Thursday, January 28, 2021


The rules are the rules and "there will be no privilege for any religion," warned Prime Minister François Legault, in the wake of police interventions carried out with the Hasidic Jewish community.

Last weekend, the SPVM had to intervene during illegal gatherings in synagogues, which resulted in the police receiving insults and even threats from some of the faithful.

Representatives of the Hasidic Jewish community later denounced the confusion sown by the latest adjustments to the rules governing places of worship. These now limit to 10, the maximum number of people who can gather there.

"What happened at the end of the week is that there are sly ends who said: well, there are three doors, then there are three rooms, so it's going to be thirty", railed Mr. Legault, at a press conference.

However, the limit of 10 worshipers applies to the entire building, he recalled. This is what public health had to clarify after the incidents.

"The law is the same for everyone, for all communities, for all religions," insisted Mr. Legault, emphasizing the common good.



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Enfeebled and enraged, Haredi society feels forsaken on all sides 

Monday afternoon in the Knesset. MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism heads to the dais to speak about a bill advancing through parliament that will allow police to slap steep fines on schools that violate virus restrictions and even to close them by force.

He's visibly angry; his comments are short and to the point.

"You're only bringing this bill to vilify the Haredi public!" he declares.

Then he adds, in comments that would later go viral on Israeli social media, "It's not our fault! You, who sent us to live in such crowded conditions, it's your fault!"

It was an astonishing display that encapsulated the confused, anxious Haredi non-response to the crisis of rule-breaking that's setting parts of the community aflame, and the frantic search for someone to blame.

Ultra-Orthodox violations of the virus restrictions aren't new. The problem has simmered for months, occasionally waning as contagion rates and corresponding restrictions recede, then exploding again onto the public agenda when the pandemic returns with a fury.

But the latest round of anger and anxiety surrounding Haredi struggles with the virus has quickly reached a fever pitch. Recent days have seen violent riots in Haredi population centers as police moved in to enforce long-ignored health closures.

In the usually placid city of Bnei Brak, a municipal bus was torched to its metal skeleton after young Haredi men dragged the driver from the vehicle. Camera crews, including a Fox News team, were either attacked or had their vehicles vandalized in Haredi areas. Israeli news broadcasts have carried photogenic vignettes of such violence for days.

And throughout the rising violence, Haredi rabbinic and political leadership were nowhere to be found.



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Police shutdown large religious gatherings after alleged gathering rule confusion 

Houses of worship have been closed in Quebec red zones but the provincial government is now relaxing the rules.

The province is allowing 10 people to gather in religious buildings – except during a funeral ceremony when 25 are permitted.

However, over the weekend Montreal police had to intervene after several dozen people were found in an Outremont synagogue.

Some in the religious community claim the new rules were confusing and are what led to multiple police interventions at nine Montreal locations – with a total of 223 offenders–over the weekend.

"The restrictions said 'a limit of 10 per places of worship', so it means people can disagree what places of worship means. Does it mean the room where you're worshipping or the building where you're worshipping? Okay, but the cover letter from Bishop Murray did say specifically '10 per building', but I'm not sure everybody saw the cover letter."

"That doesn't mean people were correct in thinking it was always 10 per room. It means that Sunday, after consulting members of the community and others, the directives changed," explained Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of CJIA.

SPVM spokesperson Constable Véronique Comtois says they were called to an illegal gathering at Hutchison and St-Viateur, where three fines were issued related to the province-wide 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. COVID-19 curfew. An arrest was made and crown prosecutors are now deciding if more fines will be handed out.

"For this event Saturday morning, there were 17 persons in the report and one arrest for obstruction. Then there was another one Saturday morning a little later, and was on Durocher Street. On this one, we have 14 persons that are stated in a general infraction report," explained Comtois.

The Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec said it regretted that "some members […] did not comply with public health directives," but criticized police for what they say was misinterpreting of the government decree – claiming that these directives "allow the opening of several prayer rooms in the same building as long as this same building has separate entrances on the street." Montreal Police disagree with this interpretation.

But Poupko says it's been difficult for the Hasidic community.

"In the Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in Outremont, we're dealing with very large families. I mean 12 and 13 kids is the norm, not the exception, and they're living in four-bedroom upper duplexes. People don't have Netflix, they don't have Disney Plus. People are going bananas when they have two teenagers at home on Zoom."

