Rabbis fight flu pandemic on a wing and a prayer

JERUSALEM Tue Aug 11, 2009 2:57pm EDT

1 of 2. Rabbis blow rams' horns known as shofars during a flight over Israel August 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Yehuda Shlezinger/Israel Hayom

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Dozens of rabbis and Kabbalah mystics armed with ceremonial trumpets have taken to the skies over Israel to battle the H1N1 flu virus, Israeli media said on Tuesday.

About 50 Jewish holy men chanted prayers and blew ritual rams' horns known as shofars in an aircraft circling over the country in the hope of stopping the spread of the virus, some of those involved in Monday's venture were quoted as saying.

"The aim of the flight was to stop the pandemic so people will stop dying from it," rabbi Yitzhak Batzri told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, which carried a picture of the bearded men praying while airborne.

"We are certain that, thanks to the prayer, the danger is already behind us," added Batzri, who could not be reached for further comment on Tuesday.

When the H1N1 virus hit Israel this year, the ultra-Orthodox deputy health minister made headlines by insisting that, in a country where many follow kosher dietary rules banning pork, the illness not be referred to by the popular name "swine flu."

Since then, over 2,000 Israelis have been infected with the virus, of whom five have died, according to official data.

Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish mystical system that has gained new popularity and as number of celebrity devotees, notably the pop singer Madonna.

(Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Kevin Liffey)

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