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.

Read more at Tablet

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

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7