Despite virus, thousands attend funeral of top Jerusalem rabbi

Jerusalem (AFP) –

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Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews attended the funeral of a prominent rabbi on Thursday, cramming together in Jerusalem in defiance of novel coronavirus precautions.

Rabbi Aharon David Hadash, a spiritual leader of the Mir Yeshiva ultra-Orthodox group, died earlier Thursday, aged 90, after being hospitalised from complications due to Covid-19.

Police were on hand for the outdoor proceedings and handed out masks to those who did have their own, but social distancing measures were not enforced, an AFP photographer said.

The group moved together in a large procession from the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of a Mea Shearim to a cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

Ensuring compliance with coronavirus precautions among Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews, or haredim, has been a challenge throughout the pandemic.

Different haredi groups have however responded differently to health ministry guidelines.

The Mir Yeshiva are part of the Lithuanian haredi group, whose leaders have voiced support for coronavirus protection measures but also rejected them at times, especially regarding the closure of religious schools, or yeshivot.

The Mir Yeshiva get their name from a yeshiva established in 1815 in the town of Mir, in modern-day Belarus.

The Yeshiva was a key hub for Torah study in Europe until the outbreak of World War II, according to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Some rabbis and students from Mir Yeshiva survived the war by fleeing to Shanghai.

After the war, Mir Yeshiva established a presence in Brooklyn, New York, and in Jerusalem.