Ultra-Orthodox Community Reels After Passing of Female Leader

Rabbanit Batsheva Haya Kanievsky's passing dominates front pages of Sunday's ultra-Orthodox newspapers, leads to cancellation of holiday events.

The Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) community is mourning Rabbanit Batsheva Haya Kanievsky, who passed away suddenly on Saturday from heart failure in her Bnei Brak home at the age of 79. At least 50,000 people attended her funeral Saturday night, the Magen David Adom ambulance service estimated.

Her passing, which dominated the front pages of Sunday's ultra-Orthodox newspapers, also led to the cancelation of various events to mark this week's Sukkot holiday, both in Bnei Brak and elsewhere.

By any measure, Rabbanit Kanievsky was a member of the religious aristocracy: She was the oldest daughter of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the leading adjudicator of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic ) Haredi community, and the granddaughter of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who was known as the "Prisoners' Rabbi" for the succor he offered Jews imprisoned by the British during the prestate period. She was also the wife of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, another leading figure in the Lithuanian community.

But in a community in which leadership is considered a totally male purview, the charismatic Rabbanit Kanievsky, who was neither an intellectual nor a feminist, carved out a unique role for herself, drawing tens of thousands of women who came to her seeking wisdom and advice.

More than just a rabbanit - that is, the wife of a rabbi - many dubbed her the "Admorit," using the feminine form of Admor, a title of honor usually reserved for Hasidic leaders.

Both she and her husband would receive the public in the afternoons - he seeing the men in the library, she the women in their modest bedroom - and would accept kvitlach, notes asking them to remember the petitioner in their prayers, although this is a tradition more rooted in the Hasidic community.

Her reputation as a tzadeket (righteous woman ) manifested itself in various ways, such as the trail of people who would accompany her to synagogue when she prayed, and the eagerly sought folk remedies she would distribute, including the etrog (citron ) jelly she would prepare after Sukkot, made from etrogs used by her husband and other leading rabbis. Some believe that consuming etrog jelly will ease the difficulties of pregnancy and birth.

At least one baby girl born on Sunday has already been given her name, and one can safely predict that the Population Registry's computers will be recording many more girls named Batsheva or Batsheva Haya in the near future.