Around 350,000 mourners arrived at the funeral procession of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, who died on Friday at 94.
The procession began at 12 P.M. from the rabbi's home in Bnei Brak, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv and one of the most crowded cities in the country. Over 200 border policemen accompanied the vehicle carrying his body.
Though hundreds of thousands gathered in the area, police set a limit of 500 people on entrance to the cemetery. Despite the police presence, hundreds of mourners managed to breach the site.
Emergency services treated 64 people who were lightly injured at the funeral, apparently due to overcrowding. Five people were taken to hospital after they fainted or felt unwell, according to Magen David Adom.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “Rabbi Kanievsky's name will be remembered as an important part of the history of Torah and of the people of Israel,” but also called on the attendees to avoid overcrowding: "The trauma of the Meron disaster is still fresh in all of us, this tragedy must not be repeated.”
Some 3,000 police officers secured the event, which ended at the city's cemetery.
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Rabbi Gershon Edelstein eulogized Kanievsky, saying "the entire world was influenced by him and asked for his blessings and prayers." Edelstein, Kanievsky's heir, said his predecessor had unparalleled "spiritual, as well as materialistic influence."
Major traffic arteries in central Israel will be closed to regular traffic starting at 6 A.M as follows:
- Route 4 in both directions between Mishmar Hashiv’ah and Morasha exits (traffic will be redirected to Route 1) and from Ganot in the north (traffic will be redirected to Routes 1 and 44).
- Route 5 east from Morasha
- Bnei Brak will be closed to regular traffic, including Hazon Ish Street and all roads leading to it; Jabotinsky Street from Ben-Gurion intersection to Rabin Road, as well as roads leading to Jabotinsky; Aluf Sade interchange through Hashalom Road; Em Hamoshavot Road to the Ayalon Mall in both directions
- Route 471 bound for Route 4
- Route 1 from Ganot Junction to Route 4 (traffic will be redirected to Route 1 west)
- Route 44 will be blocked from Hashiva interchange through Route 4 northbound (traffic will be redirected to Route 1 east or west).
- The entrance ramp from Route 461 to Route 4 northbound will be blocked; access roads from Kiryat Ono and Givat Shmuel to Route 471 will be blocked; Sha’ariya junction toward Route 471 will be blocked.
The police anticipate that traffic will only return to normal around 8 P.M., and called on residents of central Israel to avoid the roads. The funeral will not be accessible by car, and police anticipate that people will walk there along Route 4.
Rabbi Kanievsky was considered one of the two leaders of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian stream of ultra-Orthodoxy, together with Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva.
Kanievsky's health had deteriorated over the past few years. He had tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020, amid a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus in his family and among his associates.
President Isaac Herzog said in a statement that the rabbi's "love of the Torah, his modesty, his humility and his spiritual leadership will be missing for the yeshiva world and the entire people of Israel."
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also paid his condolences, saying he “always made sure to receive every person with an open heart and lightheartedness.”
For years, Kanievsky refrained from taking on the public leadership of the community, but following the death of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman in 2017, who was considered the last “maran” — a title given to exceptionally respected rabbis — Kanievsky began providing guidance to his community.
Known as the “minister of Torah” in the ultra-Orthodox community, he was seen as a unique and very different leader from his predecessors in the Lithuanian community – Shteinman, and Rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Eliezer Schach. His leadership was seen as Hasidic in style in some respects, despite the division in Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodoxy between the Lithuanian and Hasidic communities.
Kanievsky was born in 1928 in Pinsk, in modern-day Belarus. His father was the prominent Torah sage Rabbi Ya’akov Yisrael Kanievsky, who was known as the Steipler rabbi. His mother, Pesha Miriam, was the sister of the Hazon Ish, the revered Rabbi Abraham Yishayahu Karelitz. He immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1934 with his family and settled in Bnei Brak. He married Batsheva Esther, daughter of esteemed Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, in 1951.