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Report: Second Hasidic leader secretly treated at home for COVID-19

Sanz rebbe, Zvi Elimelech Halberstam, reportedly received oxygen treatment at home after refusing to be hospitalized; follows claim that head of Belz dynasty also got at-home care

Laniado Hospital, also known as the Sanz Medical Center, in Kiryat Sanz in the coastal city of Netanya, March 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)
Laniado Hospital, also known as the Sanz Medical Center, in Kiryat Sanz in the coastal city of Netanya, March 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

A second Hasidic spiritual leader was secretly treated at home for the coronavirus by an Israeli hospital in recent months, a report said Monday.

Following reports that the rabbi at the head of the Belz Hasidic sect was treated by medics from Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, Channel 13 reported that the leader of the Sanz Hasidic dynasty received similar treatment.

Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Halberstam, based in Netanya, received medical equipment from the city’s Laniado hospital after he refused to be hospitalized, according to the report.

Laniado, a nonprofit institution founded by leaders of the Sanz dynasty, remains controlled by the sect.

Halberstam, 68, contracted the virus over a month ago, and is reportedly recovering after suffering hypoxia due to the virus.

“He was probably infected during Slichot services or during that time,” Sanz follower Moshe Zalmanovich was quoted as saying, referring to the period before the Jewish New Year. “We don’t know who he got it from.

“Ahead of Rosh Hashanah [on September 18] the situation gradually got worse until he needed oxygen. He was at his home and received the medications and treatment. He is slowly recovering,” he said.

Laniado didn’t deny the report and said: “The hospital management enables patients to get medical equipment as they are discharged, as long as that doesn’t harm the departments’ daily activities.”

According to a report earlier Monday in the Haaretz newspaper, Belz leader Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach received round-the-clock treatment from a doctor and Hadassah Medical Center workers around two months ago when he was in critical condition with COVID-19. The Jerusalem hospital strongly denied the report.

The leader of the Belz Hasidic sect, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, December 15, 2015. (Yaacov Cohen/ FLASH90/ File)

The treatment started after Rokeach, who has ordered his followers to ignore coronavirus restrictions, refused to be hospitalized, the report said. All the necessary medical equipment was brought to his home and his room there was effectively converted into a mini intensive care unit, the report said.

Rokeach contracted the virus 11 days after a mass wedding for his grandson, which was held in violation of the coronavirus rules. Reports at the time said that he was rushed to Hadassah Ein Kerem, but the hospital denied this.

Hadassah derided the Haaretz report as “fake news,” saying in a statement that it was “false from beginning to end.”

According to the statement, Hadassah did not provide treatment or medical supplies to Rokeach and did not build an intensive care unit in his home. The hospital called on Haaretz to publish an apology and take down its article.

Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, on May 29, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

On Sunday, Channel 12 revealed that a widespread network of volunteers in ultra-Orthodox areas has been secretly treating thousands of coronavirus patients in their homes for months, as an alternative to increasingly overcrowded hospitals, without authorities’ knowledge.

The initiative began in anti-Zionist Haredi sects that wanted to avoid using Israeli hospitals, and has spread to the entire community, as hospitals come closer to being overwhelmed and their staff overworked, the channel reported, mentioning Rokeach as a beneficiary of the program.

Organizers of the private initiative argue that their program provides better treatment than the medical establishment and lifts some of the burden off the health care system, advocating for a similar initiative outside of the ultra-Orthodox community.

At least 170 people bring treated by the secret volunteer network are in serious condition right now, and over 2,000 serious patients have received the underground treatment over the past six months, according to Sunday’s report. Organizers claimed that only a total of 10-15 of its patients ended up going to hospitals, of whom just three — including one patient who was filmed by the Channel 12 crew last week — have died.

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