Rabbi Wazana

After reading Without Bounds: The life and death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana I was shocked with the interpretations of the bridge between the two realms and combination of Judaism and Islam by one man. Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana was a brave and inspirational person. At a young age his father died which was a traumatic experience that he suffered through. Short years later his mother died but he worshipped and prayed with her robe for a long time after. Wazana was deprived with the deaths of both his parents, which influence his actions later in life. It is believed that Wazaan took upon himself to make up for the death that he has experienced in his life with saving lives and healing others.

Many of the examples and recollections of Rabbi Ya’aqov was himself battling demons over people’s bodies and souls. From the Jewish Bride being taken under water from the demon within the water and bringing her back to her family untouched and scared from the demon itself, to bring upon his own death by taking on demons even though he knew it would endanger himself. Even after his death Wazana still protected and healed individuals through dreams and their prayers. Even though he is dead his connection to the living world still continued and is known in a legendary way.

This book contradicts what we have read so far in this course. Earlier readings suggested that saints and demons (jinns) worked together. If someone crossed a jinn they would send a saint and vice versa. One question that I kept asking myself was how did he retain the title of Rabbi while he practice Muslim and Judaism views and prayers.

One thing that interested me in this book was how much Wazana’s death differed from his fathers. The fact that when he dug his father up he was oozing honey out of his mouth while Wazana was decomposing before he was even dead. In my mind this was troubling, for a man that healed so many people and such a kind, loved man to die this way left me a little surprised. Though he might have over stepped his boundaries with the other world this one time, this one time is what killed him. But still today people turn to him in times of need and his good deeds are forever remembered.

Without Bounds reaction and response

When reading Without Bounds by Yoram Bilu, I found it interesting to learn that an interviewee’s stories that are passed down by word of mouth may be altered in the process of retelling. The author speaks of how the stories may be influenced by the present and the time that has passed since the original interviewee first heard and then told the stories. By the time the listener retells the stories, he may have forgotten the original content told to him by the interviewee or may have filled in the gap of these stories with information which is different from that which he was initially told. The book also stated that during the interviews in the late 1980’s, many of the stories overlapped. These stories told by the Interviewee’s were stories of a Rabbi and saint named Wazana.

I also thought it was interesting that Rabbi Wazana is still cherished to this day and worshipped by many. Wazana was born near the village of Assarag and spent most of his life there. He held much power in his society of the time. He was said to be a great Jewish Healer who worked in the Western High Atlas region in Southern Morocco and is remembered by many Israelis who either knew him, were impressed with his abilities, or heard about him through others. When he was alive he was welcomed into the houses of many and fed without any expectation of payment in return. He could perform miracles and speak to the Jinn, which no one else in the society was able to do. Rabbi Wazana had the ability to control the Jinn and rule over them. He had this ability because he not only followed Jewish beliefs but also followed certain Islamic rules as well. He brought holiness from the land of Israel. He arrived at a town of bandits and made miracles happen. This gave hope to many who were in need. Among his many powers, Rabbi Wazana was said to be able to perform exorcisms, remove spells, bring the dying to life, and make lost objects reappear (Bilu, 18). By his actions, he brought the community together. Wazana was more than a healer, he was a dear friend to many. His death was a traumatic experience to his friends and followers and took a toll on the lives of many. His death was told to be unrepresentative of who he was as a person. Many stated that his actions were the cause and that by saving this girl and digging up his father’s grave, death was the consequence. I found it interesting that while he held so much power, he was defeated when saving a girl who betrayed a demon. He was given the choice to save her or to save himself. I thought it was very honorable that he choose to save the girl rather than to save himself. I questioned the idea of how someone with so much power, could be defeated by a different kind of demon.

For me, the story of Rabbi Wazana raised the question of whether Wazana truly had the powers ascribed to him or if the story of Wazana and his powers was told as a means of creating structure or as a method of instilling hope in the society of the time. To some degree it remains a question of truth versus fiction and is also an example of how a story may change in the retelling. It is quite possible that his described powers were embellished and exaggerated over time.

Categorizations of Sainthood

In the past few weeks, we have discussed the different categorizations for sainthood in Judaism and Islam. We noted that there was a level of integration of practices from one religion into the culture and practice of the other religion in both Judaism and Islam. In this weeks reading about Rabbi Wazana, I found it especially interesting that he was considered a Jewish saint. Previously, we leafed that Jewish saints were typically historical saints, and that living Jewish saints did not exist. However, Rabbi Wazana is considered a Jewish saint throughout his life, as are his descendants. The passing down of sainthood generationally was also notable, considering that was also foamily described as a predominantly Muslim tradition. It seemed to me in the reading that Rabbi Wazana really feel much more into the categorize previously set up for Muslim saints, yet he was still considered a Jewish saint.

