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Holy Remains, Worldly Gains

Sarah Pardes

Organizations make money off them, PR firms treat them like regular clients, and the masses seeking personal salvation liberally disburse funds in their merit. What’s behind the mounting popularity of kivrei tzaddikim in Israel and abroad that has made them into the latest marketing gimmick?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

You can hear it before you see it. As Jews of all stripes stream to the anonymous side street by the little-known, improvised Sheikh Badr cemetery, next to the government complex in Jerusalem, the buzz gets steadily louder. Pleas to save a sick child (“expenses exceed half a million dollars”), to help a disabled widow, or assist a destitute family, jumble together with solicitations for yeshivos and cries of others who have hit hard times. The few dozen meters leading to the kever of Rav Gedaliah Moshe, the Zvehiller Rebbe who passed away in 1950, are dotted with colorful stalls hawking various and sundry wares for sale, from seforim and Judaica items to oil paintings of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Yitzchak Kadouri, and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu. At the tziyun, masses of people are davening fervently. The accepted ritual is that one should come to the site on Monday, Thursday, and Monday, consecutively; recite a series of specific chapters of Tehillim together with the name of the tzaddik in Chapter 119; light a candle, and give tzedakah for his soul. Then one uses his left hand to place a stone with on the grave, specifies the request, and adds a promise that if the prayers are answered, he will visit the site again to express gratitude. How did this gravesite — although belonging to a revered tzaddik, but relatively unknown until just six years ago — become a popular “yeshuos center,” even surpassing the gravesites of tzaddikim of centuries earlier? 

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