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Muslim Brotherhood Forbids Jews From Visiting Grave of Sephardic Sage

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The revered sage and kabbalist Rav Yaakov Abuchatzeira, whose grave has been declared off-limits to Jews by Egypt’s rulers.A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has warned “Zionists” that any attempt to visit the grave of the revered Sephardic sage Rav Yaakov Abuchatzeira (the Abir Yaakov) – who was widely known for his righteousness and for an ability to perform miracles – would effectively be a “suicide mission.” The ominous warning comes as a follow-up to a statement by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry that it had informed Israel it would not be “appropriate” for Israelis to make an annual pilgrimage to the sage’s grave in the Nile Delta.

Gamal Heshmat, who helps organize protests against the visits, stated that “Normalization of relations with Israel is forced on the people, and the visits come against the will of the people and despite popular rejection.” According to Heshmat, Muslim activists are prepared to hold protests that would block passage to the grave once they learn that the arrival of visitors is imminent. He explained that more than thirty groups – comprised of members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Peace and Freedom Party, Mohamed El-Baradei’s presidential campaign and the Nasserist Trend – have vowed to form a human chain to prevent “Zionists” from traveling to visit the tomb of Rav Abuchatzeira, who lived during the 19th century and is buried in the village of Daymouta, 112 miles north of Cairo. This pilgrimage, known as ‘hilula’, is an ages-old tradition of North African Jews.

In response to the latest threat from the Muslim Brotherhood – which has caused the pilgrimage’s planners to cancel the trip this year – the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the group for attempting to restrict Jewish religious practices. “In their worldview,” commented Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, “there is no respect for the traditions of Jews, dead or alive.” Rabbi Cooper went on to declare that “the hopes of Tahrir Square for the 21st century have yielded to fanatics rushing their nation to the 12th Century.”

In the past, the Egyptian government had designated the rabbi’s tomb as an official antiquity site. However, the protesting Egyptian groups, led by the Muslim Brotherhood – which will soon dominate the country’s legislature – denounced this pilgrimage as “unpopular and unacceptable legally and politically.”

“It is an ominous sign that as they ascend to power in the Egyptian Parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood’s first act is to curb the religious freedom of Jews,” charged Rabbi Cooper. “We are deeply fearful for Egypt’s historic Coptic Christian community, which represents 10% of Egypt’s population, and whose faithful have been targets of religious-fueled terrorism.”

The Conference of European Rabbis has also weighed in on the matter. “The world is looking at how Egypt protects the rights of all religious minorities in the country,” CER President Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt noted. “To now describe as ‘inappropriate’ a peaceful visit to the tomb of a sainted Egyptian rabbi, which has been going on for decades, is an affront to the principles of tolerance and human rights for which many Egyptians laid down their lives during the Arab Spring.”

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