How Jerusalem Rabbis Used Kabbalistic Magic to Try to Defeat Hitler

In the 1930s, Jerusalem had become a major center for the study of Kabbalah, bringing together scholars from throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. As news of Adolf Hitler’s designs on the Jews arrived in the Land of Israel, some of these rabbis began to consider esoteric rituals and incantations to thwart those plans. Taking action began to seem all the more urgent in the summer of 1940, when German forces were moving across Egypt toward Palestine. Drawing on scattered evidence and sources, Yuval Harari describes these attempts, including the most dramatic and controversial, which took place in 1942:

The plan of the kabbalists, which may indeed have awakened reservations even at this time of great distress, [involved one] Rabbi Shimon Tsvi Horowitz, among the founders of the kabbalistic yeshiva Sha’ar ha-Shamayim in Jerusalem. [Two of the main sources] describe an attack against Horowitz at the synagogue accusing him of witchcraft and idolatry. . . .

Sent on the mission were Rabbi Horowitz and Ḥakham Tsaddok Yihiyah Cohen, who boarded a military airplane with four cocks “white as snow” as the plane circled over the borders of the Land Israel—north, south, east, and west. They read special prayers [composed by the great 18th-century Yemenite-Jerusalemite sage] Shalom Sharabi, slaughtered one cock at each point of the compass, spraying its blood from the air over the land. . . .

The planned circular route included a flight along the coast of Israel and Egypt up to Alexandria, southward along the Suez Canal, landing for refueling, onward to Aqaba, and northward to the Dead Sea along the Jordan River up to Jerusalem. Since the blood was meant to be sprayed along the route, the door of one of the plane’s loading docks was removed, a net was set in place to prevent falls, and the flight departed. The rabbis, who were covered in the fowls’ blood because of the air sucked into the plane, . . . recited psalms and prayers the entire time. . . . At the end of the flight, the rabbis gave the crew some money “for beer,” and that was the end.

By contrast, the distinguished Iraqi kabbalist Rabbi Salman Mutzafi stated that he had been approached by fellow Jerusalemites to pronounce a curse against Hitler, but decided against it after being warned in a dream against doing so. The German-born historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem, who also lived in Jerusalem during World War II, was likewise visited by local sages interested in learning magical secrets to use against the Nazis, but he demurred. In the fall of 1942, German forces in Egypt were defeated at the battle of el-Alamein, and Palestine was no longer in immediate danger.

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More about: Adolf Hitler, Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, Magic, World War II

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship