Tens of thousands gathered in Jerusalem on Wednesday for the funeral of renowned ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who died earlier in the day at the age of 102.
The funeral procession started at Elyashiv's home in the Mea Shaarim neighborhood in Jerusalem and continued toward Har HaMenuchot.
At the instruction of the Lithuanian leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, yeshiva students carried out the traditional kriah, or the tearing of clothing, to indicate a sign of mourning.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman read Psalms, and after the Kadish prayer and slihot, the funeral procession began in the direction of Har HaMenuchot on Givat Shaul.
Rabbi Elyahvi, leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel and one of the most well-known figures in the Haredi world, died at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Ever since he took upon himself the leadership of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) ultra-Orthodox public in 2001, Elyashiv has set the conservative tone in the ultra-Orthodox world and made the decisions in matters of religion and state and was the highest authority in the ultra-Orthodox world - a status he retained even when many actively disobeyed him. The death of one of the last of the giants, a major rabbi who was in the consensus, could mark a turning point in ultra-Orthodox society – perhaps even to the point of an end to sole and centralized leadership along with a possibility of splits and a multiplicity of opinions within the ultra-Orthodox public.
Rabbi Elyashiv's parting has come in a time of unprecedented crisis in Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox camp, with all signs indicating that Elyashiv will be the last Lithuanian rabbi to receive legitimacy from the entire Lithuanian community. In the six months since he was hospitalized, the Lithuanian camp had split in two; the larger sect in Bnei Brak under the leadership of Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, and the smaller of the two in Jerusalem led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.
Last week this split was cemented with the establishment of a new daily newspaper Hapeles, serving Rabbi Auerbach's community, to compete with the established Yated Neeman, which serves Rabbi Steinman's community. Both papers are expected to spill out mass amounts of verbiage on the death of the great rabbi, with each paper trying to portray its leader as his true successor.
This split in the echoes a similar split in the prestigious flagship yeshiva Ponevezh.
At this time, the Degel Hatorah political party, serving the Lithuanian community with two MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev and many politicians in the municipal politics, still sees itself subordinate two both sects, so do other Lithuanian institutes.
In the past two days the infighting among the sects has escalated to personal attacks on the leaders of the two sects – Steinman and Auerbach – actions considered illegitimate and harshly criticized by the community. Following slanderous attacks on Rabbi Steinman distributed by email, a ad was put out in Yated Neeman titled "Strong protest on the debasement of the dignity of the Torah," and signed by rabbis Nissim Karlitz, Chaim Kanievsky, Gershon Edelstein – all three of which are major leaders in the Bnei Brak sect. The ad reads: "We were shocked to hear of the awful denigration of the pupils of rabbis by impertinent messengers that sharpened their pens and opened their defiled mouths with homely of attack and treaties of hate and bad spirits, and brazenly to insulted Rabbi Steinman, who carried on his shoulders the burden of the generation."
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