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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven
The Fake Kabbalist Crisis Among the Orthodox Jewish World

By Shelomo Alfassa

"This is an everyday occurance in the Orthodox Jewish communities in America, people go to these men daily."

(NEW YORK, NY) September 7, 2010 - Jewish communities in the United States are being plagued by a rash of phony 'kabbalists' and 'rabbis' that are taking various superstitious practices and masking them behind the guise of 'spiritual' or 'kabbalistic' Judaism. These men, often members of the Orthodox Jewish community, do this seeking power for themselves and to gain financial profit. Among people of their own community, they often use the Hebrew title of 'mekubal' (kabbalist), in their pursuit of knowingly and deliberately deceiving people out of money in exchange for the promise of various miracles, financial success, good marriage, etc.

Kabbalah is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the mystical aspect of Judaism. It is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between God and His creations. It is a religious set of ideas and practices which are part of the Jewish religion - and not a separate or distinct religion as is often reported. While there has been a spiritual awakening in recent decades among Jews that are drawn to spirituality, this 'spirituality' is often represented as 'kabbalah.' However, folk religion and superstition as well as artful trickery is being passed off under the guise of real kabbalah-and, for profit.

These con men often exploit the good name of influential rabbis that have died and can no longer defend themselves from the lies said in their name. The 'kabbalists' use photos, names, alleged associations and reputations of past rabbis to justify their supposed magical powers and extra-earthly abilities.

Utilizing a clever ruse, they will put fear into people by saying things such as they are going to examine the 'health' of a person by 'reading the lines on the forehead' (a medieval non-Jewish custom); or by telling the person, "You are the reincarnation of ___________" (insert a famous Jewish person); or very often advising the person, "you have the evil eye on you and I will have to remove it." Of course all of these examinations come with a hefty price tag, often in the several hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The phony 'kabbalists' and 'rabbis' and their deceptive behavior has caused tremendous harm to people who were trusting of them, especially the newly religious Jews who are promised miracles in the area of shidduchim (potential marriage), or those who innocently sought the promise of a 'pidyon nefesh,' the idea of exchanging one's suffering in redemption for money.

The Talmud (in tractate Shabbat 156a), is clear about the attempts to influence mazal (luck). It states, "Ain Mazal L'Yisrael," meaning that these things have no control over the Jewish people as Jews are governed by hashgaha pratit (Divine providence) and not mere luck.

Nightly, from Los Angeles to Brooklyn, people are being duped into standing in line to see 'kabbalists' for their brakhot (blessings) as they peddle these blessings for money and for their own egocentric gratification. Their duplicitous behavior is nothing short of fraud and cunning. These men either live in a community and put the 'word on the street' that they are 'kabbalists' or they visit outside communities for a few days where a host will set them up with evening parlor visits. There, persons visiting the 'kabbalists' will be expected to make a donation, and sometimes are strongly hounded for that donation upon leaving-usually not by the 'kabbalist' but by the host. Some of these deceitful men post signs with a 'minimum donation' which is required the obtain 'blessings from the rabbi.'

Often these 'kabbalists' develop a loyal following, a court around them of generally innocent persons who see the influential and powerful 'holy man' in a grand light, up on the proverbial pedestal. This following of the 'kabbalist' sets off a snowball effect, where other members of the Jewish community now see the self-declared 'kabbalist' with a following and thus his reputation builds on nothing more than that-and that is good enough to get both men and women lined up for hours to see him, give him money, and hope to obtain a blessing for what ails them. These 'kabbalists' are visited by Jewish men and women who are not fully educated in the breadth and depth of halakha (Jewish law). They are often followed and visited by very well-meaning but overly emotional Jews who just want to 'keep the peace' and who, out of fear, would never challenge these men.

While the Attorney General of several states are investigating these peddlers of deception for tax fraud and other crimes, it is the Jewish community itself which should be standing up and running these men out of town. However, in the Orthodox community no other 'rabbi' will ever act against another 'rabbi' - even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating Jewish law and the Torah (Bible) itself. Sadly, real rabbis are first and foremost worried only about losing their own position and will not risk their position by speaking out against these swindlers--even when these 'kabbalists' prey on the vulnerable, the naive, and the unsuspecting.

True mekubalim (kabbalists) through the ages have condemned the practice of 'selling' spiritual remedies. This includes such great rabbis as Hakham Yishak Kaduri (1899-2006) and Hakham Yisrael Abuhatzeira (the Baba Sali 1890-1984), who never sought monetary reward for any advice, discussions or prayers with a person. These men strove to hold by every word (usually in the strictest manner) of the Shulhan Aruh (Code of Jewish Law). Therefore, anyone who seeks monetary gain through hocus pocus, which the Shulhan Aruh says does not affect the Jewish people--is by all means a charlatan.

The Talmud tells the Jewish people that over 2,000 years ago, Rabbi Hanina Ben Dosa was said to perform great miracles. He was able to tell sick people if they would live or die. Yet, it is written that his wife used to complain that there was nothing to eat in the house. Unlike all the so-called 'kabbalists' that are rampant today, the much venerated Rabbi Hanina Ben Dosa did not take a cent for his deeds.

These men, whether or not they are real rabbis, will never truly stand for the Torah or the honor of the Almighty. What they seek is quick money, a quick reward, and a quick visit with a gullible victim. They use the Torah for gain and profit and insomuch are committing one of the most heinous crimes one can in the Jewish religion.


For a listing of a few of the fake 'kabbalist' conmen, visit http://www.alfassa.com/kabbalah-warning.html

The author is an historian of the Jewish world and is an international advocate for Sephardic Jewry.



© Shelomo Alfassa