Cairo cancels annual pilgrimage to rabbi's grave

Trek by devout Israelis to tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in the Nile Delta called off by Egypt's military authorities amid instability in country; last year, signs reading "Death to Jews" greeted pilgrims.

January 11, 2012 20:24
2 minute read.
Pilgrims at grave of Rabbi Abuhatzeira in Egypt

abir yaakov grave Abuhatzeira egypt 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Egypt has cancelled the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, some 160 kilometers northwest of Cairo in the Nile Delta, because of the country’s current instability, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported on its website Wednesday.

According to the report, local authorities in the governorate where the shrine is located advised the military authorities to cancel the pilgrimage, scheduled for later this week to mark the Hebrew date of the rabbi’s death.

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Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, however, said Jerusalem had been in contact with the Egyptians in an attempt to ensure that the pilgrimage takes place. These efforts were being carried out despite the travel advisory issued by the National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau warning against Israeli visits to Egypt due to “concrete risks.”

Abuhatzeira, also known as the Abir Yaakov, was a 19thcentury rabbi and mystic who lived in Morocco and died in Damanhur, near Alexandria, during a trip to Palestine in 1880. He was the grandfather of the Baba Sali, the noted kabbalist who died in 1984 and is buried in Netivot.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, drawing on a report from Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency, said Tuesday that a group – led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and joined by Mohamed ElBaradei’s presidential campaign and the Nasserist Trend – had vowed to form a human chain to prevent “Zionists” from traveling to Damanhur. According to the report, the Muslim Brotherhood called the pilgrimage “unpopular and unacceptable legally and politically.”

Pilgrimages from Israel to the site began after the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty but have been a source of controversy in recent years. They were banned by Egyptian courts in 2001 and 2004 due to the second intifada. In 2008, Egyptian parliamentarians and activists lobbied the government to end them, saying visitors behaved in a “provocative” manner. In 2009, just after Operation Cast Lead, authorities cancelled the pilgrimage altogether.

After the tradition was renewed in 2010, Egyptian authorities arrested 25 Muslim extremists suspected of planning to attack Israelis attending the event. They limited the number of visas issued for travel to the grave to some 500, considerably less than the thousands granted in previous years.

Last year, signs reading “Death to the Jews” greeted the 550 Israelis who made the trek, which was presaged by a campaign mounted by opposition parties – now the country’s leading political parties – against allowing “Zionists” into the country.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, issued a statement stating it was ominous that “as they ascend to power in the Egyptian parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood’s first act is to curb the religious freedom of Jews. In their worldview, there is no respect for the traditions of Jews, dead or alive.”

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