Rabbi Gershon Edelstein–a preeminent Orthodox rabbi, head of a large yeshiva, leader of the hundreds-of-thousands-strong Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, and spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism political party–passed away today at the age of 100.
He was widely mourned across the Orthodox Jewish communities, and praised by secular leaders.
Hundreds of thousands were expected to attend Rabbi Edelstein’s funeral in Bnei Brak on Tuesday afternoon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of Rabbi Edelstein that “the responsibility for shaping the spiritual image of masses of Jews guided him day and night.”
Netanyahu recalled that he met with the rabbi just a few months, and that “the light that shone from his eyes was full of Jewish wisdom.”
President Isaac Herzog tweeted that Edelstein “was a spiritual leader of enormous stature whose Torah and pious greatness influenced our generation and will influence generations to come.”
Opposition leader Benny Gantz emphasized Rabbi Edelstein’s love for people, which for him was evidenced by the rabbi’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I will never forget his call to his followers: ‘Reading the Torah in public — will be a sin,'” recalled Gantz, who was minister of defense at the time. “For someone who prayed in public his whole life, this statement to his many believers was an extraordinary magnanimity that saved many lives. In this way, he revealed himself not only as great in Torah, but also as a lover of people.”
During the coronavirus, or COVID pandemic, infection rates were much higher among ultra-Orthodox communities than in the rest of Israel. Most rabbis at first rejected vaccinations and refused to abide by social distancing regulations. Secular Israelis were relieved when Rabbi Edelstein decided to move against the tide in his community and called on ultra-Orthodox Jews to be vaccinated and to study and pray at home.
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