|Baba Elazar advising someone,|
surrounded by wealth
The family was a couple, with a single daughter in her late 20's. They were concerned about the daughter's marriage prospects, and when this 'renowned' kabbalist from Eretz Yisrael came to Kew Gardens Hills, and was hosted at one of their friend's homes, they (husband, wife, and daughter) joined the throng of people to have an audience with the kabbalist.
He asked a bit about the situation and then declared that the problem was either that they had done construction, and had blocked off a window, or else that the daughter's name was spiritually problematic. He could fix the name for them. It was only $500 for the renaming, plus an additional $300 for meditating on the proper new name to give. The wife of the couple did not fall for this, saying that there was nothing wrong with the name, and that they were not going to change the name.
After a bit of cajoling which did not work, he rolled out his second package. A better deal, perhaps. Instead of a total of $800, it would only be $500 dollars. For that sum, he would arrange to have a group of talmidei chachamim pray for some number of days for the daughter at the kever of Shimon Hatzadik. But, he added, with this package, he could not guarantee success. The wife: If we are going to shell out $500, it should be for a guaranteed success. And she was not willing to pay the money. The kabbalist then tried to undermine the wife and introduce discord between husband and wife, saying to the husband, 'are you going to listen to her?' He asked the wife (in the presence of the daughter), "Do you hate your daughter? If you don't do this, then she will never get married.' (I think there was also the explicit statement, or allusion, to the presence of a curse which could be removed via this mechanism.)
The husband eventually wrote a $500 check, not because he believed it, but because he was worried about the placebo effect, the psychological effect it would have on the daughter. And who knows? It might even have a positive psychological effect. They regretted this, shortly thereafter, and canceled the check. But other friends of theirs fell for the scam, and paid the $800 for a name change.
They called a prominent rabbi in Kew Gardens Hills and told him this story. (He will remain anonymous.) They asked him what steps the rabbonim of the neighborhood could take to stop these con-artists from operating in the neighborhood. His reply was that, indeed, these are con-artists, but he did not want to step in. He had done so in a case several years back, publicly coming out against a kabbalist con-artist, and was visited shortly thereafter by a group of burly thugs who threatened to break his kneecaps. These are not just con-artists, but thugs.
What did this teach me? First, that there are these con-artists coming from Eretz Yisrael and preying on the innocent and trusting folk in New York. Second, that the rabbis are not stepping up to the plate, for whatever reason, and one should not take their shetika as hodaah.
Now what about Baba Elazar, who was recently murdered by Rabbi Asher Dahan? (Read the link.) Was Baba Elazar a con-artist, or the real deal?
On the one hand, he was the grandson of Baba Sali. On the other hand, he visited New York and charged for his consultations. In 2011, his assets were estimated at $80 million dollars. So what? People are allowed to have, and accumulate money. But the details mentioned in this Haaretz article I found telling:
It gets worse, with asking for more money, and the implications of a curse. And this was just one person. There are others who corroborate, with similar stories. They sound quite similar to what the fake kabbalist, one of many kabbalist con-men, did to my friends.
Ellowich first heard about Abuhatzeira in 2004 through a friend, Chezkel Roth. "I didn't know a thing about him except that his grandfather was the Baba Sali," Ellowich said.
The rabbi told Ellowich that to receive the desired blessing, he would have to bring him $100,000 within five days. "You have to believe in me," Ellowich quoted the rabbi as saying. "I'm a great righteous person and I promise you your daughter will have children and grandchildren. Her luck will change. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don't tell anyone, just bring the money."
"I don't know how he does it, but I felt I had met an angel, or God Himself," Ellowich said. "I don't know how he hypnotized me. He probably makes a million dollars a day with that magic."
Ellowich said he borrowed money from friends, one of whom demanded $7,000 in interest. "Then I came to him with the check and he said: 'You're late, but I'll do it for you anyway.' With the check in his hand, he stood up with this hood over his face where you see only his lips, and said in a loud voice in Hebrew: 'I say to you, as you are standing here, that I, Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, in the presence of Hezkel Roth and Menachem Ellowich and God, attest in the name of God that your daughter will be healed and will have children. You have nothing to worry about, it's in my hands now.'"
Shortly after the blessing, his daughter met a young ultra-Orthodox man. "When they got married, Rabbi Abuhatzeira sent a message through his sexton that the miracle would take six months," Ellowich said. But the months passed and nothing happened.
