Professor Staub, in our first class discussion about Tuhami, you asked us, “what part of this book is real?” or maybe you said, “what part is true?” I answered you by asking, “what is reality?” or “what is truth?” As a Westerner, I am bound by my “reality” or “what I assume to be real” to think that all things magical are imaginary. Crapanzano discusses this concept in the Introduction of Tuhami as the “tension between ‘reality’ … and desire” (Crapanzano 7) and describes Tuhami’s storytelling: “It was often impossible to distinguish what was real from what was dream and fantasy, hallucination and vision. He contradicted himself… What I take to be real… is my assumption” (Crapanzano 14). We know from this that each person has their own reality and attempting to write someone else’s reality will bring up issues of subjectivity and opinion. Therefore Crapanzano’s introduction serves to tell the reader to “take it with a grain of salt.”
As Crapanzano discusses that Tuhami believed demons and spirits controlled his life, he relates it to Freud and the subconscious. For example, often times Lalla A’isha comes to Tuhami in dreams or when he is by himself in thought. These beliefs in demons and spirits are constructs created by the society in which he lived (the reason why Crapanzano believes that Tuhami is a good example of a typical Moroccan.) But I believe that anyone could believe those things if it were considered “normal.” I think Westerners often suppress subconscious thoughts and dreams because we write them off as “fantasy.” Children can believe in a lot more than we do, and have stronger and more vivid fantasies because they have not been fully molded yet to believe what we as society tells them is “real” or “true.”
In a related text, it would make sense then why Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana would use children in his ceremonies. He asked them to look into the ink in their hands and tell him what they saw (Bilu Chapter 11). My Western interpretation is that any adult looking into the ink in their hand would think too realistically or be influenced by what they might want to see in their hand too much. A child might be hypnotized into that dream state more easily and be less influenced by external factors or previous experiences. Maybe if we as Westerners didn’t worry so much about suppressing our fantasies, and teaching children to do the same, we could experience the same realities as Tuhami or the children that Rabbi Wazana works with. However, I also believe that by not suppressing his fantasies, Tuhami created a world for himself that would have to be controlled externally. If he took more control of his life (to work in steady job for example), I think his fantasies would disappear because he would be forced to suppress them in order to maintain that job and his work without interruption. I think because he was involved in the world of spirits and demons for so long that he would not be able to work a steady job without interruption from spirits and demons and that was his reality.
How does this affect me? What can I learn about my own reality? I think these beliefs really call into question in my life why Jews believe in God. The God of the Torah performs miracles that I as a Westerner and a believer in science have trouble believing and might think of as “not real”. People believe in God and God’s miracles in blind faith, and other believers in science think of these miracles as a fantasy that Jews believe in. Over the years I have developed my own opinions about “God” and those opinions do not assume that every miracle that God supposedly performed was “real” by Western standards. Reading both the Tuhami and Wazana texts have given me more faith that truth is subjective and we believe what we want and what makes sense to us. We use God, saints, demons, spirits and other supernatural explanations to describe what we don’t understand but it doesn’t matter if they actually exist as long as we can justify what happens to us and our responses based on our supposed truths. Despite my questionings of the Supernatural, I will continue to follow Jewish traditions because I like having explanations, structures, and proscribed truths by which to live.