Skip To Content
Get Our Newsletter

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Fast Forward

Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Who Visited North Korea Says Don’t Follow Him

A jet-setting Orthodox rabbi who spent five days in North Korea described hiding his religion as a terrifying experience, Insider reported.

Meir Alfasi is a rabbi, photographer and former photojournalist from Israel who has traveled to 80 countries wearing the traditional Lubavich black hat and bekishe, a long black coat.

“I travel with the uniform of a religious person, a Jewish person, because maybe someone will see me and ask a question, then I could tell them more about Judaism,” he told Insider.

It was bound to be a different experience in North Korea, where any non-state-sanctioned religious activities can lead to “executions, torture, beatings, and arrests” or other forms of “severe punishment, including imprisonment in political prison camps,” according to a 2017 report from the U.S. State Department.

Alfasi said he is the first Chabad rabbi to visit the communist country. He wore his traditional clothes, but he did not speak about Judaism and hid a prayer book, tallit and tefillin — the latter of which was inspected at the airport.

“I was scared because if they open it they’ll see the religious parchment and it would be very dangerous,” Alfasi said of the tefillin.

He soon realized he was being watched, but he prayed anyway.

Alfasi told Insider that he doesn’t recommend others go to North Korea: “It’s not so worth it because it’s dangerous.”

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at, or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher




    NY-12 Candidate Forum


    Aug 10, 2022

    7 pm ET · 

    Will the last Jew left in New York’s congressional delegation be reelected? Will New York’s senior congresswoman receive another term? Or will one of the newcomers upend Manhattan politics?

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free under an Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives Creative Commons license as long as you follow our republishing guidelines, which require that you credit Foward and retain our pixel. See our full guidelines for more information.

To republish, copy the HTML, which includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline, and credit to the Foward. Have questions? Please email us at

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.