Passover, Easter and Ramadan, Religious Adherence vs. Social Distancing Necessary Modifications

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With Passover, Easter and Ramadan looming, clergy scramble to create holidays at a distance

The Rev. Richard Mosson Weinberg canceled the Boston ferns and the yellow daffodils for the Easter service ordered for his Episcopal church in Washington’s affluent Kalorama neighborhood. Rabbi Levi Shemtov scrapped plans for the 200-person Seder dinner for Passover in his Chabad synagogue nearby. And Imam Yahya Luqman called off the Ramadan dinners at his mosque down the street.


These three faith leaders, who normally lead worship within walking distance from each other in Northwest Washington, are all scrambling to find socially distant ways to celebrate major religious holidays this month. They are joined by clergy and the faithful around the world, including at well-known Christian, Jewish and Muslim sites in Jerusalem and beyond.

On Sunday, Christians will launch Holy Week with Palm Sunday, preparing to recount the biblical story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Since St. Margaret’s canceled services, including for Easter on April 12, Weinberg has been working on a sermon about the life and message of Jesus that he will post on YouTube.


At The SHUL of the Nation’s Capital, Shemtov has personnel arranging boxes that include matzoh and the other traditional elements of a Seder meal to be distributed to the Jewish community. The rabbi, who avoids the use of electronics on holy days, will lead a live-stream demonstration of the Seder before Passover begins at sundown Wednesday.

“Being alone is antithetical to the spirit of Passover,” said Shemtov, whose synagogue is attended by President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

For many families, the multigenerational aspect will especially be missing because older people are in isolation, Shemtov said, and Jewish families often invite people who have no place to go to join them for the Seder meal.


“People are doing the absolute best they can,” Shemtov said. “It’s different and not as joyous as other years have been, but people are focusing inward on their family and personally as opposed to outward.”


In Jerusalem, the strict coronavirus social distancing regulations that have been in place for most of March look set to continue through April, upending traditional holiday plans for Jews, Muslims and Christians and threatening the country’s tourism industry.


Passover, Easter and Ramadan typically draw hundreds of thousands of international visitors and pilgrims of all faiths to Israel, but this year Christian and Muslim leaders have accepted that flagship events will be carried out with only essential clergy and, in many cases, streamed online for followers.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said police patrols would be stepped up to enforce the social distancing restrictions and ensure people adhere to all the regulations.

A man passes food through a hole in the front door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on March 26. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)
A man passes food through a hole in the front door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 26. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

For all Christians groups, the restrictions mean annual parades are canceled and the number of people at the main prayer ceremonies will be vastly reduced. The Holy Fire Ceremony, an Orthodox tradition that takes place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem’s Old City where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and later resurrected, typically draws 25,000 the day before Easter.


A man wearing a face mask for protection against the coronavirus walks in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on March 20. (Ahmad Ghariabli/ AFP/Getty Images)
A man wearing a face mask for protection against the coronavirus walks in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on March 20. (Ahmad Ghariabli/ AFP/Getty Images)

At the Haram al-Sharif holy sanctuary — the third holiest site in Islam, which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock — the gates have been shuttered for more than two weeks. The site, which is also holy to Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount, is closed to Jewish and other non-Muslim visitors too.


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Religious Leaders are Silent While Rabbis Lead Their Congregants to Covid-19 Illness – Israel

Israeli police enforcing national lockdown measures made several arrests in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on Sunday.


Israel Fights Coronavirus Spread Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews

TEL AVIV—Israel is struggling to contain a concentration of coronavirus infections among ultraorthodox Jews, with the impact reaching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who went into isolation after an adviser from the community tested positive.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office said on Monday evening that his test for the virus, as well as those of his family and close staff, came out negative, though officials said he would remain in isolation as a precaution in keeping with ministry of health guidelines.

While the ultraorthodox make up about 10% of Israel’s population, ultraorthodox patients account for 50% of those hospitalized with the coronavirus disease, Covid-19, according to an analysis by Israel’s Channel 12. Continue reading

The Hypocrisy – Covid-19 and the Community Response, or lack thereof

This following was sent to LostMessiah by an author who has asked to remain anonymous.

There are a few points that should be made.

First, one of the underlying news articles states that Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum (Ahrale) of Palm Tree, New York, (a/k/a Kiryas Joel) has been diagnosed with Covid-19.  There is then a correction stating that he was waiting on results. To our understanding he did test positive. But we would be doing a disservice if not to mention conflicting reports.

The next point that should be made is that New York has had a daily +/-50% increase in Covid-19 positive tests for the last 3 days. While that is likely attributed to an increase in testing, as late as Sunday, there were reports of large gatherings in Wesley Hills, New York as well as Brooklyn, New York in what are largely Hasidic neighborhoods. This is unacceptable. From the outside looking in, the utter arrogance of congregating is worthy of contempt. If we are trying to minimize anti-Semitism, this level of lawlessness should not be happening. It is dangerous to those gathering and then to anyone who comes in contact with those gathering. 

The final point, comments to one of the underlying articles suggests that the anti-vaxxer named here, was not actually an anti-vaxxer, that the story had it wrong. We can neither confirm nor deny the comments and the following is based upon information as it was reported.

We stand by the position that if you have not been tested and received a negative result, you are potentially a walking bio-weapon. Any gatherings of people should be treated as acts of bio-terrorism. It is simply how we view this episode in history. 

