Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Saints Preserve You!

More updates on the panties-at-the-pilgrimage-site story.

Miriam at Bloghead has another take on the Amukah underwear abandonment.

Miriam writes of the 'gullible women' abandoning underthings at the grave of Yonatan ben Uziel "All of which just goes to show once again how quickly it's possible to slip from religion to superstition to sacrilege."

And right here on Balabusta in Blue Jeans, Barefoot Jewess writes "I also find it so incredibly sad that women are that desperate that they will do anything for a match, including something so immodest. I smell desperation and not too much dignity. I wonder if the Rav would think that was worth blessing."

This story interests me a lot, and I didn't have a negative reaction to it at all. My immediate reaction was that it was charming. My next reaction was to spend a while online, hunting for pictures of Amukah, and reading up on Rabbi Yonatan's accomplishments.

Since no one in the immediate blogosphere seems to share my reaction, I spent a little time wondering where it came from, and why I respond to this story in the way I do (which might be best summed up as "Go ladies! Go, Rabbi Yonatan! Rock on!)

First, of course, I'm Irish-American with deep Catholic roots on my father's side of the family. Saints come with the territory, as does an understanding of the importance of ritual, whether or not you half believe in everything you're doing any more than half the time. (Sorry, this subject makes me talk like Andrew Greeley.)

I know dozens of people, my grandmother included, who were annoyed and unsettled by the removal of Saint Christopher from the Vatican's official calendar of the saints. Christopher is the patron saint of, among other things, drivers of cars, buses, and cabs, transit workers of all kinds, travellers and sailors, and protects against lightning, hailstorms, flood, sudden death and the toothache. Also surfers, which makes him an important saint in Southern California. (I mean he protects surfers, not protects against surfers. That wasn't quite clear.) The Second Vatican Council revised him out of the calendar, on the thin and shaky grounds that he may have no historical existence. My grandmother, who credits him with her success at teaching two children to drive on the freeway without incident, is unimpressed with this kind of logic.

Ireland is dotted with wells, stones, and Neothlithic mounds that are still used in various rituals, as they have been for a looooooong time. Many/most of these locations are now associated with Catholic saints.

I'm being lighthearted about this, but the role of the saints is a serious issue. In the Irish language, you greet someone (sometimes in a sort of memory-game form), by wishing that God and Mary and Joseph and Brigid and Christopher and all the saints...the old people can go on for a while past that...will all be with you.

And I LIKE this sort of thing. I am not much of a rationalist, or a theologian. I believe in symbol and story as an adequate and elegant way of forming an understanding of things beyond human understanding. I don't much care if you call it superstition.

I have never liked the drive in Judaism to insist that only what is rational and theologically sound is Jewish. (Even less do I like people who insist that what is superstitious is halakhically necessary, so make of that what you will.) When I started to dig into layers of Jewish tradition--tekhines and segulot and saints' tombs--that echoed my other tradition, I liked them. Does liking equal believing, or taking with complete seriousness? No. But I do like them. I think they're important. I think they're an inheritance, a kind of experiential midrash.

When I hear about the panties at Amukah, I think of women in the Irish countryside dipping in holy wells to get pregnant--and when I think of that, I think of Chassidic stories about women conceiving after secretly dipping in wells in Soviet Russia. Can these things be harmful? Can they be turned against those who believe in them? Yes. They shouldn't be. They can. But I also can't help thinking that leaving your panties on ben Uziel's tomb reflects something--a deep desire--that maybe can't be expressed in forty words or less on JDates. And a sense of connection that infuriates unsympathetic rabbis who can't control it. But a man who devotes his afterlife to making matches should understand what's in the heart of a woman hanging her bra on a tree to find her true love.


Eliyahu said...

very nice! may the women be blessed, and may it happen soon.

Eliyahu said...

hey, it must have worked! when i checked my email after posting here, i got a wedding invitation from someone in Jerusalem! (and i don't know them!)

Anonymous said...

Several years ago at the Community Sukkot Tikkun in Berkeley (you have GOT to go--where else in the world will you have a Jewish learning program co-sponsored by every mainstream synogogue in town, of every denomination, plus all the renewal minyans, the Jewish meditation center, AND Chabad), there was a scholar talking about her research into the Jewish communities of Morocco and their holy men and women. She talked about people who were considered saints in both the Jewish and Muslim communities (not something formally part of either religion), and the practice of saint-stealing (after the death of the saint)!

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Do you have contact info for them? I've never heard of this.

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Sorry, I mean for Sukkot Tikkun. I have heard of Moroccan saints...but would be interested to find this learning community.

Barefoot Jewess said...

Well, you almost have me convinced. Yes, there is a deep desire, so I hang my head in shame for not going deeper about it.

I still object tho:

1. I find it so unaesthetic.

2. I fail to see how undies scattered on a grave can compare with women dipping in a well (or a mikvah), which is beautiful and modest. It makes a mockery of tznius (and I sometimes wear skirts above the knee, and shorts etc, so I'm not saying it to be prudish).

3. It is not the superstition that is objectionable, it is the objects and their ritualisation

4. Try to imagine men leaving their underwear/jockstraps on the grave. I wonder what people would say then.

An aside- I've been the saint route, having been raised Catholic. It's much easier to deal with saints, intermediaries, than directly with G-d. But I think that is the Jewish challenge, and you don't have to be on the side of rationality in religion to take this view. It is really a question of belief, and I don't happen to believe that dead people can intercede for you.

Again, I stand corrected on the sentiment. :) Thanks!

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

No need to feel 'corrected', you feel like ya feel. I was just wondering why I felt differently about it.

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

I do wholeheartedly agree that jockstraps would be worrisome!

AussieEcho said...

The positive part of this story is that these women have faith in the spiritual strength of the tzadikim (righteous Rabbis). The negative part is their expression of this faith.

It has been a traditon for (at least) hundreds of years to pray at the gravesites of our holy sages. This is because we believe that a part of their soul stays with their physical remains and that, because of their superior spritual state, they can help have our prayers answered. In my opinion it would be more beneficial for these women to say tehillim (psalms) at the gravesites of tzaddikim rather than leave their underwear there. It is also a more authentic Jewish practice.

Anonymous said...

Tikkun Leyl SHAVUOT, I meant. Silly me. It's held every year at the BRJCC (Walnut & Rose) in Berkreley on the first night of Shavuot. Here are last year's flier and program: http://netivotshalom.org/documents/Tikkun_flyer05.1.pdf
http://netivotshalom.org/documents/ShavuotTikkun5765-FinalSchedule.htm (Orthodox Ma'ariv services were held elsewhere last year, and the Orthodox crowd showed up around 10pm)