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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven

Remembering a Beloved Rabbi

February 1, 2006 The Jewish Voice

On Shabbat Tevet 28 5766, January 28, 2006, the well-known rabbi, Hakham Yishak Kaduri of Jerusalem passed away. Hakham Yishak Kaduri was the most revered mekubal (kabbalist) in Israel, considered the most respected in our generation. The elderly rabbi was said to be about 106 years old.

Hakham Kaduri was born in Ottoman Turkish Iraq between 1897 and 1900. In the true Sephardic tradition, the young Yishak Kaduri was a man of the world and a man of the Torá (Jewish law). He started out working with his hands in the trade of binding books. His education took him to Hakham Yosef Haim (known as the Ben Ish Hai), sometime before he was 13. Hakham Yishak Kaduri would go on to become one of the final disciples of the Ben Ish Hai--the last leader of Iraqi Jewry under the Turkish sultan.

The Ben Ish Hai had a great love for the holy land and generously gave his moral and financial support to several charity funds in Jerusalem. As a result of his influence, the Baghdadi born millionaire, Yosef Abraham Shalom of Calcutta, India bequeathed a sizable amount of money to the renowned Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the old city of Jerusalem, a Sephardic yeshiva that Hakham Yishak Kaduri would later attend. The Ben Ish Hai had traveled to Jerusalem from Iraq, via Damascus, in 1869. There is no doubt that his experiences and passion would later influence his student, the young Kaduri who would eventually make relocate to Jerusalem before his 18th birthday.

In 1909 when Hakham Yosef Haim died, the still young Yishak Kaduri was living in land that was still under the Ottoman Empire. When the Turkish lands fell following World War I, the new international boundaries of the modern 20th-century state of Iraq were drawn. These borders bore little resemblance to those of the provinces of Ottoman Iraq. On the west and south, Iraq connected to the sands of the Syrian and Arabian deserts. It was during this period of turmoil and international political change that Yishak Kaduri emigrated to Eres Israel (the land of Israel).

Once there, he studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and became a student of the kabbalists who had worked in Jerusalem since the beginning of the 19th century. This group included Hakham Salman Eliyahu, father of the former Rishon L'Sion, Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Mordehai Eliyahu.

In 1998 a most unusual meeting took place in Jordan involving Hakham Yishak Kaduri and King Hussein of Jordan. The interaction between the Jordanian leader and the rabbi started years previous when the rabbi sent a message calling upon Hussein to work towards peace in the world. Kaduri had flown to Jordan as a personal guest of King Hussein, but he didn’t join the rest of the delegation on the specially prepared flight or later in a car to the mountain, instead, he was flown in a helicopter piloted by Hussein himself. Hakham Kaduri would be taken to the burial location of Aaron the High Priest, brother of Moshe, buried on Mount Hor in modern Jordan.

This was an unusual visit, as King Hussein had been a virulent enemy of the Jews for decades. He is remembered as the man who called upon the destruction of Israel, severely desecrated the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and whose troops destroyed every single synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem before 1967. But before the meeting, Hakham Kaduri's son clarified that his father would not be visiting the king in Amman for an official visit. He stated the purpose of the trip was only to pray at the gravesite of Aaron.

In his later years, Hakham Kaduri lived in the Bukharim neighborhood of Jerusalem and was associated with the Nachalat Yishak Yeshiva. He was an expert on making religious amulets and many members of the public possess a gold or silver amulet of his. It was said Kaduri had learned from the great kabbalists of previous generations the practice of writing amulets which heal, enhance fertility, or were able to being success. Every weekend many people, locals and visitors, would visit the rabbi to kiss his hand out of respect or to get a special blessing for marriage, health or financial stability.

Hakham Kaduri and the rabbis of Jerusalem never accepted the commercial exploitation of the Jewish tradition of kabbalah by cult teaching facilities located in Buenos Aires, London, Los Angeles, New York, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. Kaduri realized that the international kabbalah educational facilities, each with its own teacher called “rav”, were nothing but sham operations to gather billions of dollars from easily enticed victims. When the cultish organizations were joined with a well known pop singer who similarly exploited kabbalah for her own gain, Hakham Kaduri issued a statement declaring that people who supported them were endangering their souls.

The Sephardic rabbi had been hospitalized and was in the intensive care unit at Jerusalem’s Bikur Holim Hospital after being diagnosed with pneumonia. Prayers and well wishes streamed in from all over the world for the ailing elder. Former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef visited Hakham Kaduri at the Hospital and called upon well-wishers worldwide to recite the entire book of Tehillim (Psalms) on his behalf. The current Sephardic chief rabbi, Hakham Shelomo Amar, held a special prayer session for Hakham Kaduri at the Western Wall, the Kotel plaza in Jerusalem.

Hakham Kaduri is survived by a wife, Rabbanit Dorit Kaduri, many children, grand children and great-grandchildren. His loss is another fracture in the chain that connects the Jewish people to the rabbis of yesteryear; he was one of the last who was schooled in the Sephardic traditions that developed over many centuries in the Ottoman lands where the Sephardic Jews found refuge and thrived for hundreds of years before the modern State of Israel was established.

Barukh Dayan Ha Emet. May the Almighty comfort the family of Hakham Yishak ben Tufaha among the mourners of Sion and Jerusalem.


© Shelomo Alfassa