Tens of thousands at Jerusalem funeral of influential rabbi

JERUSALEM (AP) — Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews on Sunday attended the funeral of an influential rabbi in Jerusalem, bring parts of the city to a standstill.

The city’s entrance was closed to accommodate the funeral procession for Shmuel Auerbach, who died Saturday at the age of 86.

Auerbach was the leader of a breakaway faction of non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews of European descent. He headed a hard-line wing that rejected even registering with the military for the automatic deferrals his followers were granted. When some were jailed, thousands took to the streets on his orders, clashing with police and snarling traffic at major intersections.

Following the 2012 death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Auerbach broke away and posed a more radical alternative to Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman — who died in December at 104.

The ultra-Orthodox are about 12 percent of Israel’s 8.7 million citizens.

For decades, the ultra-Orthodox have leveraged their significant political power into maintaining a segregated lifestyle. They run a separate network of schools, enjoy sweeping military draft exemptions and raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts.

Military service is compulsory for most Israeli Jews, and the exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox has fed widespread resentment against what is seen as preferential treatment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government recently rolled back previous legislation that had aimed to increase conscription — only to be struck down by the Supreme Court. The court has demanded new legislation within a year.

In the meantime, most ultra-Orthodox men have the option of receiving repeated deferrals, as long as they register with the military.

But Auerbach, a prominent Jerusalem rabbi with some 25,000 followers, rejected even this model.

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