Some 800,000 people - 10% of Israel's population - were attending the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Monday night in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yosef, 93, passed away earlier in the day. The crowd, observers said, consisted of a cross-section of Israelis, from hareidi to Religious Zionist to secular. Police raised their estimate of the numbers of funeral attendees as the funeral slowly made its way from the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Geula neighborhood, where eulogies were held, to the cemetery in the Sanhedria neighborhood, where Rabbi Yosef will be interred.
Radio Kol Berama, a radio station associated with Shas, said that there were no fewer than a million people at the funeral. Police said late Monday that it was the largest funeral in Israel's history.
Dozens of speakers, representing the Sephardic, Ashkenanzic, and Hassidic Torah communities eulogized the Rabbi Yosef. Among the first to speak was Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, one of Rabbi Yosef's sons and current Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. In a heart-wrenching voice, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef spoke of his father, saying that “from the days of the Bet Yosef,” Rabbi Yosef Karo, the 16th century author of the Code of Jewish Law, “there has been no equal to Rabbi Ovadia, and there will be no equal to him. The heavens of yesterday are not the heavens of today,” such is the loss. Rabbi Yosef, he added, was “one of the greatest influencers of Jewish history.”
In his will, said Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, his father had commanded that the Sephardic community remain united, and not fight over his legacy or his successor.
Rabbi David Yosef, the Rabbi of the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem and a son of Rabbi Ovadia, said that his father was “the Moses of our generation, who taught us Jewish law. Father – to whom shall we now turn when we have questions in Jewish law? We have been left orphaned."
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Chief Ashkenzi Rabbi, said that Rabbi Yosef “was the rabbi of all of Israel, loved by his fellow man and by G-d. How many people merit this kind of funeral, to this kind of love from his students,” he said, referring to the huge numbers of people attending the funeral. “They know who a great sage is, who is a giant in Torah, who is a true leader,” he added.
Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron said that Rabbi Yosef “was like a brother to all of us, to all of the Jewish people.”
By 9 PM, there were some 800,000 people at the funeral, police said. Road 1, the main road into Jerusalem, has been closed to private cars, with only buses allowed into the city, and many people simply abandoned their vehicles at the side of the road, proceeding on foot to join the funeral procession.
Images of the funeral showed that an ambulance that was carrying Rabbi Yosef's body was unable to move more than a few centimeters a minute, as attendees at the funeral sought to touch the vehicle, for a last opportunity at personal contact with Rabbi Yosef. Border Guards and police were attempting to push the crowd away from the vehicle. Organizers of the funeral called for order and for the crowd to step away from the vehicle, but in vain.
Rabbi Yosef was buried at the Sanhedria cemetery, next to grave of his wife Margalit who passed away several years ago. After the eulogies, Rabbi Yosef's sons proceeded to his home in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem to begin the weeklong shiva period. The general custom of Sephardim in Jerusalem is for the sons of the deceased not to attend the internment.
About 200 people were treated due to the crush of the crowd, Magen David Adom said, with 15 of them requiring hospitalization. Police said that a wall on which dozens of people had climbed in order to get a better view of the procession had collapsed; fortunately no one was injured. Police appealed to people attending the funeral not to engage in dangerous behavior, and to stay off roofs and not climb atop antennas in order to see the funeral.