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Russian chief rabbi Berel Lazar diagnosed with COVID-19

Putin confidant reportedly in good condition, under medical supervision; number of daily new cases in country hovers around 9,000

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks with Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, left, during a ceremony unveiling the memorial to members of the Jewish resistance in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow on June 4, 2019. (Sergei Ilnitsky/ Pool/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks with Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, left, during a ceremony unveiling the memorial to members of the Jewish resistance in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow on June 4, 2019. (Sergei Ilnitsky/ Pool/AFP)

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is under medical supervision, according to local media reports on Sunday.

“Rabbi Lazar has been diagnosed with the coronavirus infection. He is under medical supervision. His health is out of danger,” the TASS news agency reported, citing a press statement from the rabbi.

Lazar, 56, a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, has been chief rabbi for two decades and is noted for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His diagnosis came as Russia recorded nearly 9,000 new coronavirus infections over the past day. The number is roughly in line with those reported over the past week as the spread of the virus may be reaching a plateau in Russia.

The Russian national task force for the pandemic said 8,984 new cases were recorded in a day, and 134 people died of the virus. New cases of the virus have hovered around 9,000 per day since the middle of May.

As the worldwide coronavirus death count surpasses 400,000, Russia has tallied 5,859 deaths overall, a number that health experts question as being much too low. Russian authorities say it’s due to their efficient work at handling the pandemic and method of counting the virus-linked dead that differs from other countries. Top officials in Russia, including the prime minister, have been infected.

A man wearing a balaclava walks in downtown Moscow on May 6, 2020, amid the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19. (Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

Russia’s chief rabbi has been credited with a fast response to quash the spread of the virus in the Jewish community.

Lazar had ordered synagogues in the country shut in mid-March, after a group of yeshiva students flew to Moscow from France to celebrate the Purim holiday, which this year fell out on March 9-10. About a week after the Purim party at the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue in Moscow, 26 of the attendees ended up in the hospital with COVID-19, including the 73-year-old rabbi and his wife. One of those people has since died.

On March 15, Lazar closed down the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue. On March 18, all Moscow synagogues and religious schools were shut down, and by March 24, all synagogues, Jewish community centers, kindergartens and schools in the country were advised to close.

Julie Masis contributed to this report.

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