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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Voodoo Judaism

Those who know me, know how much disdain I have for "voodoo Judaism", regrettably so rampant in Israel today: incessant dippings in the mikveh, frequent trips to graves, red strings tied around the wrist, "holy" water, amulets to ward off the evil eye, chairs to "cure" barren women, kabbalah seminars, and so on and so forth.

My sister forwarded me an email today linking to this PowerPoint presentation. As it is in Hebrew, I will summarise it here.

In August 2001, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a fast food restaurant in central Jerusalem, killing 15 and wounding more than 150. Shortly thereafter, followers of the Breslov Hasidic movment printed a miraculous story in the Tikkun HaClali - a booklet containing some psalms and prayers which, if recited daily, they believe will cleanse them of their sins (specifically the sin of masturbation).

The story in the booklet goes like this: minutes before the bombing, the cashier at the restaurant told everyone that the resturant is full and a few customers decided to leave. Among them was this American woman. After the bombing, the woman sought out the cashier and found her in a hospital. Grateful for being saved, she left the girl her phone number in New York telling her to call her if in need. Some time later the cashier called and they agreed to meet in NYC. On the day, the woman left her office at the Twin Towers to go meet the visitor from Israel. You guessed right, the date was September 11, 2001 and thus the American woman was saved once again from certain death by the cashier.

And it just so happens that the cashier had a copy of the Tikkun HaClali next to her when working at the restaurant. Not only did the booklet save her life; it managed to save the American woman's life, twice. Sounds amazing, right? Surely enough to make anyone religious on the spot, joining the dancing Breslov nutcases in busy street intersections, no? Well, not so fast.

The family of the cashier heard about this "miraculous story" and could not believe their ears. Because, you see, the cashier, 19-year-old Tehilah Maoz, died in the bombing. She is buried in Jerusalem. The story was made up in order to shamelessly promote the voodoo booklet by a bunch of so-called believers. Rabbi Nachman must be turning in his grave knowing his name is used by such lowlifes.

This is just one small story and were it representative of the pervasiveness of this "voodoo Judaism" it would not be so interesting. Sadly, rather than dealing with the demanding task of keeping mitzvot, many prefer to wallow in the imaginary comfort of magical instant gratification. Avodah zarah was and remains an easy way out for errant souls.


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Why is davening at graves of tzaddikim, voodoo Judaism?

The midrash (and rashi) quote that Yehoshua and Calev specifically went to Mearat HaMachpela to daven there when they went to tour the land...

As long as people know they are praying to G-d, and not dead people, then what's the problem?

Sharvul said...

Two problems:

1. Jews live their lives according to halacha, not according to midrash or to Rashi commentary. See: Rambam, Hilchot Evel, ch. 4, halacha 4.

2. Go ask the the people praying at Meron or at the Baba Sali grave who they are praying to. You might be unpleasantly surprised. And if indeed they are praying to God, then why do it in a graveyard, the place of avi avot ha-tum'ah?

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

It's considered acceptable, normative practice of Judaisim to visit the graves of tzadikkim or relatives.

Between that and going to Uman for Rosh Hashana (leaving Israel?!) is a world of difference.

Not everyone who says tehillim at a gravesite, goes complete with red string, hamsa, rebbe dollar and bottle of Babi Sali water as well.

Anonymous said...

sometimes this grave thing can get a little strange. my husband and i were in t'veirya one shabbat last summer and on the grounds of the hotel where we were staying there is a kever of a rav (i don't remember who is in it). shabbat afternoon, a dati woman, yeminite, and her kids, also guests of the hotel were walking towards the kever as i sat nearby on a bench reading a book. i thought maybe she knew some history of the man and was about to impart it to her kids so i perked up to listen in. i was really surprised then when she approached the grave, right up the stairs and would not leave until all of her accompanying children KISSED the grave! she actually forced them to do this! i'm sorry, that's just a little too voodoo weirdo for me...

Conservative Apikoris said...

chairs to "cure" barren women,

You should know that Ms Apikoris and visited Zefat during our honeymoon, and went on a walking tour of the city. While in the Ari synagogue, the tour guide had us sit in the "chair of Elijah," and claimed that this would ensure that we would have a son within the year.

