Close to a million attend funeral of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, ‘giant of the spirit’

Bnei Brak municipality estimates 750,000 lined the streets ahead of the funeral. Dozens were hurt.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis thronged to Bnei Brak to pay their last respects to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the world’s foremost Torah scholar and leader of of Israel’s non-Hasidic Lithuanian Orthodox community.

According to the Bnei Brak municipality, an estimated 750,000 people had filled the streets before the funeral procession began.

Scuffles broke out at the entrance to the Zichron Meir cemetery when police tried to restrict access to 500 people for safety reasons. Hebrew media reports said hundreds of people managed to break through police barriers.

Previously, Bnei Brak’s largest funeral was for Rabbi Eliezer Shach, which was attended by an estimated 400,000 in 2001.

The largest funeral in Israeli history was in 2011 when an estimated 850,000 paid their respects to former Chief Sefardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem.

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Police closed parts of several key highways and roads to traffic and asked people not to drive in the Greater Tel Aviv area unless they were going to the funeral. Traffic is expected to return to normal later in the evening.

The city of Bnei Brak, adjacent to Tel Aviv, is about seven sq. km in siz, and has a population of 180,000, raising fears for the safety of the hundreds of thousands people converging for the funeral. Of special concern were the city’s narrow streets and the possibility of people falling from rooftops.

Authorities stressed that they didn’t want a repeat of the Meron tragedy. Forty-five people were killed and 150 injured in a crush of people celebrating the Lag B’Omer holiday in 2021.

Magen David Adom recommended that pregnant women and people with health conditions stay away from the crowds so that an ambulance could evacuate them quickly if necessary.

Hebrew media reports said 64 people were given first aid and another five were taken to hospitals after fainting or feeling unwell. A three-year-old boy was also reported missing and the public was asked to help find the child.

The Communications Ministry also asked people attending the funeral not to overwhelm the cellular phone system by making unnecessary calls.

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Kan added that 328 kindergartens and 98 schools in the Greater Tel Aviv area switched to remote learning for the day so that students wouldn’t have to fight traffic to and from school.

An analysis conducted by the business information company COFACE BDI cited by the Mako News website assessed that the funeral would cost the Israeli economy 1.5 billion shekels due to the effects of closing down Greater Tel Aviv.

‘Uniquely Jewish moment’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid tribute to Rabbi Kanievsky at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“Many have spoken about his self denial: The simple apartment, the modest and sparing way of life. I saw this with my own eyes when I visited him — the renunciation of the material in favor of the spiritual,” Bennett said.

“The large scale mourning is a uniquely Jewish moment: The cultural heroes of the Torah world are not material giants, they are giants of the spirit. They are people who have dedicated their lives to Torah and mitzvot, to in-depth study and the preservation of tradition,” he added.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu paid his respects to the family before the funeral, only to be stuck for two hours as crowds gathered around the Kanievsky home.

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Following the funeral service, Rabbi Kanievsky was taken from his home to the nearby Zichron Meir cemetery, where he was buried beside his wife, who passed away in 2011. The vehicle carrying the body was accompanied by 200 Border Policemen.

Overall, 3,000 police were deployed and helicopter rescue crews were stationed in nearby Ramat Gan as a precaution.

Rabbi Kanievsky passed away after collapsing in his home on Friday. Paramedics were unable to resuscitate him.

Rabbi Kanievsky was born in 1928, in the then-Polish city of Pinsk, now part of Belarus. His father, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, was known as the “Steipler Gaon.”

The family moved to Holy Land in 1934, making their home in B’nei Brak. His wife, Batsheva Elyashiv, was the daughter of another leading Torah scholar, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Rebbetzin Kanievsky passed away in 2011.

Rabbi Kanievsky is survived by three sons, four daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.