Rabbi Mordechai Hager, the leader of one of the largest Hasidic sects in the county, died on Friday in a Manhattan hospital of liver failure following an undetermined infection. He was 95.
Hager, who was believed to be the oldest Hasidic rabbi in the world, was survived by 14 children, hundreds of grandchildren, and reportedly thousands of great-grandchildren. His seven surviving sons all lead synagogues around the world and his eight daughters all married prominent rabbis.
He was the leader of the Viznitz Hasidic sect, overseeing some tens of thousands of followers worldwide from the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Kaser, New York, a village he founded to escape the worldliness of city life in Brooklyn.
Venerated for his encyclopedic knowledge of Talmud, which he studied for up to 18 hours a day, Hager was reticent to appear in public and was almost never photographed.
Tens of thousands filled the streets on Friday, as Hager’s body was rushed to the upstate hamlet from Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan for burial before the Jewish Sabbath began at sundown.
Video shows a crush of mourners outside the main shul in Kaser after memorial services.
‘Don’t push, come on hold on!’ a man was heard shouting as the casket was loaded into a Toyota minivan as state troopers held the crowd back.
Young men in traditional garb with long sidelocks clambered up on fences and light poles along the funeral route for a glimpse of the procession.
The body was conveyed to Viznitz Cemetery for burial, with the graveside service restricted to men only per ultra-Orthodox tradition.
Hager was born on July 20, 1922 in Oradea, Romania. His father was the fourth grand rabbi of Vyzhnytsia, Ukraine, the village that was the seat of the Hasidic sect since the mid-19th century, according to the New York Times.
Russian soldiers decimated the Jewish population of Oradea during World War I, forcing the clan to flee to Grosswardein, near the border with Hungary.
In World War II, the Germans occupied the region, forcing the family to flee again to Bucharest, where Hager married Feige Malka Twersky.
She died of an infection a few months later, and Hager married her sister Sima Mirel, who died in 2005 at the age of 76.
Hager immigrated to the US in 1948, and became the head of the Viznitz synagogue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
He was famously modest and is said to have taken his glasses off while walking down the street to avoid prurient temptations.
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Source: Daily Maill