I guess because we were Conservative (masorti) apikorsim, it didn;t work for us. It took us two years, and we had a daughter.

Oh well.

Conservative Apikoris said...

Why is davening at graves of tzaddikim, voodoo Judaism?

I sure hope davenning at the graves of my parents is not "voodoo Judaism.

This summer I'm going to my Dad's beach house, and I'm going to collect a rock from the beach and leave it on my Mom's grave when I go visit before Yom Kippur. (My Mom loved visitinf the beach house.)

I hope you don't consider that "voodoo Judaism."

Conservative Apikoris said...

i was really surprised then when she approached the grave, right up the stairs and would not leave until all of her accompanying children KISSED the grave! she actually forced them to do this! i'm sorry, that's just a little too voodoo weirdo for me...

I saw a couple do this at Rambam's grave in Tiveriya in 1989. Seemed a bt wierd to me. The gut at the hotel told me that people thought this would help with conception. I gies the Ms. and I should have done it. Might have save several hundred $$$$ in fertility tratments. On the other hnad. we're Conservative (masorti) apikorsim, it might not have worked.

I ubnderstand Rambam's grave has a mechitza bow. Weird.

Sarah said...

Ok, I'll try to adress the pshat of your post, since not many others have. It really irritates me when I see Jews buy into this kind of inspirational urban legend. It's all over the frum world. Sure, some of the amazing stories really are true, but many are not.

I was recently part of a conversation involving frum women on whether or not the secular New Year (i.e. Jan 1) should or should not be celebrated by Jews. Now, this can be debated all day. I'll grant that it is neither a Jewish religious holiday nor is it a patriotic holiday and is therefore of little use to frum Jews. But, these women took the matter one step further into Urban Legend Land. They believed that the secular New Year was really just a celebration commemorating Yushke's bris.

Now, considering that the historical date of Xmas and the historical date of the secular New Year bear very little, if any, relationship, it's all b.s. Granted, there may be churches that have tried to draw this parallel, but they didn't do their history homework either.

My point? People believe any random stuff you tell them if it suits their purposes. Don't believe me? Watch some political ads in the U.S. this fall.

mosheshmeal said...

You have issues with people davening and the gravesites of tzaddikim, say so. Don't call it "voodoo judaism".

It is cited in halacha to go and pray at the grave of a tzaddik in the time of tzara. It is also cited in halacha to pray at the gravesites of one's parents on the day of thier yahrtzeit.

Regarding point 2 of your reply to Kammel, two points:

1- The gravesite of a tzadik is a "makom kodosh" just the opposite of what you labelled it.Therefor it is advised to pray there.

2- One may ask the dead person to intercede on their behalf to Hashem.

mosheshmeal said...

Sorry, not Kammel, Jameel.

Sharvul said...


1. Please let us know where in the halacha it is commanded to go pray on graves.

2. Ditto for a grave being a "makom kadosh".

3. As I alluded earlier, I have no problem with people praying to God (even if they choose to do so at the graveyard). As for asking the deceased to intercede, again I ask that you enlighten us with halachic references.

(And, to pre-empt, please don't quote the Zohar or the Midrash. That's not halacha.)

[Side note: it's funny (and telling in more ways than one) how of all the "voodoo" practices I mentioned, the one that drew most comments is the graveyard fetish...]

Anonymous said...

moshe --
davening/tehillim-saying, fine.
rock-leaving, fine.

grave KISSING? by CHILDREN? not so fine.

mosheshmeal said...

Anon- I didn't legitimize grave kissing by anyone. But that’s still not “Voodoo”. If it helps someone deal with their grief, what’s the big deal?

mosheshmeal said...


Source 1: (I know you mentioned it allready, but I'll bring it again.)
Gemara Sotah 34b, Koleiv said to the ovos: אבותי, בקשו עלי רחמים שאנצל מעצת מרגלים

It is clear from this gemoro that Koleiv asked the Ovos to intercede on his behalf.