Even more so than my confusion regarding his classification into Jewish sainthood, I was especially surprised about the section that described his practices as a healer. Healing was described as Rabbi Wazana’s greatest claim to fame, so I was intrigued when he was described as using Muslim healing practices rather than Jewish ones. Not only did he favor Muslim practices, but “…it seems that he avoided Jewish healing traditions (based on kabbala) throughout his long career,” (Bilu 89). Apparently, this was different than majority of healers in Morocco, who were said to prefer Jewish healing practices.

To me, this section gave interesting insight into the relationship between religion and culture in Morocco. While the healing practices were attributed to different religions, they were practiced by both religions regardless of categorization. Essentially, individuals would utilize a specific tradition, but this was independent of their actual faith. This points to a cultural aspect of these traditions. While they are historically tied to religion, in practice they are no longer specific to that religion, but rather that culture.

Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana

Yoram Bilu, author of Without Bounds: The Life and Death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana, is trying to search for the truth about Wazana’s life in Morocco. Bilu has found the stories told by his informants to be somewhat inconsistent with each other. Although the reliability of the stories it not in his interest, he wants to portray the figure of Wazana through the legends told to him. In my opinion, Rabbi Wazana, although perceived as a Saint, he does not hold such power and he is human like everyone else.

In chapter three, Ait Wazana, Wazana’s family history was depicted as a Saint’s cosmology. His family holds the characteristics of powerful, intimidating, and protector. These characteristics started with Wazana’s great grandfather, Rabbi Avraham. Avraham’s legend states that he was walking to his destination and the Sabbath was drawing near. He then stopped near a spring so that he wouldn’t be breaking the rules on the Sabbath. After the Sabbath, he continued to his destination when he was attacked by local Arabs and as they approach him, the Arabs were paralyzed (36).  In Western views, a man so powerful to paralyze others is unheard of but Bilu points out that the legends told about Wazana can not be falsified because it is the reality of the Moroccans’ culture. This legend depicts Avraham as courageous and powerful. In my opinion, having characteristics as courageous and powerful accentuates how a person has no fear to rise against people who are trying to hurt them while other people are to afraid to fight back. The characteristics bestowed on Wazana’s family were out of fear and Avraham being victorious accepted the title of a Saint. Avraham shows these human emotions and was depicted as a Saint because the people were afraid of the Arabs.

Wazana’s family history is similar to a Saint’s cosmology. The fears of the people had created this idea of someone who would save them from the Arabs and this idea was projected onto Rabbi Avraham and his kin. Avraham might have been a normal man who was courageous enough to not be oppressed by other people before he decided to go to Ourzazate. Although the legend can not be falsified, there are many gaps within the stories and in my opinion, the legend depicts a courageous man.

Tuhami and Ethnography

Anthony Amitrano

Author and Professor Vincent Crapanzano begins a story of female demons that venture on out to recognize developed styles of ethnography. Crapanzano’s piece of literature conveys popular religious beliefs and practices into a present-day interpretation. I found it interesting when Crapanzano says that Tuhami is “a victim of this shattered mode of social life.” (p.82) I believe what Crapanzano is saying that the story of Tuhami is a remarkable story, but he is caught in between this old and new coherent world view. Throughout this book, Crapanzano characterizes tales of different forces of demons. This book addresses the philosophy of human beings or the otology of demon forces. A main point this book addresses is the two sides of demonic forces. It opens up the interpretation that demons do exist, or the understanding that they do not exist. The tales Crapanzano tells compared to Tuhami differ in various ways. Overall, both of their stories are directed about demons. However, demons are real and attend as a reality for Tuhami, whereas for Crapanzano they are “symbolic-interpretive elements” (p. 75). In simpler terms, demons are descriptions of reality, but they do not have any ontological reality.

Another interesting point Crapanzano brings up is how Tuhami tells the truth about everything he believes in, starting from the beginning of the book. On page 130, Crapanzano says, “Tuhami had been speaking the truth from the start…” In this book the truth is unavoidable and we can not get away from it. The truth was more obtainable for Tuhami because for Crapanzano it was more foreign. He finds various ways of interpreting the truth because he contradicts what he says from the beginning of the book to the end, whereas Tuhami states the truth from the beginning.

Crapanzano states an idea that “is always threatening” and that “it may produce a story of ethnographical vertigo and demand a position of extreme cultural relativism.” (p.8) However he later records how his influence is a response to anthropology inadequately efforts that cope with this issue. In conclusion we understand that Crapanzano ends with accepting that his own relativism has restrictions. (p.133) The overarching theme is that Crapanzano’s responses to Tuhami’s stories provide us with understanding, perspectives, ideas, and bigotry. This concludes how Crapanzano is necessarily the substance of his own stories. This book is so interesting because ethnography is such a different style of reading. It provides a scientific illustration of different customs and beliefs of different people’s cultures. This book allowed me to look at my beliefs, customs, and culture in my own perspective, while also looking at Crapanzano’s and Tuhami’s. I was allowed to make an overall comparison and look at things in a different perspective.

