update deskJewish Diaspora

Lithuanian Jewish spiritual leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein dies at 100

More than 100,000 people participated in the funeral. Israeli premier mourns the loss of "a great scholar and leader."

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, at his home in Bnei Brak, Dec. 5, 2018. Photo by Aharon Krohn/Flash90.
Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, at his home in Bnei Brak, Dec. 5, 2018. Photo by Aharon Krohn/Flash90.

Israeli spiritual leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein died on Tuesday at the age 100 in the central city of Bnei Brak.

He had been admitted to Bnei Brak’s Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center for shortness of breath during the Shavuot holiday on Friday.

He was the head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, where a funeral procession departed in the afternoon. More than 100,000 people participated.

Some 2,000 police officers were assigned to secure the funeral. A number of roads in Bnei Brak and the greater Tel Aviv area were closed to traffic. Police began blocking certain roads at noon.

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, spiritual leader of the Degel HaTorah party, at his home in Bnei Brak, Feb. 14, 2023. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.

Edelstein became the leader of the “Lithuanian” stream of Ashkenazi Orthodox Judaism following the death of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in Bnei Brak on March 18, 2022. He was also president of the Council of Yeshivas—an organization that supports Lithuanian-style yeshivas in Eastern Europe—and the president of the Council of Torah Elders of the Ashkenazi haredi political party Degel HaTorah.

Degel HaTorah is part of the United Torah Judaism political alliance in the Knesset.

Born in 1923 in the town of Shumyatch near Smolensk in the newly founded Soviet Union, his father and brother immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1934, settling in Ramat Hasharon before moving to Bnei Brak. His mother, a rabbi’s daughter, had died of typhus.

During the coronavirus pandemic, he was one of a few haredi leaders to recommend that the community get vaccinated against the virus.

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, lights the Hanukkah candles on the last night of the holiday at his home in Bnei Brak, Dec. 19, 2017. Photo by Aharon Krohn/Flash90.

“Rabbi Edelstein was a spiritual leader of enormous stature whose greatness in Torah and reverence influenced our generation and will influence generations to come,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said in a statement.

“This is a great loss to the world of yeshivas and the entire nation of Israel,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the Torah world and the entire nation of Israel today lost a great scholar and leader.”

Netanyahu continued: “Rabbi Edelstein always remembered his childhood years in Soviet Russia, where he was forced to study Torah in secret. In contrast, here in Israel, he had the privilege of spreading his wings openly in the Lithuanian yeshivah world. He never took this for granted. On the contrary, the responsibility for shaping the spiritual lives of Jews in Israel guided him day and night.”

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