A New Characterization of Wazana
May 2nd, 2013 by ulmn

Who really was Wazana? Yoram Bilu identifies him as a man unsettled and longing for redemption attached with an Oedipus complex, but I find given the material that his analysis seems unfounded. Some questions unanswered are why did Wazana choose that time to disobey the demons. In his accounts, it showed clearly that he was more than willing to accept the demise of some of his clients. So why at this moment? I don’t think the answer is within the text, but I think it can be accounted for. And even prior to Wazana’s demise why did he refrain from making time for his dying mother in her last hours? Wouldn’t that have been the most important event in his life given that he was so distraught from the death of his father? Bilu argues that his mother was the only women in his life and she dominated his sexual desires. He attributes this to the relationship to the jinn female, but were there not other bachelor’s who were of a normal psyche and also married to jinn? This is why I find it unfounded and why instead I would like to interpret his motivations in another lens.

If we are to discern the motivations of Wazana, I think we should view him in an existential light. I choose this path because in my representation of Wazana because he seemed to have no attachments what so ever in every facet of his life and allowed that to define his decision-making. That is not to say that he didn’t have passion or relationships with people, as he was not a sociopath, but Wazana allowed no preconception or social constructs to define his actions. This is evident enough in his hybridization of religious spheres, his blatant disregard for Jewish practices, and his relationship with his family. This defining attitude is also why his devotees described him as a man of fearlessness, steadfast courage, and attributed other qualities of a leader to him. If Wazana was to truly embody a leader without fetters then he would have to maintain no fear of loss and shy away from responsibilities.

This desire to not be constrained is why he never saved any of his money or had a human family or cared about maintaining the unadultered prestige of his family’s name. This value serves to explain why he didn’t accompany his parents during the time they had passed away. It wasn’t that he was incapable of deep affiliations, but that he didn’t want to. If he really had been crushed by missing his father’s death and made it a defining point of his life, then he would not have missed his mother’s death for any reason. Therefore, it would seem more plausible to assume that he did this purposefully. Instead he avoided the heartbreak of witnessing the loss of his loved ones, the only people who had some sort of influence to weigh him down. This shows that no man is an island, however, given the close familial relationships of Moroccan Jews and Muslims, Wazana got the closest.

In his relationship with devotees, he expected of them nothing less than what he expected of himself, which was to share in the moment and enjoy life guided by social impulses and not by utilitarian considerations. He made this abundantly clear by punishing his friends for their stinginess and desire not to share their possessions. In this way he clearly didn’t allow the future or the past to completely define his present. This correspondingly made him an amicable friend and person, but rebelled against the demands of a Jewish male’s sense of maturity or delaying gratification. This is also speaks to why he didn’t have a human family. As a human family would give him responsibilities beyond himself and this would contradict his live in the moment lifestyle.

When it came to his saintliness, he proved to be a great foil to the Abu Hatseras. The Abu Hatseras truly conformed to the historical definition of a saint by setting themselves apart from the common people and maintaining all of the practices of a traditional Jewish saint, including having children and saving their devotees gifts as an endowment. Wazana on the other hand is the complete denial of this. Instead he mixes with the people, he didn’t have children, and spent all of the money that he earned while maintaining very few possessions. If anything Wazana not only denied these concepts, but mocked the constraints both his devotees and the Abu Hatseras put on themselves by laughing at their fears and playing upon the squeamishness of his community to Muslim practices. This denial of definition to an almost irreligiousness is why his prestige was so immense in life and so diminished after his death when compared with the Abu Hatseras.

But this transcendence doesn’t seem to be the resultant of some sort of blatant hate for Jewish practices, but instead a pragmatic understanding of the limitations of his own culture in developing his own personal prestige and maintaining his lifestyle. This is his reason to immerse in another culture and ignore the definition of a saint or Jew for that matter. But this wasn’t some blind endeavor into unknown territory. Other rabbis had attempted to learn Islamic ritual magic practices and were not excommunicated or destroyed. Knowing this we can assume that the relations between Moroccans and Jews of the time were relatively open to each other’s practices and beliefs, and gave opportunities for social niches. In just the same way that saints choose their burial site in relationship to the devoutness and size of the population of a village, so did Wazana choose to expand his services to those believed more fervently, as Islam appeared more open to magical usage, and were greater in quantity in the Morccan countryside. I think he also understood that the belief in jinn in his Jewish community derived from the influences of the region and made part of doctrine by Islam, and therefore, a magical occupation would best be served in conforming to Islamic practices.

