Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, 93, can’t use a telephone. He not often leaves his home. His household says he has by no means efficiently made a cup of tea. His closest aides assume he doesn’t know the title of Israel’s prime minister. He research the Torah for, give or take, 17 hours a day.
But regardless of his obvious detachment from worldly life, Rabbi Kanievsky has turn out to be one of the vital consequential and controversial folks in Israel at present.
The non secular chief of a whole bunch of 1000’s of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Kanievsky has landed on the heart of tensions over the coronavirus between the Israeli mainstream and its rising ultra-Orthodox minority.
All through the pandemic, the authorities have clashed with the ultra-Orthodox over their resistance to antivirus protocols, notably their early refusal to shut colleges or restrict crowds at non secular occasions. Related conflicts have performed out in the New York area.
Rabbi Kanievsky, issuing pronouncements from a book-filled examine in his cramped residence in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, has typically been on the fore of that resistance. Twice, throughout the first and second waves of the pandemic in Israel, he rejected state-imposed antivirus protocols and didn’t order his followers to shut their yeshivas, impartial non secular colleges the place college students collect in shut quarters to review Jewish Scripture.
“God forbid!” he exclaimed. If something, he stated, the pandemic made prayer and examine much more important.
Each occasions he ultimately relented, and it’s unlikely that he performed as massive a task in spreading the virus as he was accused of, however the injury was executed.
Many public well being specialists say that the ultra-Orthodox — who account for about 12 % of the inhabitants however 28 % of the coronavirus infections, in response to Israeli authorities statistics — have undermined the nationwide effort towards the coronavirus.
The response has been fierce, a lot of it centered on Rabbi Kanievsky.
The rabbi “have to be arrested for spreading a illness,” blared a column final week in Haaretz, a left-wing newspaper. “This rabbi dictates the scandalous conduct within the ultra-Orthodox sector,” stated an article in Yedioth Ahronoth, a centrist information outlet.
The backlash exaggerates each the rabbi’s position and that of the ultra-Orthodox usually. Extremely-Orthodox society shouldn’t be monolithic, and different outstanding leaders have been far faster to adjust to antivirus laws.
Extremely-Orthodox leaders say most of their followers have obeyed the foundations, though their usually massive households, dwelling in tight quarters underneath what’s now the third nationwide lockdown, have inevitably contributed to the unfold of the contagion.
Rabbi Kanievsky’s place has additionally been extra nuanced than typically portrayed. However he has nonetheless contributed to one of many biggest-ever showdowns between the Israeli mainstream and the ultra-Orthodox.