus unit at Ziv Hospital in Safed on September 27, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

Gamzu later apologized, saying the quotes attributed to the top ultra-Orthodox rabbi were misleading, apparently confirming a report in the ultra-Orthodox Mishpacha magazine that said the rabbi had not been referring to a blanket policy, but rather was ruling on specific circumstances regarding students who had been tested two weeks prior and who had since been isolated in study “capsules.”

The announcement that Kanievsky had been infected came amid a national lockdown over the holidays due to surging infection rates, with significantly high numbers of new coronavirus cases in the ultra-Orthodox community.

The week before, Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, another leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, issued a call to follow the health regulations.

A letter from them, which was publicized by the Health Ministry, called on the ultra-Orthodox to only hold prayer services outdoors, while observing social distancing and while wearing masks throughout. The letter said the health rules must be kept without exception and said the Sukkot holiday must be observed with one’s nuclear family only.

Kanievsky also told his followers that they should take coronavirus tests if necessary during the festivals since this was an imperative for pikuah nefesh (saving lives).

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