At least 800,000 people from across Israel took to the streets of Jerusalem to mourn Rabbi Ovadia Yosef , the spiritual leader of Sephardic Jewish community, police said.
Police helicopters hovered above the city and Light Rail trains reached maximum capacity due to multiple road closings, as hundreds of thousands rushed to attend the 6 pm funeral at the Sanhedria Cemetery.
According to Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, hundreds of officers were deployed throughout the city to ensure order.
Meanwhile, dozens of chartered buses that were able to navigate the numerous street closings – as well as sections of Highway 1 – were parked, some haphazardly, around Ammunition Hill’s sidewalks and parking lots.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who had enormous influence among Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern and North African ancestry, died aged 93 in hospital on Monday.
His death came two weeks after he had heart surgery at Jerusalem’s Hadassa hospital, where he eventually passed away.
The mourners were mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing traditional black clothing and with men separated from women.
They gathered outside the seminary Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had studied at, before going to his funeral in the Sanhedria district.
Police blocked off roads and stepped up security, with thousands of additional officers deployed.
They said with the huge number of mourners it was the biggest funeral in Israel’s history.
Iraqi-born Rabbi Ovadia Yosef turned an Israeli underclass of Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern heritage into a powerful political force.
Through the Shas (Sephardic Torah Guardians) party Rabbi Ovadia Yosef founded in the early 1980s, he wielded unique political influence from his modest apartment in the city.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement mourning the loss of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was a part of the Jerusalem landscape for many decades,” Nir Barkat wrote.
“He was a spiritual leader, a respected scholar, an influential author and a halachic authority for hundreds of thousands of people in Israel and around the world.”
He continued: “Jerusalem mourns with all of Israel and sends condolences to Rabbi Yosef’s family.”
Nir Barkat added that the Jerusalem Municipality will coordinate an official commemoration of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s legacy in the coming months.