Nobody Like Rabbi Ya’aqov

The meaning title of Yoram Bilu’s Without Bounds: The Life and Death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana does not become clear to the reader until nearly the end of the book, in chapters 16 and 17. In these chapters, Bilu delves into Wazana’s psyche and the symbolic significance of his narrative, and these subjects illuminate how Wazana defied categorization.

Wazana was a Jew who worshipped as a Muslim; he ignored divisions of age and sex; he straddled the worlds of human and demon, and the living and dead; he had few close relationships but many knew of him; he lived in Morocco but his name lives on in Israel; he worked miracles but was not omnipotent. In addition to the contrasts within his life and death, his “afterlife” continues to be rife with contradictions, as Bilu demonstrates by sharing stories that show conflicting views of Wazana. Bilu explains that “certain cultural figures…are believed to possess extraordinary charismatic powers that carry the liminal process into the fabric of social life” and suggests that Wazana was one of these cultural figures (145). Perhaps the most significant of Wazana’s many contradictions was that between his life and his death. His life was full of miracles, but his death lacked them completely; in fact, it was ugly and possibly of a demonic nature.

Is this the price that one must pay for living without borders? Bilu argues that this is one of the symbols of Wazana’s story. His death represents “the dangers of a marginality that crosses accepted social boundaries” (Bilu, 147). While the general consensus of Bilu’s informants seems to be that Wazana was a unique man who performed miracles and helped countless people in need, there is also a general consensus about his death–that it was painful and gruesome. Wazana serves as example of the dangers of a life straddling worlds, and his death is a warning to those who might try to do the same. For all that Wazana was unlike anybody else, his story serves to reinforce societal norms.

Jewish Saint Contradiction

One aspect about saints that differed from Islam to Judaism was the fact that Jewish saints rarely performed miracles; whereas Islamic saints performed miracles regularly and anyone could be venerated as a saint if they possessed the Baraka. Firstly, the whole concept of a saint is contrary to monotheistic religion as it the worship of others beside God. According to Meri, even though sainthood was contradictory, during the 9th to 14th century it was a huge part of popular religion, and mostly in Islam. Rabbis were regarded as holy men and spiritual models connected to the holy land, but they were not regarded as saints. This notion is contradictory to Bilu’s story of Rabbi Wazana who in modern Morocco and Israel was a saint who possessed incredible powers and performed many miracles.

Although the stories of Rabbi Wazana’s miraculous acts differ, are all second hand stories, and at times become quite general, it is significant to note that mostly all Moroccan Jews in Israel knew of the extraordinary feats the Rabbi undertook during his lifetime. Rabbi Wazana was not just an odd occurrence of Jewish sainthood that was seen only once, but his whole family lineage came from sainthood and performed miracles; therefore Wazana’s powers cannot be regarded as an anomaly. This further contradicts Meri’s case of Jewish saints, as more than one saint were Rabbis who performed miracles.

Wazana not only was an unordinary saintly Rabbi, but he also used Islamic techniques of healing which was not questioned or contradicted by anyone. It is very interesting to see how views change over time and geography, and how people only see and view what they wish – what is beneficial to them, and apparently that was this miraculous Rabbi. All we hear about Rabbi Wazana comes from second hand sources which makes the information less reliable, but it is very fascinating to hear the connections the Moroccan Jews make in describing this great man. They didn’t necessarily view him as contradictory to their religion who broke natural laws; he was a saint and savior to many.

What was most remarkable was the Rabbi’s connection and interaction with Jinuns. In previous readings there was no direct correlation with saints and demons and how they interacted with each other. However, Rabbi Wazana’s hold over the jinn and his special powers to control them does not reflect what any Jewish or Muslim saint had ever done. Therefore, not only was Rabbi Wazana a contradiction to Jewish saints, but he performed miracles which even Muslim saints from the readings had never executed.


The Death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana

I found the story of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana’s death to be most unique in Bilu’s Without Bounds. Although Wazana received many warnings from demons telling him to stay away from the sheikh’s daughter and that he may face death as a consequence—one of the reasons being that she was Arab—I was shocked at his death in Chapter 13. Wazana had already studied Muslim magic and healing without any objection from the public or demons and even prayed Arab prayers, although “’in secret’” (Bilu, 70).

