Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the powerful, much-loved and sometimes controversial spiritual leader of Israel’s Sephardi community, passed away in Jerusalem early Monday afternoon after being hospitalized repeatedly over the last several weeks. He was 93. Ovadia was laid to rest Monday night in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria, with some 800,000 mourners converging from all over the country to attend what became the largest funeral in Israeli history. Despite the huge crowds, far beyond the numbers police had anticipated, there were no reports of serious injuries. Read The Times of Israel’s coverage of an unprecedentedly vast public outpouring of respect and grief.
As the unprecedentedly huge funeral is technically over, we’re signing off and closing the live blog. Thanks for joining our coverage of an extraordinary outpouring of respect and grief that drew more than one in eight Israeli Jews to Ovadia Yosef’s funeral.
Authorities report that one of the many cases of first aid given during Yosef’s funeral involved a pregnant woman, who, attended by paramedics, gave birth to a boy.
About 300 people were given first aid during the event, but no serious injuries were reported.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has been interred alongside his wife, Margalit, after a several-hour journey from the Porat Yosef yeshiva in Geula, where the funeral procession began this afternoon.
Police say that the funeral, the largest in Israeli history, attracted more than 800,000 people, some of whom are now starting to return to their homes. However, many thousands are still lingering around the cemetery.
Channel 2 just showed intense images of the scene at the Sanhedria cemetery, where Border policemen were locked in a physical altercation with several mourners. The cause of the scuffle was not immediately clear.
Police had earlier warned the general public away from the cemetery itself, saying that it was already completely full, but several thousand more mourners were able to enter the cemetery grounds, which led to severe overcrowding.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, issues an official statement:
“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef will long be remembered as one of Judaism’s towering rabbinic figures who has left a lasting legacy for Sephardic Jews in Israel and for Jews all around the world.
“As both a local and national figure, he was a strong and effective advocate for Israel’s Sephardic community, and along with his revered religious scholarship and decisions, his lasting legacy will be Sephardic activism in politics and leadership throughout Israeli society.
“Rabbi Yosef was not without controversy and it is no secret that we disagreed with some of his statements in the past which we considered intemperate and biased.
“We extend our condolences to the people of Israel and to Rabbi Yosef’s family and students.”
Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben Dahan, from the Jewish Home party, tells Channel 2 that he was kicked and verbally abused during the funeral.
After the successful election campaign of the Jewish Home under Naftali Bennett in the last election, and the departure of Shas to the opposition, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef made a series of inflammatory remarks about the Jewish Home and its leadership, relating to their effort to mandate military and national service for all Israelis.
The funeral procession for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has arrived at the Sanhedria cemetery, after an hours-long journey in what police say is the largest funeral in Israeli history.
A huge crowd is still surrounding the van used to transport Yosef’s body, making removing the casket a difficult task, according to footage broadcast on Channel 2.
It took about 3 hours to make the journey from Porat Yosef yeshiva to the cemetery, normally a 5-8 minute drive.
In an odd turn of events, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is remembered and praised by New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio currently serves as public advocate, and, during his two terms as a city councilman, courted the crucial Orthodox Jewish vote in his district of Borough Park.
“Millions of people around the world lost a leader today in Rabbi Chacham Ovadia Yosef. His wisdom, charity and sensitivity were legendary. My thoughts and prayers are with Chacham Ovadia’s family and the millions of mourners around the world,” de Blasio’s office said in a statement.
More than three quarters of a million people are present at the funeral procession for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Ynet News reports.
The cemetery itself is packed with mourners, and it was reportedly announced that the general republic has been asked to refrain from attempting to enter for the actual burial.
The main funeral procession has reached Bar Ilan Street, a major thoroughfare in northern Jerusalem at the end of which is the Sanhedria cemetery, where Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is to be buried next to his wife Margalit, who died in 1994.
The rabbi’s body is being transported in a van, surrounded by many thousands of mourners seeking to get close to the body, causing the procession to proceed at a snail’s pace.
