Police: Rabbi's funeral 'largest' in Israel history
Published Monday 07/10/2013 22:01
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardic
Jewish community and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, gestures
during a meeting in Jerusalem on December 11, 2011.
(AFP/File Gali Tibbon)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- More than 700,000 people took to the streets of Jerusalem on Monday night to mourn influential Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, making it the biggest funeral in Israel's history, police said.
"We estimate there are more (than) 700,000 people taking part in the largest of funerals ever in Israel," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wrote on his official Twitter account, referring to Yosef's funeral.
Yosef, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel whose son took over the same role in June, had been in and out of hospital for months.
He wielded enormous influence among Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern and North African ancestry, and frequently played the role of kingmaker in the country's fickle coalition politics.
Yosef founded Israeli ultra-orthodox party Shas in 1984 on the platform of a return to religion and as a counter to an establishment dominated by Ashkenazi Jews of European ancestry.
But the Baghdad-born rabbi frequently courted controversy with his outspoken remarks, describing Palestinians and other Arabs as "snakes" and "vipers" who were "swarming like ants".
He called on God to strike down then prime minister Ariel Sharon over Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon, he implied that Israeli soldiers killed in battle died because they didn't follow Jewish commandments.
Ma'an staff contributed to this report.