Nation & World Briefs

Israeli Mystic Was 104, 106 or 112

To many Jews, he was the celebrity of the century, a mystic with mystique.

No one knows exactly the age of Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, who died of pneumonia late last month. The official statements of the Israeli religious party Shas, for which he served as charismatic figurehead and sage, said he was 106 years old. But other accounts spoke of 104 or 112.

Neither was it precisely possible to quantify Kadouri’s contribution to the Orthodox canon. Unlike other leading rabbis, he left no great writings and never specialized in founding yeshivot.

Yet, close to a quarter-million mourners, including Israel’s chief rabbis and political notables, attended Kadouri’s funeral in Jerusalem on Sunday, Jan. 29, bringing the capital to a halt as his coffin was borne through the streets.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav eulogized him as “one of the outstanding leaders of the Jewish people in the past generations.”

Kadouri was the first name in kabbalah — a discipline which, almost by definition, fits those who seem more ethereal than others.

Well before the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles began recruiting superstars like Madonna, well before kabbalah was well known outside the secretive circles of Jewish mystics, Kadouri was studying it, prognosticating and even concocting his own talismans.

The Iraqi-born rabbi was an icon to Sephardic Jews, who attributed special powers to even the most mundane items — such as chairs and food — that he touched. Kadouri contributed to this image with a lifestyle at once virile and ascetic. A resident of Jerusalem’s impoverished Bukhari Quarter for most of his life, he chain-smoked cheap cigarettes with little apparent impact on his health, and was married twice — the second time when in his 90s, to a woman half his age.

Katsav called him “a symbol and example to all of the repudiation of materialism.”

His influence was important to the hordes of politicians who would seek Kadouri’s counsel, especially around election time. In 1996, Shas leader Aryeh Deri persuaded Kadouri to endorse the party, and it went on to major gains in the Knesset.

Kadouri’s support also helped Benjamin Netanyahu, a Shas ally, win the premiership in 1997.

“What interested him was that the religious parties would help the people of Israel and the Torah world,” Deri said.

Israel Continues PA Contacts

Israel’s acting prime minister said ties to the Palestinian Authority would continue as long as it is not led by Hamas. Ehud Olmert said the monthly transfers of taxes levied on behalf of the Palestinians by Israel would continue, but on a case-by-case basis, as long as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains independent of Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that won parliamentary elections last month. Addressing a Tel Aviv economic conference, Olmert said that withholding the tax transfers, which he had considered, would only “play into the hands of the extremists.”

The Palestinians have several weeks to form a new Palestinian Authority government. Abbas has tried to assuage international concerns by proposing that he keep control of security forces even if Hamas ministers are appointed.

Gaza Farmers to Get Retraining

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem plans to retrain evacuated Gaza Strip settlement farmers. The university announced this week that around 100 farmers evacuated from Gaza would receive advanced training at its Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences. The government-funded studies begin March 5 and will last between six and 24 months. The project is intended to give the evacuees high-level professional training and help them return to work and re-establish farms.

Settlements Are Really Expensive

Settlements have cost Israelis more than $14 billion, not counting military expenditures, an independent Israeli study said. The study, released last Friday by the Research Institute for Economic and Social Affairs, also said the government spends twice as much on settlements as it does on local authorities inside Israel. The institute, funded by a German group that backs Israel-Arab dialogue, took 18 months to calculate the costs of four decades of settlement in areas claimed by the Palestinians. The government refused to provide assistance. There are about 250,000 settlers now living in the West Bank.

New Genealogical Center Opens

An institute devoted to Jewish genealogical research and study opened this week in Jerusalem. Described as the only one of its kind in the Jewish world, the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy at the Jewish National and University Library, is headed by Yosef Lamdan, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican. According to Lamdan, the institute will focus on teaching, research and collaborative projects of practical benefit to family historians. Jewish genealogy has gained immense popularity across the Jewish world over the last two decades, and especially since the rise of the Internet.

Emma Thompson Backs Anne Frank Site

Actress Emma Thompson helped launch a new Web site connected to the Anne Frank museum. Thompson placed her name on a leaf at the Amsterdam museum last week. Visitors to the Web site can attach a story or a poem about what Anne Frank means to them to a cyber “chestnut tree,” a replica of the tree that sat outside her attic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish telegraphic Agency.