Half a million mourners attend rabbi’s funeral in Israel

Sunday’s funeral of a revered rabbi in Israel drew half a million mourners clad in traditional ultra-Orthodox garb, turning the streets of a religious suburb of Tel Aviv into a surging sea of ​​black.

The roads of Bnei Brak were packed with men and boys in black suits — one of the largest gatherings in Israel’s history — mourning for the Belarusian-born Chaim Kanievsky, who died Friday at age 94.

Parting the huge crowd, dozens of police formed a phalanx around the van carrying the rabbi’s body as the vehicle crept toward Bnei Brak’s cemetery.

“[Kanievsky’s] death is a huge loss for the Jewish people,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Twitter.

Police estimated the crowd at around half a million people — one of the largest gatherings in Israel’s history.

Kanievsky, born in what is now Belarus, was the de facto head of what is commonly called the Lithuanian branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and his knowledge of Jewish law was so revered that his rulings were thought to require total compliance within his community.

Revered Charedi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
Revered Charedi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky died at the age of 94 on March 18, 2022.
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Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews escort the body of leading Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky during his mass funeral in Bnei Brak on March 20, 2022.
Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews escort the body of leading Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky during his mass funeral in Bnei Brak on March 20, 2022.
EPA/ABIR SULTAN
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men carry the body of prominent Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men carry the body of prominent Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.
REUTERS/Avshalom Sassoni
Police estimated the crowd at around half a million people -- one of the largest gatherings in Israel's history.
Police estimated the crowd at around half a million people — one of the largest gatherings in Israel’s history.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
Kanievsky was one of the most influential scholars in the religious community in Israel.
Kanievsky was one of the most influential scholars in the religious community in Israel.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
Orthodox Jewish mourners gather around the remains of Haredi rabbi Chaim Kanievsky ahead of his burial at Ponevezh community cemetery in the city of Bnei Barak near Tel Aviv.
Orthodox Jewish mourners gather around the remains of Haredi rabbi Chaim Kanievsky ahead of his burial at Ponevezh community cemetery in the city of Bnei Barak near Tel Aviv.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls pray during the funeral procession of prominent Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls pray during the funeral procession of prominent Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.
REUTERS/Amir Cohen

To some followers, he was known as “our master, the Prince of Torah,” comprising the religion’s laws and traditions. Benjamin Brown, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, told AFP that Kanievsky “came to be a figure of authority almost against his own will.”

“I cried when I heard he was dead,” said 41-year-old Shlomo Lugassi, who had earlier unsuccessfully tried to push his way through the masses to reach the late rabbi’s apartment.

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