Photo Credit: Yaakov Cohen / Flash 90
Jews pray at the tomb of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, known as the Babi Sali on the anniversary of his death.

Police have agreed to reverse a ban on the annual Hilula ceremony marking the passing of the revered Kabbalist, Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira – known as the Baba Sali – following a field tour Thursday morning in the southern Israeli town of Netivot.

However, police insisted the grave of the Baba Sali must be fenced off from those attending the ceremonies next week.

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Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar, representatives from the Fire and Rescue Services Authority, Magen David Adom and the Baba Sali Association were also present during the tour and for the subsequent discussions on the issue.

Police estimated the upcoming event could attract more than 100,000 Israelis, but the tomb itself has capacity for only 300 people. There were concerns over the safety of those attending due to overcrowding, and also due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly throughout the country.

Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich slammed the idea of a ban, calling it “unimaginable. “The end-of-year secular “New Year’s” celebrations are going to take place without any restrictions, and only the hilula of the Baba Sali gets canceled,” he pointed out in a tweet. “There are no words. It’s simply a disgrace.”

Other religious MKs, including Sephardic Shas lawmaker Ya’acov Margi, also criticized the ban, which has now been reversed. The multitudes that have streamed to the site each year will “vote with their feet,” Margi said, adding with certainty that “the Hilula will take place,” whether the police were to decide otherwise or not.

Having ultimately decided to let the Hilula go forward, police will not be faced with mass protests by the thousands who would have showed up to honor the life of the Baba Sali.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.