Inside the ultra-Orthodox battle with the virus and the Israeli state

Community in crisis as tensions grow over pandemic and radicals gain ground

03 March 2021 - 19:27 By Mehul Srivastava and Quique Kierzenbaum

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, 93, is calmly screening a copy of the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides’s meditations on marriage. Beside him, yelling into his nearly deaf ear, is his grandson. The question being transmitted via a call from New York to Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb that is home to about 200,000 deeply devout ultra-Orthodox Jews: can a follower of the rabbi marry a woman whose name sounds almost like his mother’s?

The rabbi assents. The Torah, a religious text, is clear on this issue; vague on others. For hundreds of thousands of fervently devout Jews, Kanievsky is the posek, the decider of God’s law, the spiritual heir to a long line of rabbis...

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