Rabbi Avi Zarki, a Tel Aviv rabbi who has been dubbed “the celebrity rabbi” for his high-profile connections, has come out with a strong criticism of the annual pilgrimage to Uman in Ukraine.
Thousands of Israelis fly to Uman each year to spend the Rosh Hashanah holiday at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
“It’s forbidden to travel to Uman on Rosh Hashanah, period,” Rabbi Zarki declared, after several people asked him about the practice. “Nothing you say, no argument, will convince me otherwise.”
He continued, “Who said it was allowed to leave the land of Israel? Who allowed running away from one’s family, wife and children on Rosh Hashanah… What kind of holiday meal will the children have if their father is out of the country?”
Visitors to Uman may feel that their spirituality is made stronger by shouting the Shema Yisrael prayer alongside ten thousand others, he said. However, he continued, “That’s not a real spiritual boost. I call it a feeling of ecstasy, nothing more.”
Instead of flying to Uman, those who seek spiritual growth on Rosh Hashanah should organize prayers in Israel, Rabbi Zarki suggested.
“Bring a G-d-fearing cantor, a real rabbi who will talk about relevant things, not politics. That’s not possible? Go to the holy yeshivas in Bnei Brak, and see what real prayer in a yeshiva looks like,” he said.
The mass participation in annual trips to Uman has also been criticized by Rabbi Ratzon Amroussi and by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who has said that the trips are fine for hassidic Jews, but that others should stay home with their families.