Saint Worship in Israel

Between 1986 and 1989 Yoram Bilu and I carried out fieldwork in Netivot: the gravesite of a renowned Jewish Moroccan rabbi called Rabbi Israel Abu‑Hatzeira (diminutive ‑ Baba Sali), and a major center of activity for the thriving cults of saint worship among North African Jews in Israel. Our initial aims were to document and analyze the development of this holy site and to compare it to the rise of similar places in Israel’s periphery. We later developed this project to analyze the sanctification of two figures in contemporary Israel. The two figures-Baba Sali and his son Baba Baruch-belong to the Abu-Hatseira family, which many Jews of North African origin perceive to possess lineage or clan charisma. We use the analytical metaphor of “manufactured” charisma in order to explore the ways in which such present-day means as the media (written and broadcast), industry, and various state structures have been used to create a particular public image of these men. We suggest that in order to understand their sanctification, one must also examine the North African idiom of saint worship as well as certain assumptions about legitimate public action that underlie contemporary Israeli culture.


Yoram Bilu and Eyal Ben-Ari (eds) Saints Sanctuaries in Israeli Development Towns: On a Mechanism of Urban Transformation, Urban Anthropology, 16(2), 243‑72, 1987.

Eyal Ben-Ari and Yoram Bilu) The Making of Modern Saints: Manufactured Charisma and the Abu‑Hatseiras of Israel, American Ethnologist 19(4), 672-87, 1992.

Yoram Bilu and Eyal Ben-Ari Modernity and Charisma in Contemporary Israel: The Case of Baba Sali and Baba Baruch. Israel Affairs 1(3) 224-36, 1995.

Yoram Bilu and Eyal Ben-Ari (eds) Grasping Land: Space and Place in Israeli Discourse and Experience. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. [Book Link]