Police carried out a massive logistical operation on Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the Bnei Brak funeral of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, a highly influential Haredi leader, who died earlier in the day at the age of 100.
Edelstein, the head of the Bnei Brak-based Ponevezh Yeshiva and a top leader of the United Torah Judaism Ashkenazi Haredi party, died from complications connected to his age following several days in the hospital in Bnei Brak, a statement from the yeshiva said.
Mourners from around the country attended his funeral, which began at around 3:30 p.m. in Bnei Brak.
With multitudes converging on the Tel Aviv suburb, major highways were blocked off and heavy traffic congestion was expected throughout central Israel, particularly Route 4.
Public transportation was also expected to see heavy passenger loads, and hundreds of privately hired buses headed to the central city from all over the country.
Hundreds of officers, Border Police officers and volunteers have been drafted to help with the operation, police said in a statement.
The entrances and exits to Bnei Brak were blocked from midday and numerous streets were closed within the city.
Police asked that mourners refrain from bringing children to the funeral, and reiterated that officers would not allow attendees to climb onto vehicles, trees, balconies or the roofs of buildings.
Members of the public who were not attending the funeral were asked to avoid entering Bnei Brak or using the surrounding roads until the end of the event.
In a statement, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said Edelstein “was a symbol and an example in learning Torah and working until his last day, this is a great sorrow for me personally and for the people of Israel.”
Last year, between half a million and 750,000 people turned out for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. The event caused widespread congestion, with dozens of schools shut and highways closed down ahead of the funeral.
The funeral passed without major injury or unrest, despite minor scuffles breaking out between police and mourners who tried to enter the cemetery.
Kanievsky’s funeral was the biggest such event since an estimated 800,000 people crowded Jerusalem’s streets and alleys for the funeral of Sephardi sage Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in 2013.
In 2015, during the funeral of Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, severe overcrowding led to two people being crushed to death.
And more recently, 45 people died in a crush during the Lag B’Omer festival at Mount Meron in 2021, in the worst civilian disaster in Israeli history.