By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TEL AVIV (Worthy News)— Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews have been plunged into mourning after Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leading authority on Jewish Law, died Friday at the age of 94.
At least hundreds of thousands of his followers, clad in traditional ultra-Orthodox garb, turned the streets of a religious suburb of Tel Aviv into a surging sea of black.
Many ultra-Orthodox Jews saw the rabbi, who passed away in Bnei Brak near Israel’s commercial capital as “a signpost” of the imminent arrival of the Messiah.
Parting the colossal crowd, dozens of police accompanied the van carrying the sage’s body as the vehicle crept towards Bnei Brak’s cemetery on Sunday.
“(Kanievsky’s) death is a huge loss for the Jewish people,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a devoted religious Jew.
He appealed to mourners “not to crowd together or push” as memories of a deadly stampede tragedy are still fresh. Last May, 45 people were crushed to death during a crowded Jewish religious festival in the settlement of Meron in northern Israel.
Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance was on high alert to prevent a similar disaster.
Despite warnings, police estimated the crowd in Bnei Brak at around half a million people, while other sources said up to 1 million people participated in the funeral procession.
Yoni Danan, who was present at the Meron disaster, said he was nervous about attending the funeral. “Of course, it crosses your mind. I was up last night wondering whether to take my son or not. But how could I not? [Kanievsky] is his hero — he’s every [religious] boy’s hero — I couldn’t take that away from him,” Israeli media quoted him as saying.
Police erected barricades around the cemetery to limit the number of people at the graveside. Only close members of the family and senior public figures, including Israel’s chief rabbis, were allowed into the cemetery for the actual burial
But it appeared challenging to control the grieving crowd. Thousands of people broke through the police barriers into the cemetery, and some were detained, witnesses said.
Women were instructed to stay away from the main thoroughfare through which the procession would occur. Instead, they were asked to stand in a cross street where giant screens live-streamed the eulogies.
Reporters noticed that the live stream crashed, silencing the booming voice of the eulogizing rabbis. An eerie quiet filled the streets, with only the occasional sob breaking the silence.
“Women with strollers and small children were crammed together, some sitting on cars and building walls. Faces filled every window of every building lining the streets,” commented the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).
Thousands of men escorted the late leader’s body from his home on Rashbam Street to his final resting place. He was buried close to his uncle’s grave, Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, in the Zichron Meir Cemetery.
Kanievsky, born in what is now Belarus, made headlines in Israel at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for defying government instructions saying that ultra-Orthodox schools must remain open. He later relented, arguing that “preservation of human life outweighed traditional religious practices.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12 percent of Israel’s population of 9.4 million, according to official estimates. A student summarized what many of them expressed Sunday after their rabbi passed away: “I feel like my father died. So, of course, I should be at the funeral.”
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