Tens of thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem Sunday evening to take part in a memorial for the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, marking the end of the traditional seven-day shiva mourning period. Organizers put the number of participants at 100,000. Yosef died last Monday, aged 93.
One of Yosef’s son, Rabbi David Yosef, used the occasion to declare that, “with God’s help,” his father’s ostensible last wish — that legislation to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF — would be thwarted. “We’ll protect the Torah world,” David Yosef told the gathering. “The draft law will be cancelled.”
The Yosef family had demanded the bill be stopped last week, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a condolence call.
Police closed roads in certain neighborhoods of the capital and deployed thousands of officers, Border Policemen and security personnel to secure theSunday night event. Over 30 people were administered medical treatment in the course of the evening.
From mid-morning Sunday, police began closing off streets around the Sanhedria cemetery — where Yosef is buried — as well as roads leading to the adjacent Bar-Ilan Junction. The cemetery itself was closed to the public at 2 p.m.
Ahead of the event, activists distributed among the crowd thousands of candles with the Shas party’s logo, as well as pictures of Yosef.
The memorial ceremony was led by a gathering of Shas party leaders and prominent rabbis, including party chief Aryeh Deri; former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar; and another of Yosef’s sons, current Sephardi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau told the assembled multitudes that “Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was a unique figure, one to be remembered for generations.”
“His holy sons recited the Kaddish in front of a million people. He left a huge void,” said former chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, referring to the huge turnout at Yosef’s funeral.
The funeral, on Monday last week, drew, according to police estimates, over 800,000 people, making it the largest funeral in the country’s history; others estimated the crowd at perhaps half that number however. The massive crowd, which gathered from all over the country, shut down part of the city and the arriving vehicles and buses temporarily blocked the main entrance to Jerusalem.
Yosef, a former chief rabbi regarded as the leading Sephardic halachic authority of the generation and the spiritual mentor of Shas, died on Monday aged, 93.
Police warned Sunday that private vehicles would not be granted access to the memorial, and advised those planning to attend to make use of a network of buses arranged for their benefit. Police also appealed to the public not to gather on rooftops, where there was a serious danger that inadequate safety railings could collapse.
At the funeral last week, hundreds of people crowded onto roofs and balconies to get a better view of the proceedings. Emergency services treated around 300 people during the hours-long procession; due to the difficulty in moving Yosef’s funeral vehicle through the throngs of people, it took much longer than initially planned. No serious injuries were reported.
A police hotline, providing traffic updates and information on which roads are closed, began operating, at 1-700-553-100.