For these reasons, I had trouble understanding why the sheikh’s daughter being Arab was one of the reasons the demons warned Wazana. Wouldn’t he have been punished “for crossing the red line and trespassing on forbidden property” already if the demons did not want him meddling with Muslims and Arabs (Bilu, 114)? I wonder if the combination of the sheikh’s daughter being Arab and Wazana meddling with the different demons was the last straw. Additionally, I found it interesting that Wazana’s marriage to a she-demon did not help him in this scenario; I thought the demons would be more forgiving since he had a relationship with one of them. I wonder if Rabbi Avraham Wazana’s initial concerns when Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana started studying healing in Chapter 7 were foreshadowing an event like this–did he expect something like this to happen if Wazana continued in the path of becoming a healer?

Like the other readings we have discussed throughout the semester have, Bilu’s analysis of Wazana has further increased my curiosity in the roles of saints and demons in popular religion. Perhaps it is because Without Bounds is primarily based on stories from informants that I have these questions about the demons’ wrath on Wazana. Since the informants were normal people with glimpses into Wazana’s life, they could not explain from his perspective. If Bilu could have somehow met Ya’aqov Wazana following his experience with healing the sheikh’s daughter, I would have been interested in hearing his thoughts on why the demons were so harsh on him.

The Role of an Anthropologist

As Vincent Crapanzano’s visit and study of Tuhami draws to an end, he makes a very unique decision that jeopardizes his role as an anthropologist. Crapanzano tells the reader that “…I gave him a large steel hunting knife. I told him that I hoped the knife would give him strength and be the key to his liberation” (172). The liberation Crapanzano is referring to is the freedom from Tuhami’s possessive she-demon wife Lalla A’isha. Crapanzano is trying to help Tuhami because he sees the man as a tormented soul who just wants a better life.

This action shows the intimate relationship between the anthropologist and his subject; however, it crosses the line. An anthropologist is in a very precarious position because they want to get to know their subjects as well as possible interfering in their lives. There are many examples of anthropologists changing their subject’s lives by providing necessities like medical supplies. Sometimes these acts of good will have no negative effects, but sometimes they can alter a whole culture. For example, missionaries tried to help the Yir Yoront people by introducing a steel axe. This seemingly innocent introduction ended up changing the whole structure of the society. Crapanzano’s act might have been out of sympathy, but he did not think though his actions. Although there is no evidence that this action has negative effects, it will change Tahami’s way of life.

Despite Crapanzano crossing the line, it is important to note that his action was in Tahumi’s cultural context. The knife he gives Tahumi is what other Moroccan’s would have used to get rid of the she-demon. He did not force a western concept on Tuhami to get rid of A’isha. Crapanzano’s decision could honestly be argued as correct or incorrect. However, this action is in my opinion incorrect because Crapanzano’s action will alter the life of Tuhami, and is that really within Crapanzano’s right to do so?

Jnun in the social order

In early Arabia stories of the jnun were used to explain just about everything that humans could not at the time. The stories of the jnun were in fact used to create a social order and ensure that the society followed the same set of rules. Looking back to the first week of classes we had two definitions of religion, one by Clifford Geertz and one by Bruce Lincoln. While the content of both definitions varies slightly there is one trait that both share that adequately describes the cultural use of jnun.

Geertz said that religion, A) formulates concepts of a general order of existence, and B) clothing these concepts in an aura of factuality that makes these moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. Lincolns definition has a more specific aim for religion, “A set of practices that aim to produce a proper world and proper human subjects”. The jnun became the guidance for a proper world and proper human subjects as well as explaining the general order of existence in a manner that made sense in an earlier time.

The stories of the jnun warn children of everything from making sure their clothes are folded and covering your mouth when you yawn to not talking back to your father and praying before dinner, if the children do not do these things it will be possible for a djinn to possess them. This is essentially enforcing hygiene and manners in children as well as devoutness and responsibilities. The stories of the jnun also warn of places jnun live, such as caves, deserts, hollowed trees and the ocean. All of these areas are dangerous for children alone, particularly at night when jnun are more active. Caves and dunes can be treacherous, scorpions, spiders and snakes can live in hollowed out trees and children should not play in the ocean alone, these are all basic things that simple stories of djinn warn children of.

Jnun are also credited with causing illnesses, particularly sudden and violent ones or epidemics. Salt is supposed to repel evil spirits so the Arabs used this to protect themselves, they put it on everything because it worked. In reality all they were doing was using a preservative on their food, which meant they did not get sick because it did not spoil, meaning the jnun did not bring them sickness that year. All these stories of the jnun and the terrible things they could do were used to explain the unexplained, but also to establish a social order of life, the stories advocated preserving food, basic hygiene, manners, and keep their children and society safe. According to both definitions of religion the stories of the jnun are definitely used for control, but in a manner that establishes the essentials of a successful society and individual.