A 'Baba' Is Born

The 10 leading kabbalists today are young, charismatic people who feel comfortable on the capitalist playing field. 'Opium for the masses,' the 21st-century version.

'The X-Ray' Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Ifergan, a miracle worker for the rich, is the archetype of the post-modern tzaddik. "The X-Ray," whose name was given to him thanks to his apparent ability to discern and to help cure the ills suffered by people, controls an economic empire through the Brit Shalom V'Hesed association. Through this association (not the only one), flow the many donations and official allocations for his enterprise. According to a 2001 investigation by the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, most of the sums donated are not made known to the income tax authorities.

Even at the beginning of his career, Ifergan made his father, Rabbi Shalom Ifergan, an unknown figure, into a sort of hidden tzaddik, and built him a large memorial park. In order to distinguish himself from the babas in Netivot, "The X-Ray," who himself did not undergo formal rabbinic ordination, built his father a pretentious architectural structure in the shape of a trapezoid. He walks around in modern Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) dress, yet styles himself a miracle worker. His tikkunim and hilulot in Netivot and in Amuka in the north are elaborate shows. In his forties, the charismatic Ifergan has the ability to attract people from all walks of life. He is the most influential of the new tzaddikim today, thanks to his contacts with people of wealth and influence.

Guests: President Moshe Katsav, businessmen Nochi Dankner, politicians Roni Milo and Gideon Ezra, actor Zeev Revach, entertainer Dudu Topaz.

Pedigree: His father, Rabbi Shalom Ifergan.

Rabbi Yoram Abergil Rabbi Abergil predicted that the disengagement would be called off. Singer Yehuda Saado swore in his name. Some of the evacuees from Gush Katif mentioned him, before the implementation of the disengagement, as the person who had advised them to buy land in that area despite information to the contrary, because the evacuation would supposedly be called off. Yaakov Gueta wrote in Haaretz that Rabbi Abergil placed a hand on his head and said: "You must live on the holy land of Morag" (a Gush Katif settlement). Shimon Zohar of Netivot, an expert in the courts of the tzaddikim, who studied with Ifergan and his nephew Rabbi Yigal Shriki, "The CT," and speaks of them critically, says that Abergil is a true talmid hakham (religious scholar). He expects his influence to grow, and believes that the rabbi will be considered one of the scholars of the Shas Council of Torah Sages in the future. Of all the new tzaddikim, Rabbi Abergil controls the largest network of institutions, mainly in the south: the Hachida institutions and Kol Rina, which, like Shas institutions, include kindergartens, schools and yeshivas.

Rabbi Abergil grew up in Moshav Brosh near Netivot, and studied at the yeshiva of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement in Kfar Maimon. That is why his advice is so warmly accepted in the national religious community. For example, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, formerly the head of the mechina (pre-army Torah study program) in Atzmona, in Gush Katif, is one of his frequent visitors.

Pedigree: None. He organizes an annual hilula for the tzaddik Rabbi Abdallah Somekh, a preeminent 19th-century Baghdadi scholar, who is buried in Iraq.

Rabbi David Batzri In early September, Rabbi David Batzri said that Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans was poetic justice, or a form of punishment, for American pressure on Israel to carry out the disengagement. His occasional statements on various issues, even if they sound absurd, fall on receptive ears. Masses of people attend the rabbi's lectures at Yeshivat Hashalom in Jerusalem, and he is also accepted in the Haredi community, thanks to his location in the heart of Jerusalem's old neighborhoods. As the scion of a glorious dynasty of kabbalists, Rabbi Batzri is considered one of the kabbalists who sticks to more traditional models.

"As opposed to kabbalists such as Ifergan, he has the proper Torah education," says Dr. Feldman. "He doesn't engage in blessings and amulets." But as opposed to the secretive image of kabbala, Rabbi Batzri has specialized in tikkunim and in mass exorcism of dybbuks.

Pedigree: Grandson of kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Patya.

Amnon Yitzhak It's true that Amnon Yitzhak, who excels in bringing people back to religion, is not a kabbalist. He is more worthy of the title darshan (preacher), but the characteristics of the two are similar. He is a figure seen as a guru, who wears traditional garb and makes provocative statements threatening that the world is coming to an end; organizes gigantic rallies aimed at hazara b'tshuva (bringing people back to religion), which resemble entertainment extravaganzas; and oversees the Shofar empire, which includes production of a newspaper, videotapes and audio tapes, a Web site and a growing audience of fans, even among the Haredi public.

