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Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, US Satmar Hasidic leader, tests positive for COVID-19

Teitelbaum said to have mild symptoms; his community has been accused of holding mass events with little regard for social distancing

The Satmar Rebbe Zalman Teitelbaum visits the northern Israeli city of Safed on November 21, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
The Satmar Rebbe Zalman Teitelbaum visits the northern Israeli city of Safed on November 21, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

JTA — Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, leader of a faction of the US Satmar Hasidic community, has tested positive for COVID-19, Yeshiva World News reported Sunday.

Teitelbaum, who is in his late 60s, is apparently showing mild symptoms, according to the site.

Teitelbaum, who is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is not the first Hasidic leader to test positive for the virus. His own brother and leader of a rival faction of the Satmar Hasidic community, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, tested positive for COVID-19 back in March.

The Satmar community has been implicated in a number of large gatherings over the last several months, in defiance of state and city guidelines meant to minimize the spread of COVID-19. In November, a large wedding for one of Zalman’s grandchildren was downsized after plans for it drew public scrutiny.

Later that month, a grandchild of Aaron Teitelbaum married in a massive wedding that was held in secret — and later detailed in an article by his faction’s Yiddish-language newspaper. Even after both weddings were publicized and denounced by elected officials, large weddings continued to be held in Kiryas Joel, Aaron’s base.

Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum (C), the head of the Satmar Orthodox group, the largest Orthodox grouping worldwide, arrives at Ben Gurion international airport close to Tel Aviv, 15 August 2007 (SHOOKI LERER/AFP)

In a speech given at a post-wedding celebration and printed on flyers posted in Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Aaron struck a tone of defiance.

“We won’t surrender. We won’t close down. And indeed, we didn’t close down, neither the boys’ schools, nor the girls’ schools, nor the yeshivas. Neither the large ones nor the small ones. Everything proceeded as usual,” he said. “God came to our aid, and the authorities realized they were dealing with a stubborn people.”

On Sunday, WhatsApp alit with pictures of Zalman dancing with hundreds of his followers at the dedication of a new Torah scroll on Saturday night. Few if any in attendance could be seen wearing masks.

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