Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum, 87, a Talmudic scholar who led a yeshiva in Brooklyn for more than 50 years after fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland and briefly taking refuge in Shanghai, died Sunday of cancer, said Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, executive director of the 1,200-member Mir Yeshiva. Another branch of the yeshiva is in Jerusalem, with an estimated 4,000 students.
Tens of thousands of mourners attended a funeral Monday in Brooklyn, Hecht said, citing police estimates. Berenbaum's body was to be flown to Israel today for burial in Jerusalem.
In a statement, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that Berenbaum built the Jewish academy "into one of the largest centers for Torah study in the world."
Born in Poland, Berenbaum studied in a yeshiva in the town of Mir before World War II. As the Nazis rolled across Eastern Europe, Berenbaum and other yeshiva students fled across the then-Soviet Union and settled in Shanghai. From there, they eventually emigrated to the United States.
Steven Bayme, national director of contemporary Jewish life at the American Jewish Congress, said the yeshiva helped preserve "a world that was otherwise lost."
Leadership of the Brooklyn yeshiva will pass to Berenbaum's nephew, Rabbi Osher Kalmanowitz.