More than 150 people have been administered first aid at the massive funeral for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Magen David Adom reports. Around 15 were hospitalized, but there have been no reports of serious or life-threatening injuries.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says there are more than 700,000 mourners attending what he says is the largest funeral in Israel’s history.
We estimate there are more the 700000 people taking part in the largest of funerals ever in israel. 4000 police officers in and around area
— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) October 7, 2013
The National Archives only a few weeks ago uploaded to YouTube this brief clip, showing Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on the day he became chief Sephardi rabbi in 1973:
Yosef’s legacy ‘will forever be diminished by egregious outbursts of intolerance’ — Reform movement leader
Rabbi Rick Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the main rabbinic body of the American Reform movement, issues a statement on Yosef:
“Rabbi Yosef’s passing is a source of great sadness to the many who revered him and I extend heartfelt condolences to his family. Sadly, his legacy will forever be diminished by egregious outbursts of intolerance toward Reform and Conservative Jews, as well as non-Jews, especially Arabs. His comments ascribing the Holocaust to Jewish sinners also caused many great pain. Love and respect for all Jews and persons of every background are essential Jewish values.”
Haviv Rettig Gur
Around 75 people have received first aid from paramedics at the funeral, Magen David Adom reports, and at least 10 have been hospitalized, none in serious condition.
A wall has collapsed in front of the Porat Yosef yeshiva, Maariv reports. Medics are at the scene, but so far there are no reports of injuries.
Earlier, police warned of the danger of collapsing buildings or structures due to the large crowd.
Channel 2 commentator Amnon Abramovich opines that for all Yosef’s landmark halachic rulings, he will be remembered and is most significant for the one that held that the Israeli government can relinquish territory for peace.
The Shas party’s MKs enabled the implementation of the Oslo peace accords in the mid ’90s by remaining in the Rabin government while they were passed by the Knesset.
Labor MK Isaac Herzog recalls how the late Rabbi Ovadia used to talk with pride about how the lawmaker’s grandfather — Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, a chief rabbi of Israel and of Mandatory Palestine — took Yosef in and treated him like a son when the rabbi first arrived in Israel after having lived in Egypt.
“Over the years, we talked a lot about Jewish law, politics, the state and its social needs,” Herzog writes on his Facebook page. “While we didn’t always agree, I afforded him great respect, both as a teacher of Jewish law and as a very important public leader in Israel.”
The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Vivian Wineman says in a statement: “The passing of the great Torah scholar and spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is a great loss to all Jewry but to the Sephardi world in particular. His scholarship and charisma brought pride to that venerable community and renewed interest in their ancient traditions. Our thoughts are with his family at this saddest of moments, as well as the countless Jewish communities who sought his wisdom.”
Yosef was a revolutionary who ‘restored the dignity of hundreds of thousands who had felt disenfranchised,’ Likud MK says
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin hails Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as one of Israel’s “greatest and most important leaders of the last generations.”
“The revolution brought about by Rabbi Ovadia during his lifetime reached every city and neighborhood in Israel,” Feiglin says. “It extricated tens of thousands from the cycle of hardship and ignorance and ushered them into a world of tradition, mitzva observance, Torah study and prayer. It restored the dignity of hundreds of thousands who had felt disenfranchised, affording them a place of honor, relevance and contribution to society.”
A short clip uploaded by Rav Ovadia’s official YouTube channel from the funeral:
Yosef was “the teacher of the entire Israeli people, of the whole diaspora, not just of one sector,” Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau says during his address to the crowd. Yosef was a “rare combination,” Lau adds, of intelligence coupled with “a huge heart full of love for Israel, which pulsed like a flame burning within him.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are still trying to reach the funeral in Jerusalem, Channel 2 reports. According to the most recent assessments, there are already half a million people attending.
