Mourner Trampled to Death at Funeral of Prominent Bnei Brak Rabbi

Magen David Adom paramedics treated more than a hundred people over the course of the night; one of the injured is in critical condition, two others are being treated for serious injuries.

Moti Milrod

One man was trampled to death and four others were wounded before dawn on Sunday in Bnei Brak amid the hordes of mourners gathered at the funeral of prominent Hasidic Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner.

More than a hundred people were treated by Magen David Adom paramedics over the course of the night.

Motti Gerber, a 27-year-old resident of Elad, was killed as tens of thousands of people crowded into the funeral procession to the Hazon Ish Cemetery in Bnei Brak. Only a limited number of people were initially allowed to enter the yeshiva building, but there was massive overcrowding at the entrance. One of the participants tripped and several others fell with him and were trampled by the large crowd. At about 1:30 A.M. paramedics were summoned to the scene.

Gerber, who initially was in critical condition with injuries to his chest and stomach, was sent to Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv where his death was confirmed.

The other three who were seriously injured include an 18-year-old who is hospitalized in Beilinson Hospital with critical head and chest injuries, a 14-year-old boy is in serious condition in pediatric intensive care in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, anaesthetized and on a respirator, and a 36-year-old man with serious head injuries, anaesthetized and on a respirator in Beilinson. 

The commander of the Tel Aviv District Police, Bentzi Sau, has ordered an investigation of the events of the funeral and the conduct of the organizers, on suspicion of negligence. Sau has transferred the investigation to the district fraud unit in order to avoid a conflict of interest and to enable an examination of the conduct of the police as well. The Dan Region police said that they prepared for the funeral as well as possible together with the organizers, within the limited time frame at their disposal.

Prior to event, police feared that there would be overcrowding in the area of the cemetery during the funeral. In order to prevent overcrowding at the cemetery, district commander Nitzav Mishne Shimon Lavi ordered police to break down a wall at the site broken in order to prevent the participants from trampling one another.

However, a police source said that it was impossible to relieve the crowding next to the yeshiva itself. In events of this type only with horses and other means of crowd dispersal are effective, the source said, but in this instance they could not be used because the narrow streets in the area were so crowded that any introduction of additional teams would have caused greater damage and greater harm to the participants.

Rabbi Wosner, who died over the weekend at the age of 101, was one of the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community and an authority on religious law considered by Hasidic communities to be a "posek hador" – a leading halakhic authority of the generation. He had been hospitalized Bnei Brak's Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital since March.

Though the general Israeli public is unfamiliar with Wosner, he held lofty status amid Hasidim not only due to his halakhic writings, but also because he was identified with the founding generation of Israel: He was one of the last survivors from the world of Haredi yeshivas in pre-Holocaust Europe.

As a young man, Wosner had contact with the generation of legendary European rabbis, such as the "Hafetz Haim" (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan) and Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, and when he arrived in Israel he was among those who rehabilitated the Haredi community, alongside the Hazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yishaya Karelitz) and the rabbis of the old Yishuv. His most important work is "Shevet HaLevi" – a series of volumes of responsa on matters of halakha, many of them concerning technology.