Hypocrite in Our Times 

Exactly one year ago – there was a two-hour heated debate at the home of the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Yoel, on the topic of expelling kids of non- vaxxers from the Mosdos. The Rosh Yeshiva of South Fallsburg Yeshiva,  Elya Ber Wachtfogel came in from the Catskills to attend the meeting. R’ Elya Ber is reportedly an Anti-vaxxer.

The anti-vaxxers brought a physician to argue against the banishing of their children. 

When the Oklahoma physician said the Torah doesn’t allow it, the Rebbe said ‘leave the Torah out’ just stick to medical facts. In the Rebbe’s opinion, Health comes before Torah. 

During the exchange, some anti-vaxxers in the room started screaming that kids die from vaccines. The Rebbe said people died from heart surgery should we not do heart surgery? People died from the needle at the dentist, should we not go to the dentist anymore? The Rebbe said the bottom line is we will not force you to vaccinate but don’t put us in danger. The Anti-vaxxers should open their own schools, shuls, camps & playgrounds. The Grand Rebbe Ahrale of Satmar expelled all children who were not vaccinated, and they went on to open their own schools. 

This last Purim The Grand Rebbe Ahrale of Satmar conducted a full Purim Tisch. Attendees were kissing, hugging, partying and eating Shirayim given directly from the Grand Rebbe’s hand. Until last Thursday, all Satmar shuls, schools and Mikvaot were operating in full force. The Rebbe who is sick with Corona Virus, shared his Corona with many of his disciples. The authorities were begging us to shut down all schools but to no avail.  As of now, many Satmar mikvaot and Shuls are operating under the radar and the Rebbe is not making a pips. No objection whatsoever. 

You be the Judge.

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.

Ezra Friedlander@EzraFriedlander

Retraction: Want to apologize to @HQSatmar community & to @jdforward. My quote in @jdforward was not accurate. The blame lies entirely with me & not with the reporter @aefeldman or with @jdforward.
Satmar Rebbe Shlita should enjoy good health & long years! 

Aharon Teitelbaum, Grand Rabbi of Satmar Hasidic dynasty, has coronavirus

On Sunday, Teitelbaum came out strongly against mandatory school closings to combat coronavirus.

See Ezra Friedlander’s other Tweets

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.


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Posters Blaming Corona on Wigs Made from Non-Jewish Hair – School’s In Session in Ramat Beit Shemesh

Some of the students at a haredi boys school in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, just west of Jerusalem, where classes are still being held, March 18, 2020. (Sam Sokol/JTA)
Some of the students at a haredi boys school in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, just west of Jerusalem, where classes are still being held, March 18, 2020. (Sam Sokol/JTA)

‘We’re not scared’: Some ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are ignoring virus rules

With several leading rabbis reluctant to comply with Health Ministry orders to shut down schools and yeshivas, many students believe they are not at risk from coronavirus pandemic

As I walked away, I noticed posters on the side of the building blaming the coronavirus pandemic on Orthodox women wearing wigs made from non-Jewish hair.

Continue reading

Dear Israel – Why in a Democracy Hit with a Pandemic are Rabbis Allowed to Dictate the Law? Close Yeshivas and Prosecute.

A Palestinian sanitary department worker sprays disinfectant around Aida refugee camp, West Bank, March 16, 2020.

Highlights from Ha’Aretz in Israel – Covid-19 and Potential for Human Killing Machines…

To read the Ha’Aretz Article in its entirety, click here.


■ 433 Israelis have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, with the vast majority of cases mild and 12 recoveries. Six patients are in serious condition. In the West Bank, 44 cases have been diagnosed so far, the majority of them in Bethlehem. Another 3,900 Palestinians have been placed in quarantine.

11:02 P.M. Chief rabbi says hospital synagogues will be closed amid difficulty to maintain social distancing

10:47 P.M. Nine Israeli soldiers contract COVID-19, over 5,000 placed in quarantine

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that nine soldiers have tested positive for the coronavirus, with 5,630 soldiers in mandatory service as well as career soldiers placed in quarantine.

Most of the confirmed patients in the army have returned from vacations abroad, with some of them coming into contact with people who were also diagnosed with the virus. (Yaniv Kubovich)

9:40 Prominent rabbi instructs to continue Torah studies in violation of Health Ministry directives

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party, ordered the ultra-Orthodox community to continue Torah studies in Haredi educational institutions despite the new Health Ministry directives forbidding it. (Aaron Rabinowitz) 

2:43 P.M. Police investigating quarantine violations, fake news

The police have until now investigated 86 people for quarantine violations and 21 people suspected of spreading fake news. In addition, the police issued 21 closure orders to business that kept operating despite directives, including event venues and gym.

12:34 P.M. Virus can persist in air for hours, study finds

The highly contagious novel coronavirus that has exploded into a global pandemic can remain viable and infectious in droplets in the air for hours and on surfaces up to days, according to a new study that should offer guidance to help people avoid contracting the respiratory illness called COVID-19.

Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, attempted to mimic the virus deposited from an infected person onto everyday surfaces in a household or hospital setting, such as through coughing or touching objects. (Reuters) Read the full report here

7:40 A.M. Health Ministry announces 90 new cases

427 Israelis have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus, up 27 percent from the previous tally of 337 cases, as testing for the disease expands.

7:38 A.M. Police make arrests for violating public health orders

The Israel Police arrested tne [sic] suspects who held a wedding with 150 guests in a synagogue in Beit Shemesh, violating the prohibition on gatherings larger than 10. (Josh Breiner)