Hasidic leader orders followers to stay home during Jewish holidays due to Covid surge in Israel

Grand Rabbi Baruch Meir Yaakov Shochet has argued that by failing to comply with COVID restrictions, large sectors of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community have been ignoring the “foundational” Jewish principle of saving lives.

By Tobias Siegal, World Israel News

In an unprecedented move for the Hasidic world in Israel mass prayer services scheduled to take place during this year’s upcoming Jewish holidays were cancelled by one of Israel’s largest Hasidic movements due to the country’s rising morbidity rates, Israeli media reported.

In a letter sent to followers of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic movement, they were urged to remain at home during the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday and to avoid visiting Grand Rabbi Baruch Meir Yaakov Shochet or renting motel rooms near his home in Givat Ze’ev, near Jerusalem.

This is an unprecedented move for the Hasidic community in Israel. Other movements had previously avoided cancelling prayer services during the pandemic, only requiring worshipers to present a Green Pass in order to participate.

The Karlin-Stolin Hasidic movement had previously announced that Hasidim who had recovered from COVID within the last year or received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine within the last five months could join prayer services with the Rabbi. However, the continued rise in cases led the Rabbi to change the guidelines and instruct his followers to pray in local prayer groups instead.

The Karlin-Stolin movement has stood out in that regard. In October last year, Grand Rabbi Shochet heavily criticized large sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community over their failure to comply with COVID restrictions, arguing that they were ignoring the “foundational” Jewish principle of saving lives.

The announcement came shortly after it was reported that Grand Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter of the Gur Hasidic community – the largest and most influential of the Hasidic communities in Israel – was diagnosed with coronavirus, only 10 days after receiving his third booster shot.

Earlier this year, the Karlin-Stolin movement made headlines when two of its worshipers were killed and over 200 were injured after newly installed bleachers at a synagogue in Givat Ze’ev collapsed during holiday celebrations.