White House urges coronavirus compliance in conference call with Orthodox rabbis
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White House urges coronavirus compliance in conference call with Orthodox rabbis

New York religious leaders briefed by Avi Berkowitz, told to close any yeshivas and schools still open

Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is seen with successor Avi Berkowitz in an April 2019 photo. (Twitter)
Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is seen with successor Avi Berkowitz in an April 2019 photo. (Twitter)

JTA — Take the coronavirus seriously and follow Trump administration guidelines on limiting gatherings of people.

That was the message from the White House in a conference call with New York Orthodox rabbis and Jewish leaders on Tuesday afternoon. Among those on the call were Haredi rabbis. The Haredi community in some cases has been slow to tamp down on large gatherings and close synagogues.

The White House asked the rabbis to close yeshivas and schools that are still open.

Avi Berkowitz, an assistant to President Donald Trump and an Orthodox Jew, led the call. Berkowitz went over the guidelines with the leaders, The Jerusalem Post reported, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the details of the conversation.

“He explained to the rabbis how critical the situation is,” an administration official told the Post.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the administration’s coronavirus task force, was not on the call, the Vos Iz Neias news website reported.

Berkowitz told the rabbis that not adhering to the guidelines, including not holding prayer services, would see the situation “turn into a serious issue of pikuach nefesh,” or saving a life, according to VIN.

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