From his various platforms, Yitzhak, 50, does not tire of challenging the Ashkenazi establishment, including the Haredi-Ashkenazi establishment. A few weeks ago he was not deterred from a frontal clash on the pages of his newspaper with a series of important rabbis, who sat on the rabbinical committee that approved the Mirs "kosher cell phone," which he announced was a fraud, explaining that the phone can be hacked.

Pedigree: None.

Rabbi Yashiyahu Pinto In his early thirties, Rabbi Yashiyahu Pinto acquired a name as a mediator between criminals, with influence in the underworld. In his youth he studied at a Lithuanian (Ashkenazi) yeshiva in Jerusalem, and adopted a Haredi lifestyle. Feldman says that Pinto is on the way to the peak of his influence, and in order to build up his status and prestige, today he practices asceticism. His followers say that he fasts and is celibate. Feldman says he has stopped admitting women for consultation and blessings: "When he gives Torah lessons, the women who want to hear him stand outside or behind the mehitza" (the barrier dividing the men's section from the women's section). At present he lives in Ashdod, where he built a yeshiva called Shuva Yisrael, in the heart of a neighborhood of single-family homes.

Guests: Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Education Minister Limor Livnat, Health Minister Danny Naveh, former justice minister Yaakov Ne'eman, the Safra family, entertainer Eli Yatzpan, soccer star Haim Revivo, advertising woman G. Yafit, entertainer Dudu Topaz, journalist Dan Margalit.

Pedigree: Great-grandson of Rabbi Haim Pinto of Morocco. His father is Rabbi Haim Pinto, chief rabbi of Ashdod.

Natan Bokobza Natan Bokobza is the youngest of the tzaddikim: a rising star, not yet 30, a rabbi-broadcaster and consultant on the Haredi radio station Kol Hai. About two years ago he was invited to advise people at the Meuhedet health maintenance organization in Holon. Real estate agents occasionally use him as an intermediary. He recently gained fame when he accompanied a group of Jewish tourists from France who were interested in buying homes in Netivot.

Pedigree: None.

Nir Ben Artzi The mysterious Rabbi Nir Ben Artzi behaves like a guru. He is 48 years old, a native of Moshav Telamim, one of the settlements in the Lachish district in the south. In his past he was a tractor driver, until a tzaddik appeared to him in a dream. Since then he has become newly religious, and has established a messianic community in Telamim called Talmei Geulat Yisrael. He has established a network of about 20 institutions in the south.

Ben Artzi speaks inarticulately and mysteriously, which heightens the admiration for him among his followers - most of them belonging to the national religious community - and the stories of miracles that are told about him. Many of his followers lived in settlements, some in Neveh Dekalim. He speaks a great deal about the Messiah and imminent redemption; some people even claim he has declared himself the Messiah. In 2000, Rabbis Shlomo Aviner and Yigal Kaminetsky sued him in the rabbinical court in Jerusalem for pretending to be the Messiah, and for other damage and acts of deception. In the verdict they came to a compromise, and it was decided that Ben Artzi would not say that he had divine information to reveal secrets. But after the disengagement, he came out with the statement that the Messiah was about to reveal himself at any moment. His community has a Web site, via which one can receive blessings from the tzaddik, as well as a newsletter that is distributed in synagogues.

Pedigree: None.

'The CT' Rabbi Yigal Shriki is 36 years old and lives in Ofakim. Up until a few years ago, he was a policeman at the Ofakim station, and totally secular. At the same time, he served as the organizer of the ceremonies conducted by his uncle, "The X-Ray." One night, his grandfather, Rabbi Shalom Ifergan, appeared to him in a dream and he decided to become a kabbalist himself. Shriki returned to religion and began to receive people in his home in Netivot. The nickname "CT" stuck to him. When he attracted followers, he began to conduct tikkunim in the cemetery. His presence there did not please his uncle, and he moved to Ofakim and opened a court there. He became famous when Ehud Barak, who was running for prime minister, visited him, and became even more famous as an adviser to Ariel Sharon, with whom he met in 2000. Shriki prophesied that he would be elected prime minister.

Guests: Businessmen, Omri Sharon.

Pedigree: His uncle, "The X-Ray," and grandfather, Rabbi Shalom Ifergan.

Rabbi Haim Cohen The search for new attractions gives rise to a need for new names, more concealed tzaddikim, for those in the know. Rabbi Haim Cohen of Givatayim is such a new name, and he is gathering influence. He is an older man, a simple worker in a factory, without a beard, and he is known as "The Milk Man." His believers speak of a unique quality in his blessings, and of his healing abilities. He organizes tikkunim and purifies himself in the mikveh (ritual bath).

Pedigree: None.