“Extraordinary wisdom, tremendous spiritual leadership and humility are what made the Rabbi Ovadia the greatest of his generation,” Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon writes. He was a great arbiter [of Jewish law] who had a big heart, great humanity and tremendous courage.”
Far-left MK recalls Yosef ruled ‘for the sake of peace, it is permissible to give up on sovereignty in Jerusalem’
Far-left lawmaker Dov Khenin, of the mixed Arab-Jewish Hadash party, posted a scan of an old newspaper article, which quotes the rabbi as ruling that, “for the sake of peace, it is permissible to give up on sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
“The saving of lives supersedes the [notion of] the Entire Land of Israel,” Khenin writes, quoting one of Rabbi Ovadia’s most often-cited rulings. “I express my sympathy to the family and a large community in Israel on the death of one who was for them a revered and loved leader.”
“There are those for whom the day on which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died is a day of catastrophe almost like the day I had when [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was murdered,” Labor MK Merav Michaeli posts on her Facebook profile. Many people felt a real sense of orphanhood today, she adds, and while she does not belong to this group, “it is impossible to ignore the enormous role Rabbi Ovadia fulfilled in Israel society, a part of it problematic but a part of it very important.”
Every single one of us has his or her private rabbi and is broken when he or she passes away, the self-described feminist lawmaker writes. “This is an opportunity for solidarity – not for agreement, but for real consoling between sisters and brothers.”
United Hatzalah, the emergency medical response organization operating at the funeral, reports that over 40 people have already received first aid. The group says it has dispatched some 350 medical professionals, 9 ambulances and 150 first aid motorcycles to the area and has set up a field clinic to treat injuries.
A large black van has emerged from the Porat Yosef yeshiva compound, carrying the body of Ovadia Yosef. The vehicle is completely surrounded by the crowd, who keep trying to get close to the body despite Border Police attempts to keep them away, television images show.
The van is only able to advance very slowly and carefully.
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ovadia Yosef’s son, who just a few months ago was elected to the post of Sephardi chief rabbi, a position once held by his father, is delivering an emotional address to the assembled crowds.
“My father, my father,” he cries repeatedly, comparing Yosef’s death to the destruction of the Second Temple. “We must continue on his path,” he adds. “The world of yesterday won’t be tomorrow. There was no one like hi, and there won’t anyone like him in the future,” he added.
Police now estimate there are some 400,000 mourners in attendance, with more arriving every minute. Police Commander Yohanon Danino, in a televised interview, pleads with further mourners to stay away, and warns that “the funeral could end in a tragedy” because of the vast crowds.
Police crowd control reinforcements are themselves stuck in the crowd, he adds. “We see masses converging on the yeshiva from where the funeral procession is set to leave… Our request, our demand, for the sake of the rabbi’s honor, we must do everything we can to avoid loss of life.”
“We see huge crowds crowding the rooftops, some of them hanging from antennas… we are doing what we can to bring them down,” he adds.
“There is real danger of loss of life,” Danino says, but “we have to let the procession pass as it must. Our central role is to look out for the hundreds of thousands who have arrived… and ensure they return to their homes in peace.”
“A few hours ago I went to the hospital to say goodbye to my teacher, my rabbi, my friend Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” President Shimon Peres relates in an official statement. “It was a difficult time. Tears filled my eyes and my throat was choked with emotion. I held his hand which was still warm and kissed his forehead. When I pressed his hand I felt I was touching history and when I kissed his head it was as though I kissed the very greatness of Israel,” he added.
“Immediately after the fall of the Second Temple there were two greats of the Torah — Yohanan ben Zakai and Yehuda Hanasi,” Peres continues, adding, “I mention them because they came to the conclusion that for the Jewish people to survive we need to study. Rabbi Yosef symbolized that and acted upon it. He was simply a great man. His greatness wasn’t measured but rather it was felt as a spiritual wind in every corner, lighting up the darkness in unexpected places. When I met him I sensed he was a great man with an unbelievable memory and the wisdom to share his knowledge with others. His contribution was his love for Israel and he solved problems no one else could solve using his wisdom and spirituality.”
