After both the children and grandchild of Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl, the father of Zionism, were brought back to Israel for burial, great efforts are currently being made to bring the bones of Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, one of the great poets and rabbis of Yemenite Jewry, back to Israel for burial.
Rabbi Shalom Shabazi is one of the most admired, respected and revered rabbis among Yemenite Jews. He lived in Yemen during the 17th century, which was an extremely difficult time for Yemenite Jewry. During this time, many Jews living in Yemen were forced to remove their traditional hats, and some were even exiled to the desert.
Not only was a renowned rabbi, Shabazi also a highly accomplished poet. He wrote countless deeply symbolic and meaningful poems during his lifetime that were of great comfort to his fellow Yemenite Jews.
One of Shabazi’s most famous poems was called “Im Nin'Alu” (“Should They Be Closed”), which was been put to music and sung by Israeli singer Ofra Haza, Nissim Garame and others. Its first line states simply, “Even if the gates of the rich will be closed, the gates of heaven will never be closed."
Rabbi Shabazi, also known by his monikers “Abba Shalom Shabazi” as well as “Gaon Bnei Teiman”, was buried in the town of Ta'izz in Yemen. He was considered a miracle worker while alive, and his gravesite became a pilgrimage site for many seeking a blessing or a miracle.
Yedioth Ahronoth has uncovered that massive efforts have been made as of late to bring Shabazi’s bones back to Israel, as part of the country’s upcoming 60th anniversary celebration. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, Jewish organizations, as well as US officials with ties to Yemen are all collaborating in order to retrieve the Rabbi’s bones.
The Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar has furthermore issued a religious ruling allowing for the retrieval of Shabazi’s bones for reburial in Israel.
'The light of Yemenite Jewry'These efforts parallel similar recent attempts by the prime minister’s office to bring back to Israel the bones of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, currently buried in the town of Uman in the Ukraine.
It is still unclear where in Israel Shabazi will be buried, but it is clear that his grave is destined to quickly become a pilgrimage site for those seeking healing or spiritual blessing.
Roughly a month ago, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Gabbai, Chairman of the Ohalei Tzadikim Foundation, which works to preserve Jewish cemeteries all around the world, traveled to Ta'izz and put a new headstone on Shabazi’s grave.
Gabbai, unaware of the efforts to bring Shabazi to Israel, endured an incredibly difficult—not to mentions dangerous—journey to the Yemenite city of Ta’izz. Seeing as Israelis are not allowed into Yemen, Gabbai used a foreign passport to enter the country, arousing the suspicion of Yemenite authorities.
Ultimately arriving at Shabazi’s gravesite, Gabbai bought cement, rebuilt the grave’s headstone, and placed on it a large placard reading: “Here lies the man of God, the light of Yemenite Jewry, Aba Shalom Shabazi."