Rabbi Alter, Head Of Hassidic Dynasty, Dead At 95
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, a key behind-the-scenes player in Israeli politics and leader of one of the largest orthodox Jewish dynasties, has died.
Alter, 95, head of the Gur Hassidic dynasty, died early Wednesday and was buried late in the day on the Mount of Olives. Tens of thousands of orthodox Jews marched solemnly behind the coffin of their spiritual leader.
The funeral procession snaked slowly through the cordoned-off streets to the burial site. At one point, several hundred mourners ran across graves in an Arab cemetery in hopes of getting a better place in the procession.
Crowd estimates at the funeral ranged from 60,000 to 100,000 people. Most mourners wore the traditional black coats and hats of ultra-Orthodox Jewry despite the scorching summer sun.
Police said Arabs stoned some mourners after the funeral, but police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said no one was injured.
The Council of Torah Sages, headed by Alter, served as the spiritual adviser to Agudat Israel, a small ultra-Orthodox party that often held the key to power in Israel’s coalition governments.
Alter withdrew from public life six years ago and since then has rarely left his home, said Zvi Rosen, spokesman for the council.
Alter was born in 1897 in the town of Gora Kalwaria in Poland and emigrated to pre-state Palestine in 1934, Rosen said. Alter was named the fifth head of the 130-year-old Gur dynasty in 1977, following the death of his brother, Rabbi Israel Alter.
Alter campaigned for religious legislation, such as restricting Israel’s abortion laws. In the early 1980s, he directed Agudat Israel to support a no- confidence motion in the government in an unsuccessful effort to close a Mormon college in Jerusalem. The government did not fall over the vote.
The Gur dynasty is one of the largest and most influential Hassidic groups, claiming some 100,000 followers, Dr. Yitzhak Alfassi, an expert on ultra- Orthodox Judaism, told Israel radio. Alter’s successor has not yet been named.
Alter is survived by a son, Rabbi Yaakov Alter, 50, of Jerusalem; and a daughter, Rivka Lev, 52, of New York.