Am I going to trust the anti-chareidi, anti-religious, HaAretz? Look, I don't trust them for spin. But they are referring to a known, named person, whose story rings true, and who has documentation. And they did not just make up all these other people.
In 2009, a 47-year-old man was indicted for going to the rabbi's house with a knife and threatening to kill him. That man said he was angry because the rabbi made him a medical promise that hadn't come true.Where there is smoke, there is often fire. He was indeed finally done in by someone who was upset at his marital advice. And a prosecutor has access to real, dozens of people. This does not strike me as something completely baseless. It sounds like he was a con-man.
That same year, a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York began investigating Abuhatzeira on suspicion of defrauding dozens of people who sought his advice by demanding money in exchange for promises that they or their loved ones would recover from a terminal illness or have children.
This is perhaps a slight criticism of the rabbis who did not step in. Why didn't the rabbonim of the community step him from defrauding their constituents? Why didn't the rabbis in Eretz Yisrael monitor such a public situation and condemn such behavior?
In terms of the latter, I have my suspicions. It would be against "Achdut" for an Ashkenazi to condemn. He was inspiring thousands of the superstitious / quasi-religious, so it is a positive influence. He is the grandson of the Baba Sali, so how could one say he is doing wrong? He has many miraculous-seeming stories, and conducts himself like the Baba Sali. If one sets about debunking him and showing how he pulls off his successes, wouldn't we shatter people's emunah. For how could we expect them to draw the distinction between this fraud and the Baba Sali? Or, they did not know of the allegations, because they did not read secular papers. Or, if the secular papers reported it, we will assume that it is false, because they have an agenda against the religious. Or these rabbis are paragons of honesty, heard the stories of his miraculous successes, did not see how an unscrupulous person could manage this, and so determined that he was for real.
There are all sorts of possible reasons they did not speak up while he was alive. But I would not take the rabbis' silence as proof that Baba Elazar was for real, especially when up against dozens of people with similar stories, credible enough for a NY prosecutor to set up a case against him, such that he wisely chose not to come to the US this year.
What of the fact that they eulogized him? For instance (as someone noted in a comment on a previous post):
Rav Shteinman: http://www.kikarhashabat.co.
Rav Moshe Tzadka: http://www.kikarhashabat.co.
Tzanzer Rebbe: http://www.kikarhashabat.co.
His brother, R' David Abuhatzeira: http://www.kikarhashabat.co.
And, Rav Ovadia Yosef cried when he heard the news.
It is a good question. One possible answer is the saying, אחרי מות קדושים אמור. This is a sequence of parshiyot in the Torah, and taken together refer to the fact that often, after someone's death, everyone says that he is a tzaddik.
Do I find this list impressive? Not really. Rav Shteinman, for instance, did not know who Schwecky is, when Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak came to him to get him to ban him. What is a Schwecky?! Before paskening on credit cards, people had to explain to him how credit cards work. So was he up on what the secular press was saying about a specific rabbi?
As to the others, I don't know. But a similar reason could exist as to why they eulogized him as to why they did not speak up when he was alive. Unless I know that they made their own investigations, interviewing the dozens of people who accused Baba Elazar, and concluded that the allegations were false, I see no reason see their hespedim as evidence that Baba Elazar was innocent, and that the many accusers are the no-goodniks.
I want to speak a bit about toelet, but I think I have enough at this point to respond to a representative comment objecting in a previous post:
Dear Reb JoshHow do we know that he is a tzaddik? Yes, this is from some lawsuit, but that person had given a donation check to Baba Elazar, or there would be no lawsuit. He has self-interest? Yes, to win the lawsuit because he thinks Baba Elazar wronged him. It is amazing how only one side is seen, and the other side is dismissed.
I am very surprised on the tone of your comments knowing that you usually approach things with a critical Torah analysis.
Please do not judge a Rav and Tzaddik from some lawsuit from a party who has self interest
Meanwhile, it is not just the one party. It is dozens of people (that means at least 24) who tell similar stories of being ripped off by Baba Elazar. And these stories were credible enough for a New York prosecutor to open up an investigation, and enough for Baba Elazar to avoid traveling to the US this year.
And meanwhile, Baba Elazar has $80 million in assets.
Why make the assumption that this is NOT being approached in a similar spirit of critical analysis? (See a criticism of kabbalistic charlatans, including various unspecified Babas, by Rabbi Yaakov Hillel. And see this blogpost by Mekubal.)
