Tens of thousands of Israelis stood in a cold, penetrating rain today to pay their final respects to former prime minister Golda Meir, who died Friday at the age of 80.

Draped in a blue and white Israeli flag, a simple coffin stood at the entrance to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, as a thin but unbroken stream of mourners filed past throughout the day.

Meanwhile, foreign dignitaries began arriving for Tuesday's state funeral.

Two gas torches on either side of the bier flickered in the brisk wind and a military chaplain stood at the foot of the casket softly reciting psalms. Some of the mourners wept as they paused at the coffin, but most simply stood silently for a moment and then moved on.

For much of the day, the line stretched across the broad Knesset plaza and wound along an access road leading from several parking lots set aside for the occasion.

It was a montage of the old and the new of Israel -- the young Israeli-born sabras who knew Mrs. Meir as national leader during the country's most devastating war, and old Zionists who knew her as a protegee of David Ben-Gurion and as one of the moving forces behind the founding of the state.

"I look back on the history of the state to this point, and one has the feeling that these were real giants.... There's a sadness in seeing the old leadership go," said one mourner.

An old woman, clutching her coat collar to her throat against the biting wind, wept as she said, "I'm very, very sad today. She was a very great woman."

Yitzhak Navon, president of Israel and among the first to view the conffin this morning, said, "All her life was dedicated to the cause of Israel, to the Jewish people of every part of the world. She was one of the most Jewish leaders we had in Israel."

Nearly 100 national leaders from abroad were expected to come here for a service Tuesday at the Knesset, followed by a simple burial service at Mount Herzl, where Theodore Herzl, founder of Zionism, is buried.

In a will written in 1967, Mrs. Meir specifically requested simplicity at her funeral, saying, "I forbid any eulogies or anything being named after me."

Government officials, acceeding to her request, planned ceremonies lasting barely half an hour, at which prayers will be chanted but no eulogies will be read. Religious law requiring burial within 24 hours was waived by a special rabbinical order, as is traditionally done in cases of state funerals.

The largest foreign delegation arriving tonight was a group of 42 political figures and Jewish leaders from the United States, led by Lillian Carter, the president's mother.

Upon her arrival at Ben-Gurion airport, Mrs. Carter read a short message fom the president, saying, "Mrs. Meir dreamed of peace for Israel, and this is what I have been struggling to achieve between prime minister [Menachem] Begin and President [Anwar] Sadat. Delay endangers the peace treaty between the two countries. The treaty would be a wonderful memorial to Mrs. Meir."

For her part, Mrs. Carter said that 15 years ago she closely followed Mrs. Meir's career and "I thought that she must be the most wonderful woman in the world."

"I know you said no eulogies, and Golda, this is no eulogy to you. This is just me telling you how much I wish I had known you," Mrs. Carter said.

Also included in the official U.S. delegation are former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Sens. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), other political leaders and numerous representatives of Jewish organizations.

U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance is interrupting his talks in Cairo to attend the funeral, returning to Egypt Tuesday afternoon and coming again to Jerusalem Wednesday to meet with Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.