Despite wanting to partake in religious and other events in person, others disagree with meeting in person and stress the importance of staying safe during the pandemic.

"The more people you have coming together, the higher risk it's going to be. So much of what we do nowadays can be done via video conference as we are proving right now, so a lot of churches a lot of synagogues a lot of religious institutions are live streaming their events. A lot of people can watch it from home. That's probably the safest course of action going forward," explained Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal physician.

"When you get together with a group of other people, it doesn't matter why you're doing it. It doesn't matter if it's a good reason, or if it's a bad reason, it doesn't matter if it's a justifiable reason. When you're in close contact with other people there is a risk that you can pass the virus to each other, that you can get sick or infect others."

"We are in a hurry to meet again, to see each other or to be together, and of course, it's demanding. But we need to be patient because in a democracy, democracy is challenging, but it means everyone has to do their part," said Christian Lépine, Archbishop of Montreal.



Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yehuda ‘Yudi’ Dukes, Hasidic father of 6, is dead after 10-month battle with COVID 

Rabbi Yehuda "Yudi" Dukes, a Hasidic father of six who became sick with COVID-19 in late March and spent nearly 10 months in the hospital as he struggled with the effects of the disease, died Thursday. He was 39.

Dukes' wife, Sarah, announced his death in a Facebook post Thursday morning hours after she exhorted her many followers on social media to pray for her husband.

Dukes became a symbol of the toll of the pandemic to many in the Chabad Hasidic community and around the world as Sarah documented his condition in Facebook and Instagram posts throughout his hospital stays. People around the world performed mitzvahs — Jewish rituals and good deeds that including saying prayers and learning Torah — in his honor with the hope of contributing to his recovery. A crowdfunding campaign has raised well over $500,000.

The rabbi and his wife, a music therapist, frequently sought spiritual meaning in his struggles with COVID.

"This has not been done to me," Dukes told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from the medical intensive care unit at NYU's Langone hospital last summer. "It's been done for me."

Before the pandemic began, Dukes had been healthy and served as the director of the Jewish Learning Network, or JNet, a worldwide Chabad program that pairs people to study Judaism together. He became sick with the coronavirus in March as the disease swept through the New York City area, walloping Orthodox communities that held Purim celebrations just before a stay-at-home order was imposed on March 15.

Dukes was admitted to the hospital on March 30 and quickly placed on a ventilator and a machine that oxygenates the blood. Over the course of his long illness, Dukes suffered from a stroke, sepsis, blood clots, brain hemorrhages and had four of his lungs collapse, requiring multiple rounds of tests and antibiotics.

Dukes regained consciousness in the summer after being placed in an induced coma for months and slowly began recovering, mouthing words and eventually eating food again. In August, he was able to breathe on his own again. On Sept. 4, Dukes was wheeled out of the NYU Langone intensive care unit to cheers and singing from the medical staff that had taken care of him for 158 days as he moved to the hospital's rehabilitation unit.

But the progress was halting and punctuated by setbacks. In October, Dukes was set to be discharged from the hospital but was unable to go home when doctors found a blockage in his liver and gallbladder stones that sent him back to an acute medical unit. Infections and internal bleeding followed and Dukes was placed on a list for a liver transplant.

In a post from Oct. 4, shortly before Yudi Dukes was scheduled to be released from the hospital, Sarah Dukes wrote about her struggle to run a household and raise six children without her husband at home.

"If this is the situation G-d wants me to be in right now, I CAN get through this," she wrote. She added, "Even if we can't understand, WE CAN GET THROUGH IT, because our spark of G-d within us gives us unlimited potential."

On Thanksgiving, Dukes was brought home by ambulance as neighbors sang in the street to celebrate his release. But by the next day, he returned to the hospital.

"Right now, it may be hard to see the end, but I completely trust in the power of our trust," Sarah wrote Nov. 28, the day after Dukes was re-admitted to the hospital. "G-d will continue giving the doctors clarity to heal Yudi, or G-d, Who 'Heals all flesh and performs wonders' will just do it Himself, but either way, Yudi's redemption WILL come."

In December, Dukes was intubated again and suffered from heavy internal bleeding. Doctors warned Sarah that her husband was dying.

