Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Ban on pilgrimage to to the tomb of Ezra Hasofer in Tidif, near Aleppo, Syria in the year 1775 - 2 takes on the outcome

In recent years, the massive pilgrimage to the kever of Rashb"i in Meron every year on Lag Baomer has been occasionally banned, by various Rabbis and Hasidic sects. Last year, the Viznitz Rebbe forbade his hasidim to make the journey. The reason usually given is the lack of modesty and mingling of men and women in such places.

There is an interesting precedent to this, which occurred in Syria in 1775, with 2 versions of the outcome of the story written by 2 great Aleppo Rabbis. The events leading up to the ban are described in great detail by Rabbi Avraham Antebi (1765-1858), who was appointed as Chief Rabbi of Aleppo in 1817, in his Sefer Ohel Yesharim (Leghorn 1843). Rabbi Antebi describes how it was the custom of Syrian Jews to visit the synagogue where it was believed that Ezra Hasofer visited (some legends have it buried) which was located outside of the city walls, in an area full of gardens and orchards. All women with any sickness or troubles in the family would pledge to visit and donate to the synagogue and it was proven to work. The people used to visit the place on Shabbat as well, and being an open place, the Shabbat was desecrated as they would carry food and drinks with them on Shabbat though there was no Eruv. Aside from this, the good atmosphere encouraged people to drink, and getting drunk, they at times, coming to great sins.

Rabbi Shmuel Laniado among other Rabbis made a ban against making a pilgrimage to the Synagogue of Ezra Hasofer because of the above reasons in 1775. Rabbi Antebi writes how during the year of the ban, many afflictions fell upon the Jews of the community, and everyone said that it was because of their not going to visit the holy place, and many people even were told this was the reason for the heavenly wrath in a dream.

Ohel Yesharim of R. Antebi/Machon Haktav Edition

Ohel Yesharim of R. Antebi/Machon Haktav Edition

Rabbi Yehuda Kassin who was the older than Rabbi Laniado then forced him to rescind the ban, Rabbi Antebi writes how it is still the obligation of the Rabbis to warn the people against sinning when making pilgrimage to this site.

The second version of the story is brought down by Rabbi Yehuda Kassin in his Sefer Mahane Yehuda. Rabbi Kassin brings a different reasoning for rescinding the ban, not because of the wrath of Ezra Hasofer which afflicted the people once they stopped visiting. Rather, he writes that it was rescinded due to it being an unpractical edict, as people were transgressing it anyways and that the place, lacking the many visitors it was used to, became desolate and barren. Another key difference between the 2 versions is that Rabbi Kassin writes that the ban was only on single men and women, not on married men.

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