An outpouring of grief flowed from the haredi world Wednesday night and Thursday
following the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the foremost spiritual
leader of the community.
More than 250,000 people attended the rabbi’s
funeral procession on Wednesday night, coming from across the country to pay
their final respects. Men, women and children flocked to Jerusalem, expressing
deep emotion for the departed leader.
“Rabbi Elyashiv was a spiritual
leader and a patriarchal figure for the community, not only the ‘Lithuanian’
[non-hassidic] stream but the whole of the haredi world including the hassidim as
well,” said Yisrael Cohen, a haredi journalist for the Kikar Shabbat
website. “This is why there was such deep emotion on display last night,
because the community is truly grieved.”
The sheer mass of mourners meant
that the procession, which started on foot from Elyashiv’s home in Mea She’arim
at 10:30 p.m., took till 2 a.m. to reach the Har Hamenuhot
Although Elyashiv had asked that eulogies not be said at his
funeral, his son-in-law and prominent haredi leader Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein
spoke briefly at the beginning of the procession.
“Our beloved father,”
he said, “we request forgiveness from you, recommend the good for us in heaven
and that the Jewish people be judged favorably.”
Rabbi Aharon Leib
Shteineman, who has inherited Elyashiv’s status as the leader of the
non-hassidic haredi world, spoke before the funeral, saying “the generation’s
leader is no longer.” Shteinman tore his clothes in a sign of mourning usually
performed only by close relatives.
“He had all the most beloved things of
the world and he has taken them with him,” Shteineman said, quoting a passage
from the Talmud about the death of one of the sages.
Yated Ne’eman, the
influential haredi daily newspaper, printed the biblical verse, “Father, father!
Israel’s chariots and horsemen” on its front page, a citation from Kings II
uttered by the prophet Elisha upon witnessing the passing of his predecessor,
the prophet Elijah.
“The crown of our heads has fallen,” the paper
“Torah was his entire life; he toiled in it for more than 100
years without limit or measure. He bore on his shoulders this
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Yisrael Cohen said that
despite the tremendous grief felt by the ultra-Orthodox community, it remains
unclear whether or not there will be a weakening of the leadership following
“Rabbi Elyashiv was accepted immediately following
the passing of Rabbi Shach [the previous rabbinic leader of the haredi
community] and so he was automatically a consensus figure. He had the last word
in all matters and people accepted his authority,” Cohen said.
this has not been the case with Rabbi Shteinman, Cohen explained, time will tell
and it may be that the community coalesces around him and accepts him as it has
accepted others before him.
Shteinman has fought something of a
leadership battle during Elyashiv’s six-month hospitalization before his death
with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, another leading haredi rabbi.
nevertheless enjoys the support of some of the other leading rabbinical figures
including Rabbi Haim Kanievsky and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz.
Shteinman is a different type of person with different qualities, and so his
leadership may be different but he could well prove to be a great leader as
well,” Cohen said.
“He is more active than Rabbi Elyashiv was, who
preferred to study and address questions of Jewish law, and did not like to
involve himself in public matters unless forced to do so.”
that despite the public perception that there is always only one undisputed
rabbinic leader of the generation, there has often been more than one
outstanding scholar and authority in the haredi community.
time of the Hazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz) there was also the
Brisker Rov (Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik), during Rabbi Shach’s time there
was also the Steipler (Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky), so the community can be
united and strong even when there are several leading scholars,” he added.