publisher colophon


Chapter 1

  1.   The current work, focusing on the life story of a Jewish Moroccan folk healer with “shamanic” qualities, follows the tradition of using biographies to highlight a wider social reality, prevalent both among students of the Maghreb (see, for example, Crapanzano 1980; Munson 1984; and Waterbury 1972) and anthropologists interested in folk healers (for example, Edgerton 1971; Handelman 1967; Langness and Frank 1981; and Low 1988). The best known biographical account of a shaman, Castaneda’s Don Juan (1968), raises serious questions of credibility (De Mille 1980).

Chapter 2

  1.   I would like to thank Edna Cheichel from the Israel Folktale Archive for affording me access to the stories. For a structural analysis of Abutbul’s account of Wazana’s death sent to the Archive see Jason (1976). The insightful analysis treats Wazana as a legendary figure.

  2.   Hillula is an Aramaic word designating “wedding celebration.” In Jewish mystical circles the death of an especially pious man was viewed as leading to a mystical union between his soul and the Godhead (Deshen 1977: 110; and Weingrod 1990: 11).

  3.   On Rabbi David u-Moshe in Morocco and Israel see Ben-Ami 1981, 1984; and Bilu 1987.

  4.   A traditional Jewish Moroccan springtime celebration taking place on the day following Passover. On the origins of the Mimuna and its transformation into an ethnic renewal celebration in Israel, part of the national calendar of festivals, see Goldberg 1978 and Weingrod 1990.

  5.   On the Abu-Ḥatseras’ impressive genealogy of tsaddiqim in Morocco and Israel see Ben-Ami 1984; Bar-Moḥa and Dor 1995; and Bilu and Ben-Ari 1992.

  6.   Ait in Moroccan Arabic denotes “family,” “tribe,” or “clan.”

  7.   Lag Ba’Omer, a Jewish festival marked by bonfires, which is conducted on the thirty-third day of the counting of the barley (starting on Passover), is also the hillula day of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yoḥai, the putative second-century author of the holy Zohar, the canonical text of Jewish mysticism. Rabbi Shimon’s hillula in Meron is the largest pilgrimage in Israel, drawing up to two hundred thousand celebrants.

Chapter 3

  1.   Ben-Ami (1984: 37) sites the Wazana family as one of the renowned holy families of Morocco. For the centrality of the authority passed on among the Moroccan holy families see Deshen 1989.

  2.   According to Ben-Ami, Rabbi Avraham lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century (1984: 244).

  3.   According to one version, Rabbi Avraham was born in Skoura. Dra is associated with ancient traditions concerning kabbalists and miracle workers (Elior 1985).

  4.   Rabbi David Wazana appears in Ben-Ami’s book as Rabbi Avraham’s brother (1984: 317). Apart from the possibility that the versions are different because of the different sources, we might be talking about another tsaddiq, the uncle of Rabbi David in our story.

  5.   See Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 22a.

  6.   For the possibility of a human being abducted by demons see Alexander 1991; Bilu 1979; and Tsfatman 1988.

  7.   For the transformation of certain places into the “inheritance” of different rabbis, see Ben-Ami 1984: 51.

  8.   As already mentioned, two of the family’s tsaddiqim, Rabbi Avraham and Rabbi David, are recorded among the tsaddiqim of Morocco (Ben-Ami 1984: 244, 317).

Chapter 4

  1.   For more details of Jewish life in the Atlas Mountains, see Flamand 1959; Shokeid 1982; and Willner and Kohls 1962.

  2.   Regarding the legal status of Jews as an inferior minority within Muslim society (Dhimmi) see Bat-Yeor 1985; and Lewis 1984.

  3.   Jewish-Muslim relations in Morocco have been extensively researched by the anthropologist Lawrence Rosen, who worked in Sefrou near Fez (cf. 1972, 1984). For an analysis of Jewish-Muslim relations in Morocco with greater emphasis on the tensions and conflicts than on the harmonious existence claimed by Rosen, see Stillman 1978. Bilu and Levy 1996 and Shokeid 1982 offer a more integrated view of the relationship.

  4.   On the importance of zekhut avot (the privilege of the forebears) within the traditional healing system of Moroccan Jewry, see Bilu 1978, 1985a. There is a great deal of similarity between Jewish zekhut avot and the Muslim baraka. For the centrality of the latter in Moroccan life, see Eickelman 1976; Jamous 1981; Rabinow 1975; and Westermarck 1926.

Chapter 5

  1.   For example, the holy men of the village of Tabia were buried in Demnate and Netifa (Ben-Ami 1984: 389–91). Rabbi Shlomo Timsut from Imi-n-tanut was buried in Essaouira (Bilu 1990: 254).

  2.   The miraculous occurrence whereby the sun stands still allowing the tsaddiq to be buried before the Sabbath begins and thereby to enjoy the imminent holiness without profaning it, is a recurrent theme in stories of the death and burial of such famous tsaddiqim as Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan, Rabbi Rephael ha-Kohen, Rabbi Shlomo Ben Leḥans, and Mulai Irhi (Ben-Ami 1984: 63).

  3.   Cf. “Absalom, Absalom my son …” (II Samuel 19:5). This inference is apparent not only in the similarity of the opening phrasing (here “Ya’aqov, Ya’aqov my son”) but also in the context of the subject matter: an anguished lamentation over the death of a loved relative. The style of the blessing—“May the Lord bless you and keep you”—echoes the priestly blessing of the Bible.

Chapter 7

  1.   It is worth emphasizing here that among the former Moroccan community, reading in the mystical Zohar and delving into the hidden secrets in general is less proscribed than we find with other Jewish communities and therefore was a more common phenomenon, relatively speaking (Goldberg 1990; and Shtahl 1980). Against this background, the fact that Wazana totally avoided using the kabbala for healing only serves to emphasize his estrangement from the practices of other healers.

  2.   For a description of the Sous magicians see Westermarck 1926: 359–63.

  3.   The existence of an intrinsically different time stream in the other world recurs in popular folklore and literature, although the common pattern is the opposite of that presented here: years are experienced as lasting days (see Thompson 1966: III:76 [motif F377: Supernatural time in fairyland]).

  4.   For the demon in Muslim society in Morocco, see Crapanzano 1973, 1980; and Westermarck 1926. For the status of the demon within Jewish Moroccan society, see Bilu 1979, 1980.

  5.   For the phenomenon of possession (dybbuk) in Jewish tradition, see Bilu 1985b; Nigal 1983.

Chapter 8

  1.   Demons hate salt and keep away from it. Salt is therefore commonly used as a defense to ward off demons (see, for example, Bilu 1979).

Chapter 9

  1.   On Joseph’s exceptional beauty see Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 35b.

Chapter 11

  1.   The Muslims in Morocco similarly divide healing formulations into herz rabbani and herz sitani (see Westermarck 1926: 208).

  2.   The names required for the healing are written on paper that is immersed in a vessel full of water. The writing is thus erased and the water absorbs the healing attributes. The same result may be obtained by writing on the bottom of a plate and then pouring water into the plate. Sometimes, the paper containing the names is burned, thus endowing the smoke with the healing properties.

  3.   These are the Moroccan names for the healing substances. Ḥarmel (peganum harmala) is used for keeping demons and the evil eye at bay. Rota (rue) has similar uses, and is also effective in the treatment of anxiety and worry. Casbur (coriander), pasokh (gum ammoniac), seb (alum), and jawi (benzoin) are used in fighting demons and have other uses besides. Thus, for example, pasokh is a protection against sorcerers, while seb, a crystalline mineral, has diagnostic uses: when dissolved, it hardens into different shapes. These shapes are “read” to reveal the sufferer’s problems (similar to reading coffee grounds; see Bilu 1978: 372–73; and Westermarck 1926: 306–10).

  4.   On the vicissitudes of the powerful Glaoua family in the Atlas regions during the first half of the twentieth century see Maxwell 1966.

  5.   Childlessness among married couples was usually believed to be the result of infertility on the woman’s part, unless proved otherwise (see Bilu 1978: 99; and Shokeid 1971: 126).

  6.   For the two universal principles of magic, contact and similarity, see Frazer 1952.

  7.   “Our rabbis taught: It is permitted to consult by a charm the spirits [princes] of oil or eggs, but that they give false answers” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 101a). It appears that the sages permit the use of such diagnostic techniques just because they are unfounded.

  8.   It is likely that this book was ascribed to King Solomon owing to the popular myths regarding his ability to command the demons (see, for example, Ginzberg 1913: 149–54).

  9.   As the day of the destruction of the two temples, the ninth of Av, a day of fasting and mourning, is deemed particularly inauspicious.

10.   The Jews supported the despotic pasha of Marrakech, Ḥaj Tehami, because he protected them. Many believed that the pasha’s benevolent attitude toward them owed to the fact that Rabbi Pinḥas ha-Kohen, a sage from Marrakech considered to be a saint, saved the pasha from several attempts on his life (Ben-Ami 1984: 175). Apparently, the informants attribute these stories to Wazana.

Chapter 13

  1.   A common technique for exorcising a demon or spirit was to place a burning rag in the person’s nostrils and “smoking” it so that the entity within would be burnt or choked (see, for example, Nigal 1983: 47).

  2.   For the disappearing voice as a sign of demonic presence, see Westermarck 1926: 269.

  3.   Literally the days “between the straits,” this period of time spans the three weeks between the collapse of the walls of Jerusalem under the Roman siege on the seventeenth of Tammuz and the destruction of the temple on the ninth of Av.

  4.   It is difficult to ascertain the medical reasons for Wazana’s death based on the details provided; however, in view of his fondness for drink, we cannot rule out the possibility that the cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver, the primary cause of death in alcoholics. The confusion, memory interference, inability to hold on to objects, and the terrors that Wazana suffered are recognized symptoms of this disease. Internal bleeding, possibly accompanied by portal hypertension with upper gastrointestinