(JTA) — A throng estimated at more than 800,000 filled the streets of Jerusalem for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardic sage and political leader.
Many of the main streets in Jerusalem were closed for Monday’s funeral, which was being called by local media the largest in Israeli history.
The mourners — equal to about 10 percent of the country’s population — crowded a portion of the city’s northern district as loudspeakers broadcast the proceedings to others far from the ceremony.
The funeral for Yosef, the 93-year-old former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, began several hours after his death in a Jerusalem hospital. A van carrying his body could barely inch forward due to the swarms of mourners while bringing him to the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Geula neighborhood and then to the Sanhedria cemetery, where he was buried next to his wife, who died two decades ago.
Some 300 people required medical attention during the funeral and procession, which lasted several hours.
After a series of penitential prayers, Yosef was eulogized by a string of leading haredi Orthodox rabbis, including his son, the current Sephardi chief rabbi, Yitzchak Yosef, as well as former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
Aryeh Deri, head of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party founded by Yosef in 1984, also delivered a eulogy.
“Who will unite us all?” Deri said, crying. “Who will lead us, rabbi? You left us in our hardest hour.”
Yosef, a native of Baghdad, served as Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi from 1973 to 1983, subsequently founding Shas and serving as its spiritual leader. He was revered among Sephardi and haredi Orthodox Israelis as a sage of Jewish law, and was known more broadly for his sometimes controversial political stances.
Israel’s secular leadership also paid its respects to Yosef on Monday.
President Shimon Peres called him “a great man with an unbelievable memory and the wisdom to share his knowledge with others.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Yosef was “a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a teacher for tens of thousands.”
“”He worked greatly to enhance Jewish heritage and at the same time, his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life in the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “He was imbued with love of the Torah and the people.”
On Tuesday morning, hundreds of people visited an open mourning tent erected outside Yosef’s home in the Har Nof neighbordood of Jerusalem. Thousands are expected to visit each day throughout the seven-day mourning period.