Posted Monday, March 27, 2000

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Jerusalem Post
March 23, 2000

Two held for curse ritual against pope

By Herb Keinon
and Jerusalem Post Staff

ACRE (March 23) - Former Habad activist Meir Baranes of Safed, who was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of putting a religious curse on Pope John Paul II, was remanded for five days yesterday by the Acre Magistrate's Court.

A second suspect was arrested yesterday, and will be brought for remand today.

Three haredim took part in the pulsa de nura ("lashes of fire") ceremony in a Safed cemetery, aired on Channel 2 on Monday just before the pope's arrival and broadcast on foreign networks worldwide. Police are searching for a third suspect.

Last night, Itim reported that police investigators suspect that the ceremony was staged in cooperation with Channel 2, which denied the charge.

Judge Eitan Magen said during Baranes's hearing that he felt like he was in "a Zulu tribe." He said he could not rule whether the mystical ceremony in itself constituted incitement, and it might have been a publicity stunt, but it was sufficient that enough people might take it seriously to endanger the pope's life.

Baranes, 32, was alleged to have initiated the ceremony. He is suspected of belonging to a terrorist organization, harming religious sensibilities, and threatening to harm a world leader.

"[Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi] Ovadia Yosef has more power to incite than me, and nothing was done to him," Baranes said. "The ceremony was done to protest the chief rabbis, who are meeting the pope."

Baranes said he and the others were followers of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, who had banned meeting the pope. "It is a shame for the Jewish people to go crawling to the gentile pope," he said.

Habad spokesman Menachem Brodt released a statement yesterday saying that Baranes is not affiliated with the Habad movement.

Brodt welcomed Baranes's arrest and said he is responsible for a long line of provocative actions, including publishing leaflets saying that late Lubavitcher rebbe Menachem Schneerson is God, conducting various pulsa de nura ceremonies, and physically attacking Safed's chief rabbi.

Brodt said that over 18 months ago the movement's rabbis threw out Baranes from the Habad community and publicly notified and instructed all Habad members not to have anything to do with him.

Brodt expressed anger at Channel 2 for broadcasting the ceremony, which he said was the work of "a mad manipulator" and harmed the entire Jewish people.

The midnight rite, which Channel 2 said was enacted last Thursday in a cemetery in Safed, recalled rabbinical curses cast on prime minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his 1995 assassination by Yigal Amir.

Participants in the ceremony, sounding ritual calls on ceremonial ram's horns, cursed the pope as a "hater of Israel."

They also singled out Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Syrian President Hafez Assad for curses.

Related story on this website: how top Nazis rescued the Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn from the Warsaw ghetto and smuggled him to safety out of Europe

Our opinion

IN ENGLAND, we are glad to say, uttering ritual curses against persons is now a criminal offence under the new Harassment Act. "Friends of Deborah Lipstadt" and the other ayatollahs, beware!

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