Mur­der of a mys­tic

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER JERUSALEM

Some peo­ple ex­pected un­re­al­is­tic things — and there was a back­lash

RABBI ELAZAR Abuhatzira’s death turned out to be as enig­matic as his life.

One of the most ven­er­a­ble mys­tics in Is­rael, Rabbi Abuhatzira was mur­dered in his own yeshivah last Thurs­day by Asher Da­han, a part-time teacher from the strictly-Ortho­dox town of Elad.

Re­mark­ably, Da­han had been one of the rabbi’s thou­sands of ar­dent fol­low­ers and had fre­quently sought the rabbi’s ad­vice on his fail­ing mar­riage.

As he stabbed the rabbi, Da­han screamed that the rabbi’s sug­ges­tions re­gard­ing his re­la­tion­ship with his wife had not helped him.

“I wor­shiped him but he dis­ap­pointed me,” Da­han told the po­lice. “I never be­lieved that he could make a mis­take. My whole fam­ily ad­mires him. For years, we couldn’t live with­out him.”

Al­though Da­han is un­der­go­ing psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion and has a his­tory of mar­i­tal vi­o­lence, the killing has put a spot­light on the of­ten dif­fi­cult re­la­tions be­tween rab­bis and their dis­ci­ples.

“This is the prob­lem,” said one Sephardi rabbi this week. “We have built up our be­lief in rab­bis and kab­bal­ists to such a de­gree that we have for­got­ten that they are also hu­man.”

Rabbi Abuhatzira, more pop­u­larly known in Is­rael as Baba Elazar, did in­deed cul­ti­vate an other-worldly im­age. Le­gends abounded of his accu- rate ad­vice and timely bless­ings. His face was al­most al­ways cov­ered by a cloak and, to get from his house to the yeshivah, he walked through a spe­cially con­structed tun­nel, all of which en­hanced his sage-like aura.

A few years ago, he needed ur­gent den­tal care due to his teeth rot­ting from pro­longed fasts.

Baba Elazar was the old­est grand­son of Moroc­can Jewry’s most fa­mous sage, Rabbi Is­rael Abuhatzira, the Baba Sali, who died in 1984. De­spite his rel­a­tively young age, 63, Baba Elazar was thought of as the true heir to his grand­fa­ther, and thou­sands flocked to his yeshivah in Beer Sheva.

The mur­der of the kab­bal­ist has shocked the Charedi com­mu­nity. A killing of a rabbi by one of his fol­low­ers is un­heard of and many rab­bis called upon the pub­lic to do teshu­vah (re­pen­tance) as a re­sult.

De­spite his her­metic ways, he was sought out by be­liev­ers from across the world. “He was knowl­edge­able about all the in­tri­ca­cies of life. I know peo­ple who would travel from as far away as San Fran­cisco to seek his ad­vice,” said Charedi pub­li­cist Dudi Zil­ber­sh­lag.

“They were peo­ple from all walks of life, most of them were not Charedi. Peo­ple who be­longed to the fi­nan­cial elite and the poor. There was no po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy. He was close to all the camps. The real strength of his bless­ings and ad­vice was in the faith peo­ple had in him. Some were dis­ap­pointed be­cause they ex­pected un­re­al­is­tic things and they were those who gen­er­ated a back­lash against him.”

His en­tourage is be­lieved to be one of the rich­est in Is­rael, due to large do­na­tions from thou­sands of be­liev­ers, and Baba Elazar fought a long battle with the tax authorities, which claimed he had made at least £60 mil­lion over the years. The rabbi’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives said that all the money went on the yeshivah’s up­keep or was given to char­ity and that Baba Elazar him­self used none of it.

“He could have en­joyed ev­ery plea­sure in life, he was so ad­mired,” said Knes­set Mem­ber, Rabbi Chaim Am­salem. “It was all around him and he de­nied him­self ev­ery­thing. All the money that came to him was given away to char­ity, with­out any pub­li­ca­tion. He only wanted to give to the com­mu­nity, not take any­thing.”


Mourn­ers at the fu­neral of Rabbi Abuhatzira ( above left), who wore a hood to avoid the sight of women

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