Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef was under criminal investigation Monday for allegedly ignoring coronavirus health restrictions.
Yosef has been observed multiple times in recent weeks with no face covering, ignoring social distancing regulations and holding crowded events. Video clips and images of him flouting the regulations have appeared online.
Besides being seen as a religious authority and spiritual leader in the ultra-Orthodox community, the chief rabbi is also Israel's official religious authority with a salary from the state and is expected to adhere to government policy.
Last week, Yosef held a rally in Jerusalem that included dancing at close quarters after the strict lockdown came into effect, despite having issued a call for citizens to comply with health regulations, including issuing a religious decree to that effect.
A complaint made by a rabbi in the north of the country led to an investigation by law enforcement that had to be approved by the Attorney General's Office due to Yosef's official role.
"The rabbi is not above the law. Public officials who violate the law must answer for their actions," the northern rabbi said.
"What the chief rabbi is doing is sacrilegious because he has people who look up to him and follow his lead," he said.
The police confirmed Monday that an investigation was underway.
In September, Yosef participated in a ceremony in a Jerusalem synagogue to welcome a new Torah scroll.
At that event, too, scores of dignitaries and residents were in attendance while health restrictions allowed no more than 10 people to congregate indoors. And that event too the chief rabbi wore no face mask.
Yosef's close associates said he has antibodies for the coronavirus, although there have been no reports of him contracting COVID-19. They insisted he wears a scarf that acts as a face mask, but did admit that it may sometimes slip off.
The rabbi's associates also conceded that event caught on video last week should not have taken place and was the result of organizers acting in violation of the rules.
A statement released from the office of the chief rabbi said Yosef "meticulously follows the law and calls on the public to do the same."