Hundreds of thousands of mourners escorted Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leader who died Wednesday at age 102, to his burial in Jerusalem late Wednesday night. He was buried next to his wife in the Givat Shaul cemetery after his body was taken to his synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood one final time.
Elyashiv, who died at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the capital after several bouts of illness over the past few months, was regarded by hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world to be the most respected living expert on Jewish law and religious practice.
The funeral procession was so crowded that nearly 100 people required medical treatment for light injuries suffered from the heat and the jostling of the throngs.
Police blocked off roads and closed them to traffic so supporters and officials could attend the funeral, which drew hundreds of thousands, followed by a procession.
Numerous officials and local leaders were in attendance, and the crowd recited prayers and biblical verses. Although Elyashiv had asked not to be eulogized, according to YNet, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman read psalms and other rabbis eulogized him.
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach — a possible successor to Elyashiv — tore a piece of his clothing in a traditional symbol of mourning and called Elyashiv “the pinnacle of creation and glory.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed great sorrow at the rabbi’s passing. “Through his halachic decisions, Rabbi Elyashiv left a deep imprint on the Haredi world and the entire Jewish people,” he said. ”The rabbi’s ways were ways of love for Torah and love for man, modesty and the preservation of the sanctity of life. The Jewish people today lost a great rabbi, a clear and sharp halachic authority, an exceedingly wise man, a a public servant who trustfully represented the values of Torah, who cared for the other.”
President Shimon Peres praised Rabbi Elyashiv as a great leader and great halachist, “who left an imprint on Judaism, and contributed to bridging the different shades of the Jewish people. He was modest and far-sighted, and a scholar.”
Inside the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox world, Elyashiv represented a hardline faction opposed to almost any encroaching of modernity into the insular community. This faction is identified with the city of Jerusalem, while its rivals, relative pragmatists, are largely grouped in Israel’s second ultra-Orthodox center in the city of Bnei Brak.
It was not immediately clear who would succeed Elyashiv or how his death would affect the ultra-Orthodox, an estimated 10 percent of the country’s 8 million people.
Matti Friedman contributed to this report.