Despite Corona restrictions, thousands attend funerals of two eminent rabbis

Masses came to the second funeral despite the instructions of haredi leaders to obey the health guidelines.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Thousands attended the funerals of two Torah giants who died within hours of each other Sunday, despite efforts made to discourage mourners from coming due to the lockdown in force to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Both Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik (99) and Rabbi Yitzchok Scheiner (98) died of Covid-19. Soloveitchik was infected in October, hospitalized soon after and put on a ventilator. According to Yeshiva World News, he was released in early December when his family set up an ICU unit at home for him, where he eventually passed away Sunday morning.

Scheiner contracted the virus only a week ago, said the religious news site, 17 days after having received the first dose of the vaccine. His condition suddenly deteriorated Sunday morning and he was rushed to the hospital, where he died several hours later.

Both men headed prestigious centers of Torah study in Jerusalem, and as such tens of thousands of followers would normally come to their funerals. Thousands still came to listen to the eulogies for Rabbi Soloveitchik, despite police efforts to limit the numbers. Kan News reported that about 20 buses full of mourners were turned back, but a film of the event showed masses of men crowded in the streets, with only a minority wearing masks.

According to Israel Hayom, after seeing the crowds attending the funeral for his colleague, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the two acknowledged leaders of the haredi world, announced that he would not attend the service for Rabbi Scheiner due to the health restrictions in force. Despite being related to him by marriage and being a close friend, he would say his eulogy over the phone.

The Kikar HaShabbat news site reported that he spoke from Scheiner’s Kaminetz Yeshiva study hall along with several other rabbis. Pictures of the hall showed just a few dozen well-masked attendees, and an announcement was made that both Edelstein and his co-leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, had said that the greatest honor given to the deceased would be if the mourners would keep to the health guidelines so that the event should not become a desecration of God’s name.

Rabbi Scheiner himself had written a letter about a month ago against mass gatherings during the pandemic, which was publicized by the Ministry of Health before the funeral.

Although it is a hallmark of the ultra-Orthodox world that its members follow the dictates of their rabbinic leaders, even when it means breaking secular law, thousands of mourners still crowded the streets around the yeshiva and accompanied the body at least partway to the burial site in the Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem. The vast majority seemed to ignore the injunction to wear masks in public places.

Late Sunday night, the funeral of another Torah great took place in Jerusalem that stood in sharp contrast to the earlier services. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski (90), an American scion of the Bobover and Chernobyl hasidic sects, died a week after coming down with Covid-19. He instructed his family that there were to be no eulogies,. Only several dozen mourners, all masked, attended the service.

Twerski was a renowned psychiatrist as well as a religious scholar who wrote more than 60 books, many of them on issues of self-esteem. He was also one of the first major religious figures to talk about domestic abuse and addictions in the Orthodox community, helping thousands of people both in person and through his writings.

A fan of the Charlie Brown cartoons, he even wrote two books with its creator Charles Schulz.