Sunday, December 12, 2004

Exorcisms and Amulets in the Israeli elections of 1996 and 1999

For the last class meeting of my Jewish Magic and Ritual Power course, we watched part of the 1937 Yiddish move, Der Dibek, after having finished reading Yossi Chajes' fascinating book on spirit possession in 16th century Jewish communities, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism.

In order to illustrate how acts of ritual power can become part of modern politics, I also handed out articles on a case of modern-day dybbuk possession that roiled the Israel elections in the spring of 1999. One contemporary account (from the right-wing Israeli radio station, Arutz Sheva) reported (April 27, 1999):
The media in Israel have widely reported the removal ceremony of a "dybbuk" [wandering soul] that was performed by kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri, together with some 30 other rabbis, in a Jerusalem yeshiva in mid-April. The event has aroused reactions from many quarters, ranging from total scorn to a desire to repent. It was broadcast live over haredi radio stations, and many people were invited to the ceremony, in order to "publicize the sanctification of G-d's Name, and to cause more people to believe in the existence of an afterlife" -- according to Rabbi Batzri's son, Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri. The younger Rabbi Batzri told Arutz-7 radio that an "unbelievable amount of people have called and expressed the desire to observe the commandments as a result."

Rabbi Batzri [the son] related that a woman whose husband had died three and a half years ago had recently been plagued by the soul of her husband, which "entered her body and spoke from within her in his own voice to his sons and friends....The woman underwent terrible suffering. Finally, after great hesitations, my father agreed to perform this ceremony, feeling that the life of the woman was at stake -- for the dybbuk had threatened to kill her by choking." In a subsequent conversation with an Arutz-7 correspondent, the younger Rabbi Batzri explained that a "wandering" soul suffers more than one that faces immediate divine punishment. In the exorcism ceremony, Rabbi Batzri is heard talking forcefully with the dybbuk, whose short answers are delivered in a raspy and sometimes unclear voice. "My father told the dybbuk over and over that he has no right to harm anyone....The dybbuk said he had committed many sins, but did not want to elaborate....My father then performed a "tikkun" [sublimation of the soul], and forced the dybbuk to exit the woman's body through her toe. She later felt great pain there for a few hours, but now, thank G-d, she is perfectly healthy." The entire ceremony [in Hebrew] may be heard on the Arutz-7 website....
[I checked the Arutz-7 website and it appears to have been taken down].

A Christian Science Monitor article, A world of trinkets and tombs reported on how the dybbuk exorcism had become part of the Shas election campaign. In a previous election, that of 1996, Shas used another technique taken from the world of Jewish ritual power - amulets - to induce people to vote for them.
Just days before national elections in 1996, Shas distributed thousands of amulets - religious good-luck charms - in the form of mystic prayer keepsakes personally written by Kabalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie. The nonagenarian Mr. Kadourie is the spiritual mentor of Shas - sort of their living patron saint. Followers say he is the only Kabalist in this generation with the power to write amulets that include the secret names of angels and arcane abbreviations that can protect a house from evil. But these particular amulets were given out to recipients with the instruction that Kadourie wanted people to vote for Shas - and for Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu. In an election upset in which Mr. Netanyahu won by only 0.5 percent of the vote, the amulets provoked outrage among secular Israeli politicians. Last fall, a judge ruled that the distribution of such items at election time constituted gift-giving and was thus illegal.

This time around, Shas's campaign distributed and screened two videotapes at rallies in the weeks before the May 17 election. The tapes, say some analysts and Shas activists, contributed to the party's electoral triumph. One was of a recent exorcism by a Kabalist rabbi with close ties to Aryeh Deri, who resigned recently as leader of Shas, after he was convicted on charges of fraud and bribe-taking during his tenure as a government minister. The rabbi, David Batzri, has declined all requests for interviews. But his son, a young rabbi who has permission to speak on his father's behalf, was willing to explain their philosophy in a meeting at their new four-story yeshiva in Jerusalem. "We didn't prevent anyone from taping [the exorcism] because we knew that seeing it could make all the world believe in life after death," says Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri. The need for exorcisms is rare, he says, and as such, it was the first time his father ever performed one. "My father didn't want this tape to focus on politics or Deri, but to prove the existence of the afterlife," says Mr. Batzri. "We don't get involved in politics, but it's true that Shas is a spiritual movement. And if someone sees this tape, he may become a more spiritual person and, naturally, vote Shas. Many people who saw this tape said they [decided] to vote Shas." Despite that, he says, he and his father don't support the use of amulets or candidate endorsements before elections. Although his father studied with the premier Kabalist himself - Rabbi Kadourie - Batzri says they shun any direct involvement in politics.
Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri's claim that this was the first exorcism his father had ever performed appears to be false, because an earlier article from the Jerusalem Post (August 8, 1996) reported that he had advertised for a mass exorcism of dybbuks in 1996.
A GROUP of kabbalists are to gather next week to conduct a mass public prayer to exorcise "dybbuks" from people suffering from mental and emotional problems. This will be the first time such prayers are held in public. The prayers will be conducted on Monday in Yeshivat Hashalom in Jerusalem, which is headed by Rabbi David Batzri, a leading kabbalist. The date marks the yahrzeit of Batzri's grandfather, Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya, who was known for his ability to heal people with severe emotional problems.

1 comment:

  1. BS"D, Rebecca,
    Thank you for your posting. Do you
    know of how to get in touch
    with Rabbi Batzri or another exorcist
    as I have a problem with my mother
    in the world as similar to this posting.
    I work with spiritual healers locally
    which have some effect. I loved her in
    this world, but she needs to go on
    to the next. If you can help me,
    would you be able to email me at:

    I appreciate your help. Thank you!
    Love, Gavin