Source 2:
Zohar Hakodosh, parshas Achrei Mois:
ובשעתא דאיצטריך עלמא רחמי וחייא, אזלינן ומודעין ליה לנפשיה דצדיקיא ובכאן על קבריי' כו' כדין אתערין נפשא דצדיקיא ומתכנפין ואזלין ושאטין לדמיכי דחברון.
We see from this Zohar that (at times when the world needs life and mercy) one should notify the souls of the tzadikim so that they should pray on our behalf.

Source 3:
Sefer Hayoshor says that Yossef (when he was bought by the Yishmoelim) went to his mothers (Rochel) kever, and cried to her.

This is all cited as halacha in Shu"t Minchas Elozor, written by the Munkatcher Ruv ob"m.

mosheshmeal said...

Regarding visiting the graves of parents etc:

Source 1: Bach YD 217, says that it is a good thing to do so, and that there are tefillos that should be said.
ואין לשום מורה למנוע ולבטל מנהג זה.

Source 2: Shulchon Oruch YD 344 Se’if 20.

Source 3: Sefer Hachassidim (not sure where) talks about the great pleasure that dead people have when their relatives come and pray at their graves, and that they are mekayem the mitzvah of Kibud Av Vo’Em.

Anonymous said...

moshe -
it wasn't grief. they were visiting the hotel for shabbat and the woman didn't even know whose kever it was until she read the plaque.
obviously if it was grief she was displaying, there would be tremendous dan lecaf zchut, but this was not the case.
it was more along the lines of a death/grave fetish thing. or just a warped sense of showing respect. and to make her kids do it too? just weird.

Sharvul said...


Thank you for the sources. If I sum them up: one posek relying on agadeta and Zohar, another mentioning it's a minhag and a reference to the "pleasure" of the deceased. Hmmm.... must rush to the cemetery as I evidently missed out on a major mitzvah.

BTW, any sources on a graveyard being a makom kadosh?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

i feel bad for you, being Cholek on a have to pray that nothing bad is going to happen to you...why talk about something that you clearly don't know anything about?

Anonymous said...

first of all there is nothing wrong at praying at Tzaddikim's graves...Yosef HaTzadik was wrong? he went to pray on his mother's kever on the way to Egypt and what about during The het hameraglim?
The Tikoun Haklali you shouldn't even be talking about it, because im sure you don't even know who Rabbi Nachman is...and seeing that you speak like this i wouldn't even be surprised if you don't even wear a kippa
first do some research before you talk shtouyot, because of people like you mashiach isn't here, Habibi, i hope Be ezrat Hashem nobody believed the SHTOUYOT you wrote here... Hashem Yerachem!!!! and the one who said people go to the Baba Sali's kever...The Baba Sali also went to kevarot of Tzadikim...

Unknown said...

neither jews, christians or muslims will admit how much the old pagan ways and practices persist and have been reinterpreted to fit monotheistic dogma. we all live in the illusion that we put that behind us and evolved to a supposedly higher plane. most of story of the hebrew tribes wandering the desert concerns their adherence to the old ways and God insisting they stop. Jeremiah had to destroy the old temples with their sacred trees to finally enforce his will. And they just sprouted up again in Spain during the flowering of Kabbala.

The truth is that the old religions were heavily imbued with a female persona and this is what the ancient prophets were determined to destroy. But they didn't and probably never will. Somewhere deep in our souls is the memory that the material world is not an abomination and is as holy as the abstract moral principles that guide us.

anyway, it is not for you to judge.

Anonymous said...

wow, so if i tell you i am a cohen and our history will that spill a whole new chapter on jewish voodoo, sacrifices at the temple, hands in the air for blessings etc etc

Maybe i did not realize people took it and turned it into voodoo because its not for hashem, but i did take a look a tons of forged and plagiarized rituals to false deities many claim correspond to kabalistic order of angels, oh and wait i should mention that almost all the voodoo out there is voodoo because its the same sort of paganism used by the catholics before they embraced christianity and its later sects like voodoo, santaria etc etc

but we dont doubt they have effect, no dis respect, what we do agree on together is that we try to influence hashem to our favor while other try to impose theirs with out considering what later will ultimately return to them, maybe in another world.