Beyond the nickname Abehassera (or Abouhatsera) given to Yaakov Ben Massoud, there is a strange story that is passed on from generation to generation. Some people believe it, while others remain skeptical about its details. But what is certain is that the man was known as a person blessed with “baraka” and was capable of performing miracles.
Abehassera was born in Tafilalet in the south of Morocco and more precisely in Sijilmassa (now Rissani in the province of Errachidia) in 1805 or 1806, as historical sources are not precise on this subject. He is a Moroccan Jewish rabbi who belongs to the El Baz family, one of the great Jewish families known in Morocco. He is the great-grandfather of Rabbi Yisrael Abehassera, known as “Baba Sali”, who is none other than the grandfather of the Moroccan rabbi and president of the Rabbinical Court of Casablanca, Yoshiyahu Pinto.
Rabbi Yaakov Ben Massoud was nicknamed Abehassera after a trip on board a ship to the Holy Land. The ship sank and all its passengers drowned except for him, who clung to a “hassira” (mat) that allowed him to be driven to Syria and then to Jerusalem.
Abehassera died in Egypt, in a small village of Damanhour, which he visited on his way home. He was buried there. His tomb became a place of pilgrimage for Jews who would come every year to visit his grave, which the Egyptian government has classified as a world cultural heritage site, before a court ruling in 2014 ordered that this title should be withdrawn and that the celebrations there should be banned.
Abehassera was known for his piety, devotion, and charitable work. His house was never empty of needy people to whom he had never closed his door. Many incredible stories are passed on about him from generation to generation, such as the one about the young student who heard a strange voice in the rabbi’s room during the night. When he went in to find out the origin of the voice, he was struck by a light so intense that he was blinded by it. But the rabbi restored his sight.
But the strangest story about him is the one that makes him a Muslim named Haj Mohammed bin Youssef, the dean of the Palestinian Abehassera family, who lives in Gaza and has a family connection with the legendary Moroccan leader Tariq bin Ziyad. It is said that Al Hajj settled in Damanhur after his return from a pilgrimage to the Hijaz. Political problems in Egypt at that time had hindered his return. He had worked as a shoemaker and had established a strong relationship with a wealthy Jewish merchant. But many historians do not give any credit to this version of the story.