Wazana was not defined by Muslim preconceptions either as he maintained a relationship with a jinn on his own terms. He controlled the jinn and maintained a healthy relationship where even his mother shared in meeting them. This directly contradicted the presumption that a human spouse to a jinn would be tormented, controlled, and take on a submissive role. Instead his strength defined the relationship and used it to further his own motivations.

Even his death represents the contentious position that his self-definition created. With his forefathers, their strict adherence to a saintly image and uncontroversial maintenance of the ideals of the religion gave them the favor of time and memory to embellish and sanctify their deaths, producing legends that would forever maintain them as dying in a saintly manner. Ya’aqov on the other hand has his story diminished because of his death’s affiliation to saving a Muslim girl and the conflicts that he created amongst the Jews of the area, like the Abu Hatseras. For example, if he had died because he was saving a Jewish child he would have been considered a martyr in the Jewish community, but because of the religious distinctions. In regards to the timing, which helps add to his saintly memory, he also had no incentive to die in a saintly manner. If he had no possessions, no children or legacy to pass down to, and truly valued his time in the present, he would not construct a grand scheme to die and be buried before the Sabbath. His goal would be to try and maintain his life for as long possible and continue on the path that he had been maintaining. In this way, Wazana sacrificed the control of defining his death because ultimately it contradicted with how he defined his life.

Understanding his psychology and his motivation shows how much of a social pioneer he actually was. Like the muwallah and the zar devotees who were able to define themselves contrary to social constructs, Wazana also created new immediacy for himself within a Moroccan society that fostered relations between Muslims and Jews. In the end, I think that Wazana was successful in his endeavor to live a life defined by himself which consequently dictated how he would be remembered.

Mitigating Women’s Status Through Magic
May 2nd, 2013 by ulmn

I actually find it interesting that throughout the movie Shkhur that the mother dominates the magical practices of the film and all the while the husband remains absent for most of the scenes. It may go on to accentuate the patriarchal society and how men do not contend with children, but it seems to me to also accentuate how magic creates new conditions of empowerment for women within these male dominated communities.

The sorceress has a number of tools at her disposal, but in the Chapter 9 of Kapchan’s book she emphasizes the heterosexual gender conflicts and the magic (shkhur) to make a man love her, make a man lover her only, control the movements of a man, and win the attentions of a man by inflicting hard on a fewmal rival. This magic ultimately subverts the social hierarchy by inverting gender roles by making the man follow the woman. She can also prove to try and humiliate the man as is the case with the women who blackmails the man in chapter nine in Kapchan’s book. She can create situations where the man is in a position that lacks self-determination by removing his free will and controlling his functions. Silencing a man such as the S-sakta l-meskuta is also another way of gaining power over a man as he cannot exercise his authority and gives the woman the only voice. She can also render a man impotent such as the magic of tqaf which threatens his manhood and masculinity. But ultimately this only seems to highlight that in a male dominated society a woman’s freedom is in the absence of the man’s freedom.

But these are not the only tools at her disposal as female practitioner can disseminate belief in the efficacy of their magic and the ritual of it. This allows them to harness the taboos and fear of woman and more importantly the fear of magic being used upon them. This would put a male on caution and in a way castrates some of the activity that he normally would enact without any disregard.

Also, being a practitioner for her family and the women of her community allows her to gain great insight into the lives of others and allows her to dominate with the power of her knowledge of secretive matters. In this way she can make her magic more efficacious and use her word to startle and control a conversation with males and females alike. She can also circumvent her lower status as a female and gain some level of authority more equal to that of a male as she is able to more confidently rebuke their impositions.

