‘Unparalleled in his generation’: Rabbi Kanievsky laid to rest in massive funeral

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky was laid to rest on Sunday in an event that saw millions of thousands of people throng to Bnei Brak to pay their last respects to the influential Haredi scholar and leader.

Between half a million and 750,000 people turned out, according to various assessments, and dozens of schools were shut and highways closed down ahead of the funeral. It was the biggest such event since an estimated 800,000 people crowded Jerusalem’s streets and alleys for the funeral of Sephardi sage Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in 2013.

Route 4, a major north-south artery that passes through Bnei Brak, was blocked off in both directions to enable buses to reach the area.

Many other roads were closed and traffic in Bnei Brak itself was brought to a halt.

Police deployed some 3,000 officers to the event to maintain order.

Kanievsky, who died Friday afternoon at age 94, was a hugely influential leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, with millions of thousands of followers, and a scion of rabbinical dynasties known for his elite Talmud study.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The procession began at around 12 pm at the rabbi’s home, with hundreds of police officers accompanying the hearse to the Zichron Meir Cemetery in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb.

Leading figures in the ultra-Orthodox community eulogized Kanievsky, remembering him as an unparalleled scholar and spiritual leader.

“There is a man who weighs as much as the whole rest of the nation,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, 88, Kanievsky’s brother-in-law. “God almighty takes the man who weighs as much as all the people in order to sluggish for the people of Israel.”

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and his grandson Yaakov (Yanki) Kanievsky (L) at the former’s home in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, 98, seen as the heir to Kanievsky’s leadership, said that there is no one who can parallel Kanievsky’s level of influence “here and anywhere else in the world.”

Rabbi Shlomo Kanievsky, the late rabbi’s son, called him “unparalleled in his generation” and praised his dedication to Torah study and to encouraging ultra-Orthodox youth to dedicate themselves to full-time study.

Kanievsky was laid to rest alongside his wife, Batsheva.

Obituary: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of Israel’s leading religious authorities, dies at 94

Police blocked entry to the cemetery to members of the public, allowing only family members and senior public figures to attend the burial over fears of overcrowding.

Nevertheless, hundreds of people managed to break through the barriers and enter the cemetery as police attempted to detain them. Scuffles broke out at the entrance to the cemetery as many of those blocked attempted to enter.

Shortly after the funeral ended, the crowds began to disperse without any further unrest.

According to officials, at least 50 people were treated at the scene by first responders and four were taken to hospitals.

Police warned on Saturday night that the mass attendance could lead to tragic loss of life, reminiscent of the deadly crush at an ultra-Orthodox festival in the northern town of Meron in 2021 that saw 45 people killed and 150 injured in what was Israel’s worst- ever civilian disaster. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a similar warning on Sunday morning.

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