The commenter continues:
take into consideration that you are speaking about the son,grandson and descendant of some of the greatest Tzaddikim.So am I and so are you. Are we not descended from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov? Wasn't Moshe grandson a priest for Avoda Zara? Look, I certainly am not going to malign Baba Sali. But that does not mean that a descendant cannot know a good racket / opportunity where he sees it, and take advantage of it.
Take into consideration the thousands of testimonies by Jews from every sector of this man's greatnessI do take this into consideration. I assume that these thousands of testimonies are true. Here is how it works. I call up 10,000 people on the phone and tell them stock X will go up, and 10,000 other people that stock X will go down. Stock X goes up, so I discard 10,000 people I told the wrong information to. Then, I call up the first 10,000 people. To 5000 I tell them stock Y will go up; to 5000 I tell that stock Y will go down. Stock Y goes down. Stock Y goes down. I then call the 5000 people and ask them for money for my stock advice. And since I have given accurate advice in the past, they are all willing.
There are other factors. There is regression towards the mean, where situations can improve simply on average. And people tend to focus on successes and ignore the failures. And one can be ambiguous, or can take several tries (and money) before something works. Or one can blame the victims for the failure, saying that they didn't do random thing Z right. And recall that it is typically only those who believe it worked who will breath
This is how non-Jewish con-men work, and how some Jewish con-men work as well.
So I do take into consideration those thousands of Jews from every sector.
take into consideration what the greatest Rabbi's of our generation have to say about his awesome holiness knowing him first hand.I do take it into consideration, but I don't find this persuasive enough, given what I have written above.
For further examples of even Gedolim erring in matters such as this:
Rabbi Lipa Yisraelzon, grandson of Rav Elyashiv, affirmed before the students, as one who has accompanied Rabbi Tropper on his Israel trip, on the warm connections he has merited in the homes of Gedolei Yisroel.This was after the sex scandal. And recall Rabbi Elior Chen?
So, on his trip, Rabbi Tropper came to the homes of Gedolei Yisroel. Aside from the Halachic questions that he placed before Gedolei Yisroel, he received their blessings for his holy work.
You may remember that leading haredi rabbis – including haredi leader Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, haredi number two Aryeh Leib Shteinman, and Chaim Kanievesky – wrote a letter endorsing Chen, calling him a talmud chacham and insisting on his innocence – despite the reams of evidence and eyewitness testimony against him, and despite the fact that one of his tiny victims lies in a persistive vegetative state to this day with little hope for recovery.What is the point of writing all this, though? There are issues of lashon hara about the dead, just as there are about the living. (See here; though it being widespread public knowledge, mitigates it.)
Well, I am just sickened by the response of the frum world in this case. We don't have our heads on straight. Some yeshiva bachurim smuggle ecstasy into Japan and are caught, and the lesson is not 'don't smuggle', and 'respect dina demalchusa', but rather that we are all guilty because we are not tznius enough, and that Japan is an evil country who was punished by the tsunami.
So a con-man victimizes gullible and trusting religious people for years, as the rabbis stand idly by. Some victims are angry enough to even try to kill the con-man. Finally, an advisee actually does kill him, reportedly upset at his advice. (Though Asher Dahan is presumably also insane, as we may surmise from his killing someone and claiming that he is the gilgul of Pinchas.) Could it be that the thing we should learn from this is that one should not be a con-man, cheating desperate people out of their hand earned money, and often money they cannot afford? Or perhaps that we as a community should not stand by as these con-men operate. Or, we could learn from the act of murder itself, which was indeed reprehensible, even if Baba Elazar was a con-man. Collectively, it would be good to work on bein adam lachaveiro, as Rav Shteinman said.
But how are people viewing it? Well, they are assuming that the con-man was a tzaddik. Indeed, a lamed-vav-nik. Or that he was mashiach ben Yosef, such that his death was extremely meaningful. The apocalypse is surely upon us! Or that it is the fault of Jewish musicians, like Mordechai Ben David and Shwecky. Or that there was a gzeira on the tzibur, and he saved us, dying for our sins. They would not be drawing such broad conclusions had it been some other Jewish con-man who was murdered by a fellow Jew. By painting a likely con-artist as a tzadik yesod olam, they pave the way to being motzi laaz on Jewish singers, or on klal Yisrael in general.
Meanwhile, many con-men continue to visit and prey on suspecting Jews, as the rabbis, and the general populace, stand by.