Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky buried, thousands break into cemetery

Officials concerned it could develop into a second Meron disaster • Clashes between police and some attendees at the funeral • Dozens already injured

 Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at the cemetery in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 20, 2022.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at the cemetery in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 20, 2022.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky's body was buried on Sunday afternoon at his funeral, where thousands of people broke into the cemetery during the burial. Some attendees climbed up the fence at the entrance of the cemetery, however, police maintained that everything was under control, Israeli media reported.

Earlier, police stated that they will not allow any attendees to visit the cemetery at the end of the funeral in order to prevent any more possible injuries, Ynet reported.

The exact number of attendees is unknown. While estimates range from 350,000 to around 1 million, the latter of which would make it the largest funeral in Israeli history, police have not yet figured out the exact number, Walla reported.

At least 37 attendees of Kanievsky's funeral were injured in various incidents in Bnei Brak, according to Israeli media. All were treated on the spot by MDA staff, though 15 others were evacuated to nearby hospitals.

A three-year-old boy has been reported missing for the last hour at Kanievsky's funeral procession, and the public has been asked to help find the child.

Officials expressed concerns that the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky could end in disaster, as crowds began to descend on Bnei Brak ahead of the funeral began at 12:00 p.m. on Sunday. 

The livestream of the funeral can be viewed below:

On Saturday night, thousands of people crowded near Kanievsky's home and attempted to break through police barriers. The Bnei Brak Municipality announced on Saturday night that the rabbi's home was closed to the public and called on the public to refrain from arriving at the area. The following afternoon, the municipality estimated that there were about 750,000 people on the streets of Bnei Brak even before the opening of the funeral procession.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was stuck for over an hour at Kanievsky's home after coming to pay respects due to the intense crowding in the area.

"Rabbi Kanievsky's death is a great loss to the Jewish people," said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. "His name will be remembered as an important part of Torah history of the people of Israel.

"The funeral will be a mass event, and we must make sure that it does not end in a mass disaster. The trauma of the Meron disaster is still fresh in all of us, this tragedy must not be repeated. I ask everyone for personal responsibility, to look after the children in particular," Bennett continued.

The Forum of Families of Meron Victims called on Israel Police and the hundreds of thousands of expected participants to do everything possible in order to avoid a "Meron 2" disaster. "Hopefully the lessons from the Meron disaster will be applied and every participant will be able to return home safely. A million people at a funeral in an area of just one kilometer is a real danger to lives," said the Forum.

Rabbi Sariel Rosenberg, Rabbi Yehuda Silman, Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein and Rabbi Moshe Shaul Klein published a letter on Saturday night, calling on Israelis not to arrive at the rabbi's house or push to get near the rabbi's body, stressing that as long as they are walking in some part of the procession they are considered as participating in the funeral procession.

Crowds arrive for Rabbi Kanievsky's funeral. (credit: RICKY LEIBOWITZ)Crowds arrive for Rabbi Kanievsky's funeral. (credit: RICKY LEIBOWITZ)

The rabbis stressed that Kanievsky was very careful concerning the commandment "and you shall guard yourselves very well," saying that it would be inconceivable that at his funeral people would be pushed and put in danger.

The cost of Rabbi Kanievsky's funeral will reportedly cost the Israeli economy NIS 1.5 billion, according to Mako, citing an analysis conducted by the business information company COFACE BDI.  

Tehila Yanai, co-CEO of COFACE BDI, explains that this is a loss of GDP, as a result of "closing" Gush Dan following the funeral.

Bennett held a situational assessment ahead of Sunday's funeral with police chief Kobi Shabtai, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev and other defense establishment representatives. Reports suggest the police are concerned that the event could take a drastic turn for the worst, with Maariv police sources comparing the event to a potential Meron disaster.

The IDF will aid police, specifically in search and rescue efforts, if the funeral escalates into a life-threatening event, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said on Saturday evening. The Israeli military also told personnel to limit travel to bases in central Israel such as the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The Ramat Gan Stadium will be turned into a helicopter landing pad for evacuations if necessary. The IDF's 669 rescue unit will be on alert and ready to help with evacuations due to the difficulties ambulances will face traveling due to the crowding.

Due to extreme crowding at the Jerusalem Navon station on Saturday night, Israel Railways asked those wishing to arrive in Bnei Brak to avoid arriving at the station. From 12:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, Israel Railways announced it would be running a special line from the Jerusalem Navon station to the Bnei Brak station without any stops in between. Ushers will work to ensure that stations are not overcrowded and will only let people in as platforms are cleared.

Earlier on Saturday, Shabtai presented an operational plan drawn up by Israel Police to Bar Lev in efforts to control the event, which the public security minister referred to as an "event of unprecedented proportions." It was decided that Israel Police will allocate some 3,000 officers to secure the funeral.

Main highways in central Israel, as well as entrance to and exit from Bnei Brak, will be blocked throughout Sunday as hundreds of thousands will flock to attend Kanievsky's funeral in the Ponevezh community cemetery in the city. However, police will restrict entry to the cemetery to approximately 500 people, according to Haaretz. Checkpoints have been set up near the cemetery in order to reduce the number of people approaching the area. 

Heavy traffic is expected on Highway 1 starting from Saturday evening, as many Jerusalem residents are set to make the journey west to central Israel. Highway 4, which runs along the entire Gush Dan region, will be partially closed from 6:00 a.m. local time, with the blocked section of the highway used by police as a bus terminal for Israelis entering and leaving Bnei Brak. Traffic is also expected to be disrupted on Highways 2, 5 and 6 throughout Sunday.

The number of attendees is expected to be similar to that of the funeral of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in 2013, when up to 850,000 Israelis attended the funeral of Shas Party's spiritual leader, according to police estimates.

Police representatives held assessments with Kanievsky's family at the rabbi's home in Bnei Brak on Saturday evening. Hundreds of young haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men surrounded the house as police entered. United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MK Moshe Gafni was also seen making his way to the rabbi's house.

The revered rabbi, considered to be the leader of his generation in haredi society, died at 94 on Friday after failed resuscitation attempts by United Hatzalah medics who rushed to the scene after receiving reports of Kanievsky's collapse.

Kanievsky was "the only great man of the Land of Israel," according to Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, a senior haredi leader and widely speculated to be Kanievsky's successor.

Road closures are also set to affect Ben-Gurion Airport and Sheba Medical Center. Officials at the Tel Hashomer medical complex have reportedly begun drawing emergency plans for patients and staff in the scenario that the hospital will be besieged by the masses attending rabbi Kanievsky's funeral.

Police officials have made a request to the Israeli public to avoid driving to the Gush Dan region except those seeking to attend the funeral. "This is a national event, one of the biggest the State of Israel will experience," the police chief said. "Israel Police's aim is to ensure the funeral runs smoothly and that every Israeli that wishes to pay respect to the rabbi can do so safely," Shabtai added.

Despite Jewish law stating it is customary to bury the dead on the day they die, leading rabbis decided it was best to hold Kanievsky's funeral on Sunday, following consultations.