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.
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.