Jerusalem braces for mass crowds, traffic snarls at Shas spiritual leader’s funeral

Jerusalem braces for mass crowds, traffic snarls at Shas spiritual leader's funeral

Tens of thousands of mourners were expected to flock to Jerusalem for the Monday afternoon funeral of Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party’s spiritual leader, likely snarling traffic in the capital.

The funeral procession was due to set out at 2 pm from the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood — which Cohen once led — toward the Sanhedria cemetery.

Large numbers of emergency personnel will be on hand, including police and the Magen David Adom ambulance service. MDA said first responders would be stationed along the procession route and urged the public to bring water, avoid crowding and refrain from climbing on roofs or poles to get a better view.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli warned of traffic changes in Jerusalem “to allow people to come and pay their last respects.”

Police later said that numerous roads around the cemetery were set to be shuttered at 1 pm, including Bar Ilan, Malchei Yisrael and a portion of Levi Eshkol Boulevard. Police said they would reopen the roads as the funeral progressed and recommended those seeking to reach the area travel by public transportation.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion ordered that work on a new light rail line alongside Bar Ilan Street, a thoroughfare near the cemetery, would be halted from 10 am until after the funeral.

Cohen will be buried in the cemetery next to his wife and near the resting place of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Shas spiritual leader who died in 2013. Hundreds of thousands of mourners were in Jerusalem for Yosef’s funeral, one of the largest in Israel’s history .

“For the honor of the Torah, it is a duty for everyone to come to take part in [Cohen’s] funeral,” Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Yosef’s son, said Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of mourners attend the Jerusalem funeral procession of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Monday, October 7, 2013 (Flash90)

The news of Cohen’s death was met with statements of mourning by politicians across the political spectrum. Cohen, 91, had served as the head of the Council of Torah Sages for Shas, which represents Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.

His death was announced by Shas chief Aryeh Deri, who did not specify a cause. 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, drawing prayers from ultra-Orthodox leaders, and from Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a political opponent.

Cohen is expected to be replaced on the council by Yizhak Yosef, Channel 12 reported. The controversial rabbi will finish his 10-year term as chief Sephardic rabbi role next year, opening the way for his move to Shas.

Long considered a kingmaker in Israeli politics, Shas won 10 Knesset seats or more from 1996 until the 2015 elections, before losing some support after Yosef’s death, and was usually a part of the governing coalition. The party has long been an ally of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud faction and followed him into the opposition last year.

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