Every year on Lag BaOmer Jews from around the world travel to Morocco to visit the Tomb of Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan. International travel and large gatherings have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, since Morocco joined the Abraham Accords in late 2020, leading to normalization with Israel, visits to the venerated 18th century sage may increase.
Rabbi Amram ben Diwan was born in Jerusalem to a well-known rabbinical family. He settled in Hebron where his status as a great scholar grew. The community recruited him to serve as an emissary to Morocco. In his letter of appointment, Hebron’s Jewish leaders gave him the title of “complete scholar” and honored him as both a “Sinai” and an “uprooter of mountains,” references to Talmudic verses.
In Morocco he founded a yeshiva and became known for his openness, charity and miracles. Both Jews and non-Jews traveled from far and wide to receive a blessing, ask for advice or become healed. He toured Jewish communities throughout Morocco spreading his teachings, kindness and collecting donations for the Jewish communities in the Land of Israel.
After ten years, he returned to Hebron but his stay was short.
At the time, Jews were banned from entering Hebron’s most well-known landmark, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Jews were allowed to ascend only up to the seventh step of the staircase leading to the massive building which houses the Cave of Machpela, burial site of the Biblical founding fathers and mothers.
So Rabbi Amram ben Diwan disguised himself as a Muslim, entered and prayed quietly.
However he was recognized and his transgression was reported to the authorities. A Muslim friend alerted him about his impending arrest and along with his son Haim, he fled in the middle of the night to Morocco. Upon arrival, he was greeted warmly and they stayed for eight years.
One day his son Haim fell deathly ill. Rabbi Amram prayed for his son’s recovery offering that his son be spared in exchange for his own life.
His son miraculously recovered and the two embarked on a return journey to the Land of Israel. Rabbi Amram’s health took a turn for the worse and he passed away in 1782 and was buried in Ouazzane, Morocco.
Haim ben Diwan, the rabbi’s son, went on to continue his father’s work, becoming a respected rabbi in Morocco. His grave too has become a pilgrimage site.
In Hebron, an Amram ben Diwan yeshiva was established in his memory and existed for generations adjacent to the Beit Hadassah building. It was active until the 1929 Hebron massacre. Today it is a residential apartment.
In Morocco, the rabbi’s tomb has become a pilgrimage site and is visited to this day, specifically on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer. Many stories of miraculous healing are told about those who visit the grave, both Jews and non-Jews.
One such story is that of a Christian French military sergeant whose son was paralyzed. A Jewish friend recommended they visit the grave of Rabbi Amram ben Diwan. The skeptical Frenchman said that if his son were healed, he would build a road leading to the tomb. The son miraculously was able to walk after visiting the grave, and the sergeant fulfilled his promise to pave the road.
Many videos and photos online show Jews from around the world visiting and praying at the grave, where numerous candles are places upon the stones as the sound of traditional Hiloula prayers can be heard.
Morocco at one time had one of the most significant Jewish populations in the world, with about 250,000 to 350,000 making up about 10% of the population. Today most of the Moroccan Jewish community has emigrated to Israel, France and Canada.