Mysteries surround death of Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzira

Rabbi Abuhatzira wore a hood to avoid the sight of women

Rabbi Abuhatzira wore a hood to avoid the sight of women

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 accurate 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.

Mourners at the funeral of Rabbi Abuhatzira

Mourners at the funeral of Rabbi Abuhatzira

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."

    Last updated: 4:35pm, August 4 2011