Ultra-Orthodox party accused of bogus exorcism

A FRESH scandal has erupted over the activities of Shas, the ultra-Orthodox political party, after a woman accused its rabbis of forcing her to take part in a sham exorcism broadcast live across Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of video cassettes were sold, showing Yehudit Sigauker shaking and ranting as the soul of her dead husband was said to be chased out of her body. Mrs Sigauker now says that the ceremony was a fake, including the male voice in which she spoke.

"Everything that happened was one big show," she told the Ha'aretz newspaper. "There was no dybukk (an evil spirit or doomed soul) in my body. The spirit of my husband was never inside me. It was acting."

Mrs Sigauker, who has five children and comes from a small town in the Negev Desert, became an overnight celebrity because of the exorcism, which was held eight months ago. According to the rabbis, it ended when the troublesome soul of husband - Pinchas, who died three years ago - exited from her small toe, restoring her to normal.

The affair generated contemplative articles about life after death, the place of exorcism in Judaism, and whether the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community was exploiting it to assert itself in its long conflict with Israel's secular society.

To her horror, the whole ceremony was transmitted live by ultra-Orthodox, radio stations.

But, according to Ha'aretz, she now alleges that Shas rabbis forced her to sign an agreement allowing them to market the video tapes, but reneged on promises to pay her 10 per cent of the receipts.

"The rabbis deceived me, they ruined my life ... They're making money and they threw me to the dogs," she said.

Mrs Sigauker's allegations are another embarrassment for Shas, which, with 17 seats, is the third biggest party in the 120-seat Knesset. In April, Aryeh Deri, the charismatic leader of the party - which represents Sephardi Jews from Africa and the Middle East - was jailed for four years for bribery and corruption.

During the exorcism Mrs Sigauker's husband was questioned about Deri's conviction. There are conflicting reports as to the soul's opinion on his innocence or guilt; strangely, the relevant section of the videotape was censored.

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