Honoring a Saint
May 2nd, 2013 by sydneydiamond

In class we discussed the idea of cultural text and how it has played a role in our last few readings. For example, the Stillman article versus the Rosen article; Stillman used historical events and Rosen used interviews and went to events and closely analyzed said events. In the most recent reading, The Saint of Beersheba, Weingrod conducted his research in different ways. He was in Israel observing this federation over a course of some years. He watched the development of these people and had personal relationships with the Chouri Family; he was able to connect in multiple perspectives.

Rabbi Chouri can be contrasted with Rabbi Wazana, with Wazana it was recounting information through memory whereas with Chouri it was observing his life through the celebration of his life. Wazana on a personal basis, in North Africa,  connected to the demon world and was most famous for healing people. Although when Wazana dies he loses his saint status, and his memory from Israel was diminished. In North Africa, Chouri was a learned rabbi in a land of learned rabbis  and in Israel was regarded as a saint. What is extremely interesting is that Rabbi Chouri was not regarded as a saint until after his death. While in Israel he was an ordinary person doing factory work. When he passed away he was buried at a regular municipal cemetery and no adornments are added to the gravesite.  This is important because during this time was when his family decide on having a hillulah in his honor. The family had a yahrtzeit and it was at this point was when hillulah was observed. A thought that puzzled me was how did this move from the observance of a mans death in his family to a hillulah?

Personally, I think the story of Rabbi Chouri was more believable then that of Rabbi Wazana. Rabbi Chouri’s story was represented in the active voice. It was told through actual events having been witnessed by the writer while he was spending the time with the family. Another important aspect of this is was since Rabbi Chouri was an ordinary man in society he become a saint in a period of 10-15 years. This is important because it brings to light the relationship of the public versus private dimension. The Chouri Family was very private, worshipping in the home and synagogue. This is vastly different from Rabbi Wazana because his work was mainly done during the course of his life and was well known for his saintly healing and he was well known and respected. The two men represent show very contrasting lives and the public versus private dimensions bring to light some of the vast differences of saint veneration.

Movie Take-away
May 2nd, 2013 by sydneydiamond

The movie we recently watched in class Sh’hur, raised many questions in my mind but also made connections to previous class discussions. There was the inclusion of magic and ritual in this family’s life. In the film, there was magic practiced mainly by the mother. I observed that by her practicing of magic, the mother had a sort of authority in the home, which was typically uncommon. In other readings that have been analyzed in class, women using magic was a way of giving themselves their own sort of individualism. In the film, the mother used her magic and healing powers on her son. This is a locus of female power, it puts women in an active role when in society they are not being acted upon. The zaar spirits gives women power in society and culture that has a tendency of keeping women from any sort of power or recognition.

The movie captured the tensions within the family, in particular the tensions between Rachel and her family members. When she was young Rachel rejected any sort of association to practices, this has much to do with family honor. Rachel dealt with the issue of asserting her Moroccan-ness and claiming her right or rejecting her family’s beliefs and go her own way to be successful. As an adult she lost contact with her family, doesn’t smile, and is crippled to deal with her daughter due to the legacy of her older sister.

The connection Rachel’s sister Pnina has with Rachel’s daughter is unique. When Rachel’s daughter draws pictures of herself she leaves the faces blank signifying she doesn’t believe she has her own identity. The relationship that her and Pnina form unlocks Rachel’s daughter’s identity. When they were young, Rachel had Pnina put in an institution. The way I interpreted this was by putting Pnina in an institution her ability to use magic was taken away. Her magic was put to use again when her connection with Rachel’s daughter was formed.  This relates to readings we did earlier in the semester. People would use worshipping and possession as a means of justifying why a person was not normal or in Pnina and Rachel’s daughter’s case mentally disabled. Rachel is unable to accept her sister and treats her as a lesser human in public and in their home.