Hours before Dukes died, Sarah again posted to Facebook seeking prayers for his recovery.

"Yudi is fighting hard. He has the world fighting with him. We are stronger than nature. Please don't stop. And please put aside something right now to prepare for the celebration. THIS IS THE TIME FOR THE MIRACLE WE HAVE BEEN CREATING!!!!!" she wrote.

Dukes died hours after the United States recorded a record-high one-day COVID death toll of 4,400. He leaves behind his six children, the oldest of whom, Mendy, celebrated his bar mitzvah in January 2020.



Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Thousands attend secret Hasidic wedding in Brooklyn 

When the Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt set out to explain how a massive wedding for the grandson of the Satmar grand rabbi took place despite pandemic limits on gatherings, it waited until after the event to reveal all the details.

Another Orthodox news site took a different approach: JDN, an Israeli site, published an article before a large wedding about the secrecy involved in its planning, then replaced the article with another version that said the affair would be small and in keeping with COVID rules.

Photos and video from the wedding held in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood made clear that the first version of the story was accurate.

They show that hundreds, if not thousands, of guests packed into the main synagogue of one faction of Bobov Hasidism to celebrate the wedding of the youngest son of Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam, the grand rabbi of the sect. Videos circulated the next day over WhatsApp showed a packed wedding hall with thousands of people and no masks in sight. Large tapestries with the words "mazel tov" were hung from a wall to cover windows into the hall.

The wedding is the latest example of the lack of compliance in Hasidic communities with protocols meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And perhaps more troubling for authorities hoping to stop these events, it is yet another example of the degree to which members of the Hasidic community are willing to keep secret violations of public health guidance that put lives in jeopardy as COVID cases rise across the country and a new more contagious variant of the disease continues to spread in the United States and around the world.



Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Congresswoman accuses Israel of racism for not offering vaccines to the Palestinian territories 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, accused Israel of being "racist" for not offering to distribute coronavirus vaccines to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza in an interview with Democracy Now published on Tuesday.

"I think it's really important to understand Israel is a racist state and that they would deny Palestinians, like my grandmother, access to a vaccine, that they don't believe that she's an equal human being that deserves to live, deserves to be able to be protected by this global pandemic," Tlaib said. "And it's really hard to watch as this apartheid state continues to deny their own neighbors, the people that breathe the same air they breathe, that live in the same communities."

Israel's health ministry has agreed to vaccinate more than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails this week following calls from international and human rights groups, Palestinian and Israeli officials — including President Reuven Rivlin — and a recommendation by Israel's attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, despite objection from Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is in charge of such facilities. The government has also included Palestinian citizens living in Israel and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, as well as 100 medical workers in the West Bank in its vaccination drive.

But as Israel has ramped up its vaccine distribution, closing in on 25% of the population who have received the first shot, it has not delivered any vaccines for the general Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza. "The normal policy of every country is to vaccinate its own citizens. That's what they pay taxes for," Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said last week. Dr. Ahmad Majdalani, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the reason the Palestinians have not asked Israel for vaccines is that the Pfizer vaccine requires storage at ultra-low temperatures and they don't have the infrastructure to manage it properly.

Earlier this month, a group of 200 rabbis called on Israel to voluntarily distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian population on a humanitarian basis.

But Tlaib maintained that Israel "has no intention" of helping the Palestinians recover from the coronavirus pandemic because the U.S. is "enabling" them to do so. "They have the power to distribute that vaccine to the Palestinian people, their own neighbors, again, feet away from where they live, many of which, again, could expose them and their family and it doesn't," she said. "If anything, it just reiterates what the Palestinian people and even human rights groups have been telling us, is that this is an apartheid state."



Friday, January 15, 2021

Man arrested after swastikas spray-painted on doors of Montreal synagogue 

One of Montreal's largest synagogues was found with its doors spray-painted with large swastikas Wednesday, and a synagogue guard played a role in arresting the man suspected of the vandalism.

The man who was apprehended reportedly brought a canister of gasoline to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, a 160-year-old Modern Orthodox synagogue that is known internationally for nurturing, and burying, the legendary singer and poet Leonard Cohen.

Police were summoned to the scene at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and arrested a 28-year-old man they said would be evaluated for mental health problems, according to local news reports.

