About 200,000 people gathered for the funeral service for Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the most senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel and the spiritual leader of the Degel HaTorah Knesset faction, who died on Tuesday morning at the age of 100.
His condition deteriorated earlier on Tuesday, sources close to the rabbi said minutes before news of his passing came to light.
Edelstein was hospitalized last week at Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak after the spiritual leader suffered from shortness of breath.
Edelstein succeeded Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky as the haredi faction's spiritual leader after the latter's death in March 2022. The rabbi also served as rosh yeshiva of the massive Ponovezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, one of the leading Litvish yeshivot in Israel.
The rabbi's funeral service will be held on Tuesday afternoon, with followers, students and family set to gather at the entrance to Ponovezh yeshiva at 3:30 p.m., where the service will begin.
Shas: Edelstein a 'faithful shepherd to his flock'
Shas and its leader Arye Deri released a statement mourning the death of Edelstein, a "remnant of a generation which preached the Torah to thousands and taught generations of geonim, yeshiva heads and students," the faction wrote.
"[He was] a faithful shepherd to his flock," Shas added.
Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi David Lau also mourned Edelstein's death, saying the rabbi "strongly and decidedly led the Jewish People even at his ripe age
"I had the privilege to be near him during my studies at the Ponevezeh yeshiva and through guidance and wise advice in all religious matters until very recently," Lau added.
"The Torah world and the entire Jewish People lost a brilliant scholar and leader...who lived a sacred life," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "I mourn his passing and send my deepest condolences to the family."
עולם התורה, וכמוהו עם ישראל כולו, איבדו היום תלמיד חכם ומנהיג דגול – את נשיא מועצת גדולי התורה וראש הישיבה, הרב גרשון אדלשטיין זצ''ל, שכל חייו היו קודש.אני דואב על לכתו מאיתנו, ואני שולח את תנחומיי העמוקים לבני משפחתו.הרב אדלשטיין תמיד זכר את שנות ילדותו ברוסיה הסובייטית, שבה…— Benjamin Netanyahu - בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) May 30, 2023
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides expressed his condolences on Edelstein's passing, tweeting "Saddened to hear today of the passing of my friend, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, a spiritual leader to hundreds of thousands. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago. It was an honor to have known him. May his memory be a blessing."
Saddened to hear today of the passing of my friend, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, a spiritual leader to hundreds of thousands. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago. It was an honor to have known him. May his memory be a blessing. pic.twitter.com/VIe1CoQ3Jh— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) May 30, 2023
Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister spoke to Degel HaTorah head, coalition member MK Moshe Gafni following his spiritual leader's passing. Gafni, following assessments held with Israel Police, called on all Israelis wishing to attend the funeral to arrive in Bnei Brak as soon as possible due to expected congestion on public transport ahead of the ceremony.
Israel Railways will increase train activity to Bnei Brak on Tuesday afternoon, police said, to help facilitate the orderly arrival of all Israelis to the rabbi's funeral.