New Immediacy and Further Implications
May 2nd, 2013 by ulmn

I actually really enjoyed the Kosansky article about the pilgrimage’s new immediacy within Morocco. I find it very it interesting how the pilgrimage alone was able to vie in a marketplace of ideas that changed its interpretation from a colonial era and interpretation to a post colonial one and also dictate policies. And I find it even more provocative as it has further consequences to national structures and ultimately has deep roots in a grand strategy for Morocco for intra and international relations.
Originally, in the colonial era, the pilgrimage maintained a very negative light from the secular state and religious authorities as it was defined as being a reflection of the survival of pagan practices and a source of civil strife. The orthodoxy of Judaism and Islam and the French state defined pilgrimage as being a hybrid Judeo-Berber created practice that maintained superstitious practices and opposition to a singular identity. Understanding it in this sense, dictated to French authorities to support maraboutism as a vessel to undermine counter hegemonic agents and provide the French authority within the Moroccan state an audience to disseminate ideas for modernizing reforms and exert soft power diplomacy to the Jewish minority. Ultimately, this allowed the French state to undermine the Islamic and Arab majority from realizing a powerful identity and also bolster the identity of the Moroccan Jews who would vie for inclusion into the Moroccan identity. Evidently, this would favor a more heterogeneous and divided populous with less powerful and focused opponents to French power.
With the introduction of the royal Moroccan state, it seemed that a redefining of the pilgrimage was requisite in order to favor the state that brought together the ethnic populations together to create social stability. In the post colonial era, the pilgrimage shifted gears and no longer was it viewed as a negative byproduct of intermingled religious doctrine, but instead shown as a common source of shared heritage. The royal state changed the historical view that the pilgrimage was of Berber origins and supplanted them with Arab origins in order to bolster an Arab majority and identity. It also furthered the Jews identification within the state promoting social stability within the state as well as promote Morocco as a shining example of religious tolerance and religious congruence. Ultimately, this gives Morocco characteristics of a liberal nation that is inclusive and just.
This liberal identity and peaceful population has many implications for foreign relations regionally and within the international community. By promoting itself as an Arab state it has the regional cooperation of other Arab states when looking to resolve regional conflicts. Also, I believe more importantly by sponsoring a liberal agenda and more equal society it may reap benefits through positive views with other countries and gain sponsorship from other countries within international communities like the UN and IMF for financing and other state support structure needs.

May 2nd, 2013 by markowis

I’m really glad that we ended this semester by watching Sh’hur. I found that the movie not only touched upon various aspects of Israeli society but also on many of the topics we discussed throughout our class. One such theme was the function of ritual (and especially magic) to act as a tool for conflict resolution between (typically) an authoritative, power wielding male and a subjugated (and often oppressed) female. In the film, this was evident in the magic practiced by the mother and Pnina. In the interview with actress and director Hanna Azoulay-Hasfari, she notes that the mother and Pnina found a source of power within the practicing of magic. By practicing Sh’hur, they felt that they had control, not only over those around them, but also the situations in which they were placed. It should also be noted that while the father is clearly the so-called “head-of-the-house,” the mother has much greater control and power over social aspects of the family because of her practicing of magic. At the end of the film, (as we discussed in class today) when Pnina is sent to the psychiatric institution, her power is “taken away.” No longer is she mysteriously magical, she is psychotically ill. Something is wrong with her that must be cured.

As is made clear in the interview, Rachel (Cheli) represents Azoulay-Hasfari as a young girl and it is clear that she has been a critic of these magic rituals since her early childhood. I believe that Rachel is aware (just as Azoulay-Hasfari was) of the authority and power her mother and sister Pnina received from practicing magic. In the movie it is clear that she does not get along with her sister and wants to separate herself from Pnina. I think that perhaps this is representative of Azoulay-Hasfari’s early rejection of these magical practices. She even mentions that she feels that the women the mother represents, the submissive “dutiful” wives, are manipulative. In order to have power, they must manipulate the men in their lives – their fathers, husbands, and brothers. This was also a theme that we discussed earlier in the course. This aspect of the movie reminded me of the readings about the zar ritual. In this ritual, women created their own “safe space” to raise grievances, address social concerns, and, most importantly, seek a solution to the problem. While the methods of the mother and Pnina in Sh’hur are clearly different than the zar ritual, these two instances of “magic” seem to have similar purposes in the lives of the women practicing them.

