Every year as the fourth of November approaches, the majority of Israeli society and world Jewry recall one of the most devastating tragedies to take place in the history of the State of Israel. For on November 4, 1995, a Jewish zealot assassinated the then-Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin.1 The scene is vividly etched in the collective mind, and the consequences are well known. Yet, what remains enigmatic is not the question of why the opposition wanted to prevent Rabin from pursuing his peace initiative, but rather the question: What motivated a fellow Jew to pick up a gun and kill the democratically elected leader of the State of Israel?2
This question takes on even greater significance when we consider that traditional Jews are obligated by Jewish law to observe an annual day of fasting called Tzom Gedaliah, which memorializes the assassination of yet another Jewish political leader, Gedaliah ben Ahikam, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, over 2,500 years ago. Gedaliah's murder was the impetus for the final dispersion of the Jewish remnant in the Land of Israel and thus, Jewish spiritual leaders of the past decided to mark it annually as a day of fasting and self-reflection. Two and a half millennia later, the fast is still observed by traditional Jews, indicating how dreadful the impact of the assassination was upon the nation.3
In view of the tragic consequences of Gedaliah's death, questions remain: How could such a thing happen again? What were the circumstances that created the atmosphere allowing such a tragedy to take place in our own time? As we try to uncover answers, we find ourselves involved in a multi-layered investigation.
In order to understand the atmosphere leading up to the assassination, we must recognize that overall, anti-Rabin actions were undertaken by two types of political groups motivated by two distinctly different underlying principles.4 One group engaged in anti-Rabin [End Page 72] activities was driven by secular concerns, whereas the other group was motivated by religious values. While the motives of Rabin's secular opponents were relatively straightforward, stemming as they did from the political philosophy of Israel's right-wing opposition,5 the motives deriving from religion have been, by contrast, much more difficult to decipher.6
On the one hand, some religious opposition to Rabin centered upon halachic (Jewish religious legal) objections to his overtures for peace with the Palestinians. Such objections were made manifest in attempts by certain rabbis to determine whether Rabin's political behavior violated religious law and thus placed him into the legal category of din rodef 7 and mosser,8 a traitor and betrayer of the Jewish people. Alternatively, other religious opponents expressed their objections utilizing a more mystical, magical approach—by performing the “ritual” known as pulsa de-nura (“Lashes of Fire”).9
In this article, I intend to make a modest contribution to our understanding of the events leading up to Prime Minister Rabin's assassination by tracing the sources and understanding the meaning behind the magical10 “ritual”11 known as the pulsa de-nura,12 which was carried out by a group of radical, religious Jews with the intent of cursing Yitzhak Rabin to death. Significantly, it is widely believed that the origin of this mysterious “ritual” stems from The Zohar or some other ancient Jewish mystical/magical source.13 This article will attempt to disprove this supposition by critically analyzing all of the likely sources in the Zoharic literature as well as many sources from pre-Zoharic literature. However, before delving into a philological, textual, and theological discourse on this issue, let us first acquaint ourselves with the ritual itself as well as the events surrounding its use against Rabin as reported by the media and in popular literature.