Canadian Jewish groups decried the vandalism, with Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs calling it "vile" and B'nai Brith Canada's CEO Michael Mostyn calling it "a jarring reminder of the constant need for vigilance in protecting our Jewish communal institutions."

The synagogue, like others in Montreal, is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was the case as well in May, when vandals ransacked a different Montreal Orthodox synagogue, destroying its Torah scrolls in the process.

The mayor of Westmount, the upscale suburb where the synagogue is located, issued a statement condemning the vandalism.

But Congregation Shaar Hashomayim's rabbi, Adam Scheier, told local media that he had come to expect anti-Semitic incidents. "One is not surprised when another anti-Semitic attack happens against one of the beloved institutions in our community," he said.



Thursday, January 14, 2021

Cemetery Restoration Pilot Project Underway 

Efforts are underway to organize a pilot project aimed at improving a small portion of run-down Har Nebo Cemetery — and organizer Rich Blumberg is optimistic that the project can not only succeed but grow in scope.

Blumberg said his impetus came when he wrote a history of his family, which has 10 members buried at Har Nebo.

"I visited with my son and was astonished by the number of fallen stones and disrepair," he said. "It just doesn't sit right for us living descendants, and it won't be any better 20 or 30 years from now."

Blumberg, who is the founder of business development and technology collaboration consulting company World Sales Solution, LLC, hopes to raise $10,000-$20,000 and identify an accessible 10-foot-by-20-foot location at Har Nebo to restore 10 to 18 gravestones.

The project would include lifting fallen headstones, filling in uneven ground, removing overgrown vegetation and cleaning the stones, Blumberg said.

he's starting small, considering the size of the distressed cemetery, but figures the general interest in genealogy these days may spur others into participating. He hopes to encourage synagogues to join in, as well as college fraternities and sororities looking for service projects and even kindergartners to paint decorative rocks.
"Even if I could do one plot a year, it's better than nothing," he said. "We want to create a template kit that can be used by other Jewish cemeteries."

Har Nebo owner Richard Levy said he'd be amenable to a well-organized project under certain conditions.

"I'd have to think about this some more," he said. "We'd always have to think of safety and that sort of stuff."

Levy, who also owns Mount Carmel Cemetery, said in the past he has made volunteers sign waivers before cleanup projects.

Cemetery problems are a frequent complaint received by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, according to Addie Lewis Klein, director of community engagement. She said they receive half a dozen calls every week.

"A number of us from the Jewish Federation are in support of this and giving advice and helping to get this off the ground," she said.

Other organized and informal efforts have been made to restore local cemeteries in recent years.

The Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery has worked for several years to restore a once-largely forgotten cemetery owned by adjacent Beth David Reform Congregation.

And a 2015 Jewish Exponent article about rundown conditions at Har Zion Cemetery in Darby refers to a woman identified only as Rivka, who said she had been visiting and repairing parts of the cemetery for 42 years. She did the same at Mount Sharon Cemetery in Springfield.

The Exponent has documented complaints about several area cemeteries in recent years.

In 2020, both Har Nebo and Mount Carmel were criticized because of poor conditions and closed gates. Levy attributed the problems then to the pandemic, but has since cited the difficulties of running cemeteries in an era when cremations are on the rise.

Levy was pushed by Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and state Rep. Jared Solomon, among others, to take care of the cemeteries. Jewish Federation helped arrange for a landscaping crew to cut the grass over the summer.

Mount Carmel was extensively vandalized in February 2017, prompting a large-scale restoration effort.

And as reported Jan. 7, complaints have increased about Har Jehuda Cemetery in Upper Darby in recent years. President Larry Moskowitz attributed part of the problem to declining revenues.
Older cemeteries with few new burials have less money coming in and tend to exhaust their perpetual care funds.

Those trends may worsen, according to the National Funeral Directors Association Cremation and Burial Report. The 2020 cremation rate was 56%, up 8% from 2015, and the organization projects that by 2035 nearly 80% of Americans will be cremated.
Klein noted that maintaining Jewish cemeteries can be especially difficult because they are more tightly packed, making mowing and landscaping more problematic.



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Jewish homes in London vandalized with red crosses 

Crosses drawn with a red liquid appeared on several homes with mezuzahs in a heavily Jewish neighborhood of northern London.

"Officers have spoken to the residents of these properties," the police write in a statement Tuesday about the incidents in Stamford Hill. "We understand it's likely that a local man who is well known to residents and suffers with mental ill health may be responsible."

Shomrim, a Jewish security group, calls the incidents an anti-Semitic "hate crime," adding on Twitter that the perpetrator "appears to have used blood."



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Ukrainian rabbi listed in ranking of top 100 influential Ukrainians 

Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman was ranked as one of the top 100 most influential people and phenomena in Ukraine, by Vesti, a Russian-language newspaper in Ukraine.

Azman made the list because of the Jewish community's aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus, including providing protective gear to medical workers, housing doctors working at a local hospital and feeding the sick and needy. He ranked 62nd on the list.

The rabbi made the news recently for expressing support for the storming of the US Capitol last week, comparing the clashes to his own country's recent pro-democracy revolution.

Asman, a hasidic rabbi who is one of several people claiming to be the chief rabbi of Ukraine, posted on Facebook that the "Maidan has begun in the USA," referring to the widespread protests that led to the ouster of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. "The people protesting against mass election fraud broke into the capital. God bless America."

The list was compiled by a number of scientists, political experts, analysts and the editorial team at Vesti, among others. Topping the list of most influential people and phenomena was, of course, COVID-19.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, ranked fourth on the list. Jewish philanthropist George Soros also featured on the list, ranking at eighth place. Soros and Zelensky both fell from their places on last year's ranking.

The listing stated that Soros fell in the ranking because of the departure of government officials that they referred to as "nestlings of Sorosov's nest," a phrase used to describe officials claimed to be funded or supported by George Soros. A number of conspiracy theories claim that Soros has control over events throughout the world, including in Ukrainian politics. These claims are often compared to antisemitic tropes that Jews "control the world."



Thursday, January 07, 2021

Biden to pick Orthodox Jewish woman for White House cybersecurity post 

Inline image

US President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly picked an Orthodox Jewish woman for a new cybersecurity position on the National Security Council.

Citing two people families with Biden's plans, Politico reported Wednesday that Anne Neuberger will be named deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity.

Neuberger, the head of the National Security Agency's cybersecurity division, will be tasked with coordinating cybersecurity for the US federal government, the report said.

A spokesperson for the Biden transition wouldn't confirm the pick but said cybersecurity would be a top priority for the incoming administration.

"We will strengthen our partnerships with the private sector, academia, and civil society; renew our commitment to international norms and engagement on cyber issues; and expand our investment in the infrastructure and people we need to effectively defend the nation against malicious cyber activity," the spokesperson said in a statement.

A congressional staffer hailed Neuberger as "one of the most capable and respected cyber experts" and said her selection for a White House role would be a "big loss" for the National Security Agency.

One of the most pressing tasks facing Neuberger will be addressing the massive, months-long cyberespionage campaign that has compromised dozens of US government agencies and private businesses. US officials have linked the hack to elite Russia hackers.

Neuberger has worked at the National Security Agency for over a decade and was tapped to lead its cybersecurity efforts last year. She helped establish the US Cyber Command and worked as chief risk officer, leading the agency's election security efforts for the 2018 midterms.

Neuberger has said her family's harrowing escapes — first from the Holocaust and then from the Entebbe hostage crisis in Uganda, after the Air France flight her parents were on was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists in 1976 — helped shape her worldview.

Though her parents are not Israeli, they were held by the hijackers for a week along with Israeli passengers because they were Jewish.



Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Cops Suspended for Allowing Mass Wedding That Flouted Israel's Coronavirus Rules 

Several police officers claimed to have allowed a mass wedding to take place in contravention of coronavirus regulations have been suspended from their posts by the incoming police commissioner, Kobi Shabtai, until the incident is investigated.

Hundreds of people attended the celebration on Tuesday night in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit. The group of officers who arrived at the scene reportedly left after receiving a blessing from the admor, the leader of the Toldos Avrohom Yitzhok Hasidic sect, who was marrying his grandson.

The West Bank district commander of the Israel Police, Maj. Gen. Moshe Barket, said that he took a grave view of the officers' conduct.

Several police officers impounded sound equipment at the end of the event, with some Hasidic sources alleging that law enforcement had been told in advance about the wedding, and had committed not to enter the site before 11 P.M.

"In the early evening hours, a large contingent of police came, but they stayed on adjacent streets and didn't approach the complex where the wedding was taking place," a source said, adding that the advance plans with the police also took into account that the holding of the wedding might leak to the press. "The agreement was that if the event became public, the police would only come as a formality, enter and maybe even issue fines, but they wouldn't disperse those in attendance," he said.

Speaking to Haaretz, however, another member of the Hasidic community disputed that arrangements had been coordinated in advance with the police.

"That never happened," he said. "The police came and threatened to send a force inside. We allowed them to come in and speak to the admor, and after that, they came back and impounded the equipment."

In video footage of the wedding, a police officer is seen shaking hands with the admor and bowing his head to receive the rabbi's blessing. A large number of people could be seen nearby not wearing masks.



Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Airmont, Central UTA settle lawsuit, dropping discrimination claims as school can expand 

The village has agreed to review a Hasidic Jewish school's expansion plans, after settling a federal civil rights lawsuit which claimed the village discriminated against and blocked the project.

Under the agreement reached in U.S. District Court, Central United Talmudical Academy of Monsey gets a promise that its updated expansion plans will be reviewed in a timely manner by the village land-use boards, while the village gets the school's promise to follow village procedures.

Airmont also is relieved of a legal burden. The village still faces a federal lawsuit from a coalition of the congregations and civil action by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan. The village previously lost two cases involving discriminatory zoning blocking residential houses of worship and dormitory housing involving Hasidic and Orthodox Jews since the village's 1991 incorporation.

"The parties agreed to a roadmap for Central UTA to apply for updated approvals for its school projects and operations," the attorneys said in a statement released Monday.

As part of the settlement, Airmont "agreed to fairly review Central UTA's project applications within reasonable deadlines and Central UTA agreed to work with the village's land use review process to ensure compliance with state and local law."

Under the agreement, Central UTA cannot reinstate the legal action against village officials, though the school can refile against the village if the agreement breaks down. The school's litigation continues against the Suffern Central School District for discrimination concerning the lack of busing for students from the private school.

Both sides will pay their own legal fees. The village's insurance covers fees to its attorney, Sokoloff Stern of Long Island. Central UTA attorneys include the Texas-based First Liberty Institute and the Albany-based firm of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna.



Monday, January 04, 2021

NY attorney general recuses herself from vaccine-fraud investigation into ParCare clinics, owned by a Hasidic supporter 

New York's attorney general, Letitia James, won't participate in the investigation into ParCare, the network of health clinics under scrutiny for potential fraud related to the new coronavirus vaccine.

James recused herself from the investigation into the clinics, which are owned by Gary Schlesinger, a Hasidic Jewish leader from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a longtime supporter of hers who has posted a number of photos of himself with her to Facebook over the past several years.

"In order to avoid even an appearance of conflict, the attorney general has personally recused herself from this matter," James' office said in a statement, according to The New York Post.

But the investigation will continue into whether ParCare may have obtained doses of the coronavirus vaccine "fraudulently" and distributed them more broadly than state guidelines allowed.

The clinic advertised its vaccines and administered several hundreds doses to members of the public at a time when only frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and workers were eligible.

Schlesinger posted a photo to Twitter showing him receiving the vaccine Dec. 22, even though he was not in the groups then eligible for the vaccine. He later deleted the tweet. Two leading Modern Orthodox rabbis also received doses of the vaccine at a ParCare clinic. One of them, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, said they would not have taken the vaccine if they had known it was not appropriate.

The attorney general's office said the relationship between James and Schlesinger would not compromise the investigation, saying, "our office will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead," according to the Post.

But one Orthodox resident of New York told the Post the investigation was now suspect. "No one's taking it seriously as a threat," that person said. "It's known she's very good friends with the Hasidic community. She's unlikely to do anything to jeopardize that relationship."

Meanwhile, New York's vaccine rollout is proceeding sluggishly, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blaming Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not widening the categories of people eligible to be vaccinated. After state officials began investigating ParCare last week, Cuomo issued an executive order imposing fines of up to $1 million for vaccine-related fraud.



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