Instead of holding onto these old Moroccan practices (especially those of manipulation), Rachel rejects them and seeks instead to assimilate fully into Israeli culture. While rejection of the “old” Moroccan traditions is a clear theme throughout the movie, it should be noted (as it was in class earlier) that there are different ways to reject these practices: the secular way (like Rachel) and the Ashkenazi religious way (like Miriam). I found this to be extraordinarily interesting as well because while this movie is clearly in an Israeli context, it seems like it could almost speak for any generation gap, especially among immigrant communities. I believe that we see this all the time in our culture—the younger generation tends to reject the trends and beliefs of the older generations. We call it “innovation” and “progress” though many of our parents and grandparents are disappointed by our rejection of “family tradition.” In a way, I feel like I could almost connect with Rachel as a college student, “rejecting” the so-called family traditions of religious observance and so-on: trading in Friday night Shabbats at home for college dances and the occasional cheeseburger.  Each generation, somehow, someway is a Cheli. Nothing stays the same. And yet, each generation, each community, carries within it elements of the past, which only enhance and maintain its “new” identity.

Belief and Sh’chur
May 2nd, 2013 by sheaj

After watching Sh’chur, I was reminded of a topic that we discussed earlier in the year. It was the idea that jinn possession can be used as a reasoning for why people act the way they do. Back before modern medicine, people did not have any explanation or understanding of the human brain and how it worked so when someone acted abnormally, they associated these actions with a spirit possessing them. They were not considered weird or cast out; rather they were helped and treated with care.

In the movie, the older sister, Pnina, clearly shows signs of some mental illness in how she acts and speaks and this is clear to her younger sister Rachel. Throughout the movie Rachel and the other kids in the neighborhood, call Pnina weird and a “retard”. Her mother, on the other hand, does not see it that way. Seeing how their mother treated Pnina made me think about the previous discussion about possession as an explanation for mental disabilities. As the movie goes on we find out that Rachel was the only member of the family to be born in Israel, which as we discussed in class, tells us that she is not used to the heavy emphasis on magic that her mother probably grew up with.

When Pnina, Miriam and Rachel are in the kitchen and Pnina is talking about how she was taken by Jinn and fought them, we see how differently the various characters react to this news. Rachel and Miriam both seem to almost immediately reject the idea that their sister is possessed but as soon as their mother enters, we can see that she accepts what Pnina is saying. This scene is where I saw the division in belief between their mother, who held to her traditional Moroccan beliefs and the sisters, who were skeptical of the magic that their sister was speaking about.

Sidi Ali and cultural perspectives
May 2nd, 2013 by wolft

One theme that I have seen recurring throughout the different readings this half of the semester is the impact that my own experiences and thoughts have on how I read and analyze the different texts from and about very different cultures.

An example of this is when we read the story about how Sidi Ali received his Baraka. Sidi Ali is written to have done many miraculous things for no reason. One of these things includes turning a woman blind. In the society that we live in, turning a woman blind would solely be a sin and would symbolize a wrongdoing. Personally, when I read the legend, I read it as Sidi Ali doing something awful and hurtful to a woman. However, in the legend, this act was not meant to show a sin, but it was perhaps there to signify that Sidi Ali possessed special powers that allowed him to do unique and abnormal things. It was more about emphasizing that he had the capacity to perform that particular act, rather than about emphasizing the act itself. Sidi Ali was proving his powers in relation to another saint. The woman is already 3 times less socially acceptable and not as worthy because she is a woman and she is from Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that Sidi Ali turns this particular woman blind doesn’t mean as much in this particular cultural context.

Through taking this class, I have come to realize that it is very hard to separate my own perspectives and experiences from the material that we are reading about, even if I am aware that it is taking place in a vastly different society. Placing my own perspectives and opinions aside from the beginning would have allowed me to see the broader message of this legend a lot more easily. When I was reading this particular story about Sidi Ali, I didn’t think about the context that it was taking place in. Although I knew that this was not occurring in a society that I am as familiar with, if I had truly put myself into the correct perspective I would have thought about how making someone of that woman’s status blind in Sidi Ali’s society had almost no consequences. Overall, the way that I look at the legends through our own lens disables us from actually analyzing the bigger picture that is trying to be conveyed.