Peres, who had known Yosef for decades, was among the last to visit the rabbi’s hospital bed earlier in the day, before his passing.
Channel 2 reports that “tens of thousands” of mourners are on their way to Jerusalem to attend the funeral, but have temporarily blocked the entrance to the city as, with dusk approaching, they stopped their vehicles en masse in order to recite their afternoon prayers.
The funeral procession for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is about to begin. Mourners are to accompany the body from the Porat Yosef yeshiva in Geula to the Sanhedria cemetary, through streets closed to vehicles by security forces.
Some 300,000 people are estimated to be in attendance, according to a Maariv report.
Yosef was ‘impressive and incredibly intelligent,’ provided ‘unique leadership’ — Defense Minister Ya’alon
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was an “impressive and incredibly intelligent” man who was very involved in what was happening in Israel and beyond, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says, adding that Yosef was “a great Torah and law scholar” who was “careful to listen to different opinions before formulating his position, and did that with great openness and patience.”
“The rabbi displayed at meetings a true concern for Israel, [and] the security and strength of Israeli society in all its forms,” Ya’alon notes. Yosef was “extremely pragmatic” and provided a “unique leadership derived from his wisdom, greatness in Torah and his involvement in various parts of society.”
A Channel 2 reporter is speculating that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral will prove to be the largest funeral procession ever seen in Israel. TV footage showed an unconscious man being carried out through the tightly packed crowd.
Jewish Agency chair Sharansky says, ‘Entire Jewish communities returned to Israel thanks to Rav Ovadia’s rulings’
“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was one of the greatest rabbinic authorities who built the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel,” Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky says in a statement.
“Entire Jewish communities returned to Israel thanks to Rav Ovadia’s rulings,” Sharansky noted, adding that Yosef’s “rulings on conversion reflected first and foremost the importance of building the nation in an era of the in-gathering of exiles. May his memory be a blessing.”
A police official was just on Channel 2, explaining that authorities are concerned that, due to the extremely heavy crowds expected to arrive for the funeral, some of the buildings in the neighborhood may collapse from the weight.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to arrive, he said, and many are already crowding the rooftops of old buildings in the area around Sanhedria.
Channel 2 is broadcasting a feed from the area outside the Porat Yosef yeshiva, which is absolutely packed with mourners, many of whom are pushing against the border policemen assigned to crowd control duty.
“Rav Ovadia Yosef was a spiritual leader to hundreds of thousands, if not more, a great learner [of Torah] and a wise and learned man, a father to an impressive family and an important contributor to the society and politics of the state of Israel,” US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro says in a statement released in Hebrew.
“Today in Jerusalem and all across Israel, his supporters and followers mourn him,” he added. “To them, and first and foremost to his beloved family, I send my condolences. May his memory be blessed.”
The Jerusalem municipality says that a large force of police officers, border police, traffic police and volunteers has been mustered to oversee security at Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral.
The funeral is slated to begin at 6 p.m. at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Geula neighborhood and the mourners will proceed on foot to the Sanhedria cemetery. The streets around the cemetery will be closed to car and bus traffic and the police have instructed the public not to arrive in private vehicles to the site.
The following roads will be closed: Shmuel Hanavi, Eshkol, Golda Meir, Bar Ilan, Yirmiyahu, Malchei Yisrael and Yehezkel.
Egged has arranged for public buses to leave from the parking lot of the International Convention Center, near the Central Bus Station, to a parking area in Sanhedria near the proceedings.
The city opened a special hotline for public queries concerning street closures, transportation and parking: 1-700-553-100.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
Your support through The Times of Israel Community helps us continue to keep readers across the world properly informed during this tumultuous time. Have you appreciated our coverage in past months? If so, please join the ToI Community today.
~ Carrie Keller-Lynn, Political Correspondent
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel