Some 250,000 people mourned the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv at his Jerusalem funeral on Wednesday night, according to police estimates.
Elyashiv, the leading rabbi of the Ashkenazi non-hassidic haredi community, died on Wednesday afternoon, age 102, at the capital’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
The funeral procession set out from the rabbi's residence in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood and made its way to Har Hamenuchot cmetary in Givat Shaul.
In accordance with Elyashiv’s wishes, eulogies were not given during the funeral procession and ceremony, but psalms were recited by the mourners.
Elyashiv, the guiding force behind the haredi political parties, had been suffering from congestive heart failure and was hospitalized since February in critical condition.
Tributes for the man known as the preeminent rabbi of the generation flooded in, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressing great sorrow at Elyashiv’s death.
“In his rulings, Rabbi Elyashiv made a deep impression on the ultra-Orthodox world and on the entire Jewish people,” the prime minister said in a statement to the press. “In his teachings, he outlined a path for many, who drew their strength from his wisdom and his sharp thinking.
Rabbi Elyashiv’s way was to love the Torah and humanity, to be self-effacing and to maintain the sanctity of life.
“Today, the Jewish people have lost a sharp and incisive rabbi, a wise man of great stature, an emissary who was faithful to the values of the Torah and who gave to others.
We mourn his passing,” Netanyahu said.
Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich sent her condolences to MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev, who represent the non-hassidic, “Lithuanian” faction (Degel Hatorah) of United Torah Judaism in the Knesset, and expressed “deep pain at the passing of their spiritual leader... despite the huge differences between him and the community he led and broader Israeli society.”
Gafni said that the leader of this generation “has been taken from us, on whom the entire [Jewish] people leaned on.”
“His entirety was Torah and fear of Heaven, and concern for the entire Jewish people and the individual in distress,” Gafni said. “His house was a source of strength for the people who benefited from the advice and wisdom which flowed from his greatness.”
UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks also commented on Elyashiv’s death.
“We deeply mourn the passing of one of the greatest Talmudic and halachic authorities of our age, a man widely admired for his wisdom and erudition, and consulted by Jewish communities throughout the world. He was a Torah giant of our time,” Sacks said in a statement.
Elyashiv had been in the cardiac intensive care unit of the Jesselson Heart Center in Shaare Zedek under the supervision of cardiology branch head Prof. Dan Tzivoni, as well as his personal physician.
The medical center’s 10th floor is dedicated to cardiac care, from diagnosis and treatment to prevention and rehabilitation.
Thus the large foyer managed to accommodate the rabbi’s family members who came to pray for him, consult with the medical staff and “stand guard.” But police were needed to keep out curious onlookers and non-relatives, who reached the main fourthfloor lobby.
Only months ago, Elyashiv – who lived in a modest Mea She’arim apartment – underwent the insertion of a supportive stent in his aorta because of a leak.
During previous hospitalizations, surgery to implant a ventricular support device to strengthen the pumping of his own heart was ruled out because of Elyashiv’s age and condition.
Elyashiv, an only child, was born in Siauliai (Shavel in Yiddish), Lithuania and came to Mandatory Palestine in 1922 when he was 12-years-old. His wife, Sheina Chaya (a daughter of the famed Rabbi Aryeh Levin), died in 1994, and five of their 12 children have also died; his surviving children are in their 70s and even older.
Elyashiv was the spiritual leader of the “Lithuanian” Degel Hatorah political party, which, together with the hassidic Agudat Yisrael party, make up the United Torah Judaism faction in the Knesset. As the leading figure in Lithuanian haredi Jewry, Elyashiv also wielded huge influence over the outlook and stance of the community toward contemporary issues within Israeli society.
He was widely seen as having maintained the deeply conservative path established by Degel Hatorah founder Rabbi Elazar Shach, who split from Agudat Yisrael in the late 1980s, largely opposing haredi accommodation with Israeli society on key issues such as national service and integration into the workforce.
In the five months since Elyashiv’s hospitalization, Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, 98, has emerged as the de facto leader because of Elyashiv’s incapacitation.
Shteinman was passed over for leadership by Shach in the 1990s, who anointed Elyashiv as his successor instead.
A power struggle waged during Elyashiv’s hospitalization between Shteinman and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 86. That conflict has been particularly manifest in the battle for control over the Degel Hatorah mouthpiece, Yated Ne’eman, the most influential daily newspaper serving the haredi community.
Shteinman succeeded in having a close associate installed as chairman of the board of directors of the paper’s publishing company, which led to the dismissal of the longstanding director of the paper and of its editor- in-chief, both appointed by Shach.
Although this coup was fiercely resisted by the old guard and Auerbach, the revolution was completed when the newspaper, under the new management, published a letter from Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, perhaps the third-most senior rabbi of the non-hassidic stream, and son-in-law of Elyashiv, declaring Shteinman to be the new leader of the Lithuanian community.
“The leadership of the generation is passed on today to our master the revered Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, whose every deed is for the sake of heaven, and we have now merited to put upon him the leadership of the Yated Ne’eman newspaper,” Kanievsky wrote.
Auerbach’s loyalists called on the community to cancel their subscriptions to the paper and established HaPeles last week, a new daily meant to compete with Yated.
For more JPost exclusive photos of Rabbi Elyashiv's funeral on Facebook, click here.