In Death as in Life, Rabbi Kedouri Attracted the Masses

Those who attributed miraculous powers to venerated kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kedouri in his life do not appear to believe that they have waned with his death: Even before the earth of his grave had been filled in yesterday, mourners were pushing and shoving in an effort to get close enough to throw scraps of paper bearing prayers into the grave - or even just to touch the fresh earth of Kedouri's final resting place, in Jerusalem's Har Hamenuhot cemetery.

"Where is the respect for the dead?" yelled Moshe Nimni, one of Kedouri's followers. "Let the burial society finish. What's happening here endangers lives." But the mourners continued to press forward.

Whether the funeral was attended by 200,000 mourners, as the police estimate, or by 300,000, as the rabbi's followers claim, it was undoubtedly one of the largest funeral processions Jerusalem has ever known. It began in the capital's Bukharan neighborhood and finished some two hours later at the cemetery in Givat Shaul. Traffic in the city was snarled for hours. But the rabbi, who died on Saturday of complications stemming from pneumonia and a blood infection, took at least one secret with him to his grave: his true age. Reports range from 104 to 112.

Among those attending the funeral were leading Sephardi rabbis, the entire leadership of the Shas Party, President Moshe Katsav, senior Likud MKs Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom, and comedian Eli Yatzpan. Katsav, in his eulogy, termed Kedouri "one of the Jewish people's most prominent leaders in recent generations ... a symbol and an example to us all of the negation of materialism."

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of both the Sephardi community and the Shas Party, eulogized Kedouri as a great Torah scholar, but could not refrain from a bit of electioneering: "The deceased was very happy," Yosef said, when "three months ago, I sent him my right hand, [Shas chairman] Rabbi Eliyahu Yishai, to tell him about what Shas is doing in the world. The entire goal is Torah, and only Torah."

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, one of the leaders of the religious Zionist community, also spoke at the funeral.

Following the eulogies, when the funeral procession began, a riot nearly broke out as masses of mourners surged toward the stretcher bearing Kedouri's body in an effort to touch it. Altogether, some 20 people were injured during the funeral and needed medical attention. But finally, the stretcher was put into the waiting hearse and the procession began.