Rabbi Kanievsky, issuing pronouncements from a book-filled study in his cramped apartment in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, has often been at the fore of that resistance. Twice, during the first and second waves of the pandemic in Israel, he rejected state-imposed antivirus protocols and would not order his followers to close their yeshivas, independent religious schools where students gather in close quarters to study Jewish Scripture.
“God forbid!” he exclaimed. If anything, he said, the pandemic made prayer and study even more essential.
Both times he eventually relented, and it is unlikely that he played as big a role in spreading the virus as he was accused of, but the damage was done.
Many public health experts say that the ultra-Orthodox — who account for about 12 percent of the population but 28 percent of the coronavirus infections, according to Israeli government statistics — have undermined the national effort against the coronavirus.
The reaction has been fierce, much of it centered on Rabbi Kanievsky.