Hundreds of thousands of mourners attended the Tuesday funeral of the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman, who died earlier in the day.
Police closed several major roads near the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak ahead of the funeral for the rabbi, who was 104 years old. The procession began at noon at his Bnei Brak residence at 5 Hazon Ish Street.
There were no eulogies, as requested by Steinman in his will. The will, which was read at the ceremony by a student, also saw the rabbi ask his followers not to name their descendants after him or publicize any articles about him in the newspaper.
“Ten people at my funeral would be enough,” he wrote in the document.
Estimates on the number of funeral-goers varied, with Israel Radio reporting police were expecting some 600,000 to arrive over the course of the afternoon.
Magen David Adom said it had treated some 70 people for light injuries, including fainting, feeling unwell and minor injuries due to the crowd.
— מאיר גל (@meir_gal) December 12, 2017
By mid-morning, thousands of people had already gathered outside the late rabbi’s home.
In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mourned the spiritual leader, hailing his “true love” of the Jewish people.
“With the death of Rav Steinman, the Jewish people lost a central beacon of spirituality, heritage and ethics,” Netanyahu said. Steinman “was an important link in the chain of Torah which spans millennia. His memory will forever remain in the pages of our nation’s heritage.”
Earlier, President Reuven Rivlin said Steinman was “a giant of Torah and a guide who instructed the lives of thousands upon thousands,” and noted that “despite his firm views, he knew how to present his opinions in a gentle way, with a deep love for every Jew. His wisdom was second only to his humility.”
From 10 a.m., police started closing roads in and out of the mostly ultra-Orthodox city, including routes 1, 4, 5 and 20 near the city and the entire length of Highway 471.
Police said in a statement that private vehicles will not be given access to the funeral and urged mourners to use public transportation.
Steinman had been considered the top leader of the community since the 2012 death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv. He was also the spiritual leader of the Degel Hatorah faction of the United Torah Judaism political party.
Born in 1913 in Belarus, he studied there and in Switzerland before emigrating to British-mandate Palestine in 1945.
He taught at the leading Talmudic schools in Bnei Brak, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox city outside Tel Aviv where he also lived.
His influence grew in the 1980s when he became part of the rabbinical committee running Degel Hatorah, a component of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) alliance, whose six lawmakers are members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.
Steinman was famous for eschewing wealth and the trappings of power. He held almost no formal positions in ultra-Orthodox institutions and lived out his days in a modest apartment.
Steinman arrived at the Maayanei Hayeshua medical center on November 20 for treatment and a medical checkup but doctors decided to keep him hospitalized. Since then he remained in the center and his condition had become progressively worse.
Steinman had been hospitalized multiple times in recent months amid growing concerns for his health.
He died around 8 a.m. Tuesday from heart failure after resuscitation efforts failed, according to hospital officials.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews account for some 10 percent of Israel’s eight million population.