The funeral of a revered ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbi drew huge crowds of mourners to a religious suburb of Tel Aviv on Sunday, with police expecting hundreds of thousands of people to attend.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leading authority on Jewish law, died on Friday at the age of 94 in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodoxcity near Israel’s commercial capital.
Police closed off highways around Bnei Brak to regular traffic hours before the funeral to accommodate fleets of buses ferrying mourners to the city.
A senior police officer said that while some Israeli media predicted that up to one million people would flock to the funeral, police had deployed in accordance with the force’s own estimate that crowds would be about half of that.
Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service was also on high alert, with memories still fresh of a stampede last May at a crowded Jewish religious festival in northern Israel in which 45 people were crushed to death.
In Bnei Brak, large numbers of religious men, wearing traditional black hats and suits, stood shoulder-to-shoulder in streets leading to the cemetery, as other residents squeezed onto nearby balconies.
Israel’s Channel 13 TV put the number of mourners at 750 000, without citing a source for the figure.
Kanievsky, born in what is now Belarus, made headlines in Israel at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for defying government authorities and saying that ultra-Orthodox schools must remain open.
He later relented, saying preservation of human life outweighed traditional practices.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12% of Israel’s population of 9.4 million.