Legends of the Hamadsha
May 2nd, 2013 by wolft

In his work, The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry, Vincent Crapanzano analyzes different aspects of the Hamadsha religious fraternity. In chapter three, he states that there are six different ways that the legends of the Hamadsha can be interpreted, but the reading does not go on to analyze all six of these. Crapanzano only focuses on analyzing the elements of the legends that serve to help us in understanding the Hamadsha therapeutic system. One of the other five remaining ways of interpretation that I found to be particularly interesting to try and analyze on my own was the element of certain legends that “appear to be explanations for certain ritual practices” (Crapanzano, 47). Although I am not sure if I am correct in what message I think the rituals are supposed to be conveying, it was an interesting and challenging experience to think about the legends through this type of lens.

I have written about etiological myths in one of my previous blog posts. These are myths often found in religious contexts that is intended to explain the origins of cult practices, natural phenomena, proper names and the like. These legends of the Hamadsha definitely have qualities of etiological myths, because they serve to explain the origin of different ritual activities and behaviors that go on within the Hamadsha.

One example of a ritual practice that is justified through a Hamadsha legend is the act of slashing one’s head with an axe shaped like a jawbone. In one of the legends that I read where this behavior is mentioned, the axe shaped like a jawbone was used by some the followers of Sidi Ali and his favorite disciple, which soon became the new leader of their group. After reading this legend, I think that the act of hitting oneself in the head with the axe symbolized the followers respect for their new leader, and their respect for whoever is leading in general. Once the leader started doing this, the disciples immediately followed, and it seemed to be almost out of fear. This shows that they would go to great lengths to be a good disciple and follow whom they are supposed to be following, even to the point of slashing their own heads.

While I know that there may be many explanations for this practice depending on which particular legend about the axe is being looked at, I think that this teaching is a logical one to think about. I believe that teaching the people of the Hamadsha to be good observers and disciples of the group is a lesson that would be important to them at the time of the legend, and one that would remain important to them throughout the course of time. Therefore, I think it makes sense that this is a potential reasoning for the continued use of an axe to slash oneself in the head among this group.

Sh’chur-Tensions between old and new generations
May 2nd, 2013 by pastorr

Through the film Sh’chur, one can observe the clashes between the old and the new generations of a Moroccan Jewish family in Israel. The family illustrated in the film consisted of a blind father, a mother that practiced magic, Pnina the oldest sister who appears mentally challenged, Rachel the youngest sister, and 3 other siblings. The tensions between the old and new generations can be seen through the two main characters, Pnina and Rachel. Pnina, and the mother, believe in the work of magic to assist them in their times of need. They use their magic to get rid of any malignant curse placed on the family and to obtain what they want, but also as a means of maintaining their traditions.  On the other hand, Rachel is presented as a young beautiful young teenage who is spends most of her time either watching their newly acquired television or trying to escape the roles she is required to take on as the youngest daughter, which is to stay and take care of her growing parents. Her oldest brother supports her in her escape of this “traditional” family so that she can lead a successful life. As she is accepted into a boarding school, she begins a new life with a new name, without the acknowledgement of her cultural background. What is interesting is the fact that her daughter is very similar to her sister Pnina, the one she always disliked and pushed away.

As she is driving back to her hometown to her father’s burial with Pnina and her daughter, I believe that she begins to realize the importance of her cultural identity.  She seems to recognize the bond and similarities that exist between her daughter and Pnina, thus, realizing the fact that she did wrong in mistreating her sister Pnina. The denial of her culture hasn’t allowed her to be capable of dealing with her child to the point of not even being able of giving warmth to her child. At the end of the film Rachel seems different, more calm and happy, specially after observing the picture drawn by her daughter of all three of them—Pnina, Rachel, and the daughter—living together peaceful. By this image one can suggest that she has accepted her identity and is living at peace with her sister and her daughter.

The films was definitely full of different themes and issues that were apparent when the film was released in the 1990s, and still are, such as the gender roles, magic, and inequality.  Nonetheless, one can deduce that this film portrays the struggles behind the complete abandonment in one’s culture and traditions.

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