"In nominal numbers, we are talking about 386,750 secular and traditional Jews who regularly visit rabbis' homes and ask for their advice." But that advice comes at a large financial cost to the seekers and enriches the rabbis – many of whom are charlatans and crooks.
Above: Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira
Originally published at 11:26 pm CDT 5-17-2014
Non-Orthodox Sefardim, Secular And Traditional Jews Flock To ‘Miracle Working’ Kabbalists For Advice, Blessings, New Study Finds
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
24% of Israeli Jews ask rabbis for advice and blessings, and almost half of those them – 43% – are not Orthodox, a new study by Dr. Ido Lieberman and Dr. Yael Keshet found, Ynet reported. The study is based on data compiled by the Israeli government’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
The study found that the rate of Jews who turn to rabbis is higher among younger people than among those over the age of 40.
It also found that second generation Israeli Sefardim were more likely to seek out rabbinic advice and blessing than Israeli-born Ashkenazim.
And people with lower incomes and educational levels are also more likely to ask rabbis for blessings and advice, according to the study.
The study also found that secular and traditional women consult with rabbis much more often than do (Ashkenazi) haredi women, who rarely speak to rabbis. But this is because senior (Ashkenazi) haredi rabbis rarely agree to meet with females and not because of any theological or rational decision on the part of the women themselves.
Disturbingly, the study also reportedly found a strong connection between mental health issues and seeking out rabbis. When respondents were asked who they would rather turn to if they were depressed or if they wanted to share personal problems with someone, 43.9% said they would seek out a rabbi, but only 5% said they would seek out a rabbi and a mental health professional and 51.2% said they would seek out a mental health professional but not a rabbi.
"In nominal numbers, we are talking about 386,750 secular and traditional Jews who regularly visit rabbis' homes and ask for their advice," Lieberman and Keshet, who are lecturers in sociology at Israel’s Western Galilee Academic College, told Ynet.
Lieberman is Orthodox, Keshet isn’t.
"The existential search for encouragement, a source of comfort and mental support motivate a variety of people in the population to turn to spiritual elements too with the hope of finding salvation. Despite the suspicions, the stigma and the negative experiences sometimes, more and more people from all classes are interested in containing and connecting to the spiritual and traditional aspect in their secular lives. The blurred boundaries between religion and secularism are only growing,” Keshet reportedly said.
Many respondents described a strong, increasing feeling of excitement leading up to their visit with a rabbi. Some described these visits as mystic and even supernatural experiences.
But that may be because most of these respondents appear to be visiting Sefardi kabbalsits – many of whom have repeatedly been exposed as charlatans and some as crooks.
Most respondents were asked by the rabbis they visited to perform magic rituals meant to ‘cure’ them or bring them solace or success such as drinking “holy water” blessed by the rabbi twice each week; wearing an amulet given them by the rabbi (often for a fee); immersing in a ritual bath a certain number of times, often in a certain prescribed way; lighting candles in memory of deceased tzaddikim (“holy” rabbis); or funding the circumcision ceremony of another’s child (often through a fund the rabbi ‘manages’) to ‘solve’ fertility problems.
Researchers encountered a lot of anger from respondents when the respondents were asked about the money they were required to pay at the rabbis for their blessings and advice.
The fee demanded normally ranges from NIS 150 to NIS 350 ($45-$100) for each visit. One female respondent said she had been asked to sign a contract for further payments to the rabbi in case his blessing and advice ‘worked’ and she gave birth to a son.
Even more respondents were enraged by the sale of ‘holy items’ blessed by the rabbis to the respondents while they were at the rabbis’ homes or offices waiting for entry to the rabbi’s room. Respondents described the experience "as if it were a bazaar."
Many haredi ‘kabbalists’ and hasidic rebbes have grown exceedingly wealthy selling blessings, advice and ‘holy’ trinkets to the faithful and needy, often exploiting the desperation and pain of the Jews who have come to them seeking help. Some of these 'kabbalists' have net worths in the tens of millions of dollars.
One of the most notorious – and richest – of these ‘kabbalists,’ Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, was murdered by a follower in 2011 after a blessing the follower paid dearly for failed to work, despite Abuhatzeira’s express promise that it would – as long as the follower paid him lots of money.
"It's a clear deal. Those who turn to the rabbis are not looking for righteous people, but for the connection to God. The other side of the deal is the rabbis – some of them are looking for money, with others it's their associates who are looking for the money, and some of them settle for the fact that the person wanted to be close to them. The goods are clear and they're on the table – each side knows what it can and can't supply,” Lieberman said – although the Abuhatzeira murder and other cases of complaints to police or the media of the rabbis’ misbehavior would seem to indicate that is changing somewhat.
Lieberman also noted that the rabbis do not ask these secular or traditional Jews to follow Jewish law or observe the 613 mitzvot.
"The study reveals that both sides are content with little, and that's why the deal works. Those who turn to the rabbi seek a blessing and a connection to the kabbalistic world. The rabbi settles for the fact that people turn to him, and sometimes donate money. The rabbi would be glad of course if that person became more religious down the road, but he settles for what there is,” Lieberman said.
He also admitted that he dislikes what many of these rabbis are doing and what the secular and traditional Jews who enrich them are seeking. But he blamed this on a worldwide search for meaning in a post rationalist world rather than on the sheer criminality and exploitive behavior of many of the rabbis themselves.
"In the eyes of a sociologist I am only describing a phenomenon. In my civilian eyes, I admit that I am not fond of it. I think that there is an aspect of exploitation here, and another aspect in which a person lets himself off easy. Instead of connecting to God in a long internal process, people want a rapid process, and in fact buy spirituality cheaply,” Leiberman said.
"I see it as putting one's finger in the electricity plug. Those who turn to the mystical rabbis believe they are people connected to a dimension which is beyond our simple and daily reality. These rabbis are an electric cable connecting them to that electric source which will help them connect to the essence,” Liberman continued.
"But we must admit that this is not just an Israeli phenomenon, but a process taking place in the Western world since the end of the 20th century, of the breakup of the rational world. It doesn’t provide a sufficient response,” Lieberman added.
"While in the modern era rationality was the queen of humanity, in the post-modern era there is New Age, an attempt to search for spirituality, and it doesn't necessarily lead to good places and good things,” Lieberman concluded.