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Grand rabbi of Satmar Hasidic dynasty tested for coronavirus

Editor’s Note: Due to inaccurate information provided by Ezra Friedlander, a Hasidic leader, a prior version of this article incorrectly reported that Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum of the Satmar dynasty had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. After publication, Friedlander said Teitelbaum’s grandson had told him the rabbi had not yet received results of his coronavirus test.

The Grand Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, one of the two heads of the Satmar Hasidic dynasty, has been tested for the novel coronavirus, and has been made public appearances for nearly a week.

Teitelbaum, who is based in the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel and represents the largest constituency of Hasidic Jews in the world,, had the test done on Thursday, according to Ezra Friedlander, a Hasidic lobbyist with close ties to the leadership of Hasidic groups. Friedlander, who originally told the Forward he that Teitelbaum had tested positive for the virus, said he had apparently been mistaken and that the community was still awaiting the test results.

Friedlander said that Teitelbaum had not been seen in public since Friday, after one of his gabbais, or close personal attendants, became sick.

Kiryas Joel, a village in Orange County, N.Y., is a dense, tight knit community of 26,000 Hasidic Jews. Teitelbaum, 72, is one of two recognized leaders of the Satmar group, along with his brother, Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, who leads a rabbinic court in Brooklyn.

Aharon Teitelbaum is one of the most influential Hasidic rabbis, with a following in the tens of thousands across the world.

He came out strongly against closing schools in recent days after New York City officials announced that all public schools would be shut down to combat the spread of the virus. He said that the observant Jewish community could not afford to follow such restrictions because their children do not have access to the Internet to keep them occupied.

“They don’t understand what a Jewish family is,” Aharon Teitelbaum said, according to a translation from Yiddish by the Forward. “It’s crowded at home, there’s barely any room, beds are placed wherever there’s room, there’s no gentile entertainment and if the kids are sent home there’s no room at home so they’ll wander around in the streets and people will gather together anyway, so nothing would be accomplished anyway.”

But on Tuesday afternoon, after participating in a conference call for Hasidic leaders with a White House aide on the necessity of enforcing social distancing, Aharon Teitelbaum changed course, directing synagogues and educational centers in Kiryas Joel to shut down.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

Grand Hasidic rabbi tested for coronavirus

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