‘A source of light’: Thousands pay respects to Shas luminary Rabbi Shalom Cohen

'A source of light': Thousands pay respects to Shas luminary Rabbi Shalom Cohen

Tens of thousands of mourners marched in Jerusalem on Monday at the funeral of Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

The funeral procession set out at 2 pm from the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Geula, which Cohen led for the past eight years, toward the Sanhedria cemetery, with a reinforced police presence along the way.

“He cared about the nation of Israel his entire life… We never heard him say the word ‘me,’” said Rabbi Yaakov Cohen of his late father. “We’re all devastated. Who will lead us now? Who will lead our family?”

Cohen described his father’s failing health prior to his passing but said the family was not expecting him to succumb.

“It was unexpected. We thought we were going to the hospital for a few days and then coming back. But things took an unnatural turn,” he said, without providing additional information about the cause of death.

Cohen was in and out of the hospital over the past year, and had been hospitalized in recent weeks for a leg infection. His condition deteriorated in recent days.

Rabbi Moshe Tzadka, who led the Porat Yosef Yeshiva alongside Cohen, said at the funeral that once word of Cohen’s deteriorated health got out on Saturday evening, many came together in prayer for his recovery.

“He was a source of light for others,” he said. “Even on his last day, he was blessed enough to shake the entire world.”

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen attends a campaign event at a synagogue in Jerusalem on September 14, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel, another leading figure in the prestigious Sephardic yeshiva, said Cohen was his “close friend for the past 50 years,” and “would light up the darkness with every step he took,” adding: “He had immense powers of Torah , humility and pure fear of heaven within him… His path was a truthful one.”

Some of the most prominent religious leaders in the country had called on the Haredi public to attend Cohen’s funeral.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (known as the Rishon LeZion) called on all yeshiva students in the country to attend the funeral, despite it being the summer break.

“As a matter of honoring the Torah, everyone must attend [the funeral for Cohen] who taught the Torah to the masses, raised generations of Torah scholars, restored old traditions and rebuilt Sephardic Judaism from the ashes,” Yosef wrote ahead of the event.

Ultra-Orthodox men escort a van with the body of Rabbi Shalom Cohen during his funeral, in Jerusalem, August 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

“Together with the people of Israel in Israel and abroad, we cry and suffer in shock,” said Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau after Cohen’s passing.

“Israel has lost a great man, whose teachings, prayers and blessings protected the nation of Israel for decades,” he added.

Earlier Monday, Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri announced Cohen’s death in a statement and referred to the rabbi as “our father, our teacher and our leader.”

Deri liked Cohen’s death to “a ship losing its captain.” Ultra-Orthodox parties have councils of rabbis who guide the factions’ big-picture policy decisions.

Cohen was buried next to his wife and near the resting place of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Shas spiritual leader who died in 2013.

Ultra-Orthodox men attend the funeral of Rabbi Shalom Cohen in Jerusalem, August 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Cohen was vocal about politics, often criticizing political leaders opposed to his party’s agenda, and was a staunch opponent of military conscription for ultra-Orthodox men.

Police reinforcements were sent to the capital ahead of the funeral and were spread out along the funeral procession’s route. Large numbers of emergency personnel were also on hand.

During the funeral, police blocked several main roads in Jerusalem, including Yosef Ben Matityahu Street, Malchei Israel Street, Brandes Street, Yirmiyahu Street, Bar-Ilan Street, Shmuel Hanavi Street from Yechezkel Street to Bar-Ilan and Levi Eshkol Street between Bar- Ilan junction and Mishmar Hagvul Street.

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