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Hundreds of Hasidic Jews gather in Brooklyn for rabbi's funeral, defying social distancing order

The NYPD on Sunday broke up a crowd of hundreds of Hasidic Jews who gathered in a street in Brooklyn for the funeral of a rabbi who died from the coronavirus. It's one of several times over the past month that members of the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn gathered en masse for an event, defying social distancing guidelines.

"The NYPD needs all New Yorkers to cooperate with the ban on social gatherings in order to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus," the department said in a statement after the incident.

"It is important to note that the vast majority are following all guidelines. The NYPD will continue to enforce social distancing and any large gathering — including services — put both members of the public and officers at risk. These gatherings must cease immediately."

Photos and videos posted by The Yeshiva World show hundreds of mourners around Hewes Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood for the funeral of 80-year-old Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Meislish. The footage shows police officers playing messages about social distancing over a loudspeaker while trying to disperse the crowd.

The NYPD said there were no arrests or citations.

There have been several Hasidic Jewish funerals in Brooklyn over the past few weeks — including at least two others on Sunday — which drew crowds of dozens of mourners. There have also been several Hasidic weddings that drew big crowds. 

These events have continued despite New York's Orthodox Jewish communities being hit particularly hard by the virus, with some in Brooklyn reporting hundreds of cases. City data show that a zip code in Borough Park, a neighborhood with a large Hasidic community, has Brooklyn's highest rate of confirmed infections. 

Federal guidelines say people should stay at least six feet apart in public, and there should be no gatherings of more than 10 people. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has explicitly banned gatherings of more than 50.

Cuomo announced Monday that he is raising the maximum fine for social distancing violations to $1,000.

"It's not about your life," he said in his daily coronavirus press briefing. "You don't have the right to risk someone else's life. You don't have the right, frankly, to take health care staff and people who are literally putting their lives on the line and be cavalier or reckless with them."

And he stressed that religion was no excuse. "I don't care if you're Orthodox Jews, Catholic, Christian. It's not about religion. What right do you have to act irresponsibly? None of us has the right to be reckless in our behavior."

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