Leader of Ger sect dies at 69

JERUSALEM — The largest Chassidic sect in Israel and the second largest in the world has lost its leader.

Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter, the 69-year-old leader of the Ger sect, was laid to rest March 7 at a huge funeral here after he died in his sleep the night before.

His nephew, Rabbi Ya'acov Alter, 60, of B'nei Brak, was widely expected to take over the spiritual leadership of the community.

Some 150,000 people followed Alter's bier in heavy rain through the streets of Jerusalem's fervently Orthodox Geula district to a tomb site close to the capital's Machane Yehuda market.

The rabbi was laid to rest alongside his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, who died during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 and was buried in the courtyard of his home.

Minister of Health Ephraim Sneh issued a special permit to bury Alter in the tomb because of its close location to the city center.

The Ger dynasty of rabbis reaches back to the middle of the 19th century, when it was founded near Warsaw.

The political community in Jerusalem is still assessing the potential electoral fallout from the rabbi's sudden demise.

The Gerer rabbi has traditionally held the chairmanship of Agudat Yisrael's Council of Torah Sages and has wielded the most influence within the fervently Orthodox party over the composition of its Knesset representation and over its policy positions.

Alter, considered right-wing in his politics, was believed to be leaning toward Likud over Labor in the current political campaign.

Rabbi Ya'acov Alter, his presumed successor, is something of an unknown quantity in political terms.

Ya'acov Alter, the son of the previous Gerer rabbi, who died four years ago, has led a sheltered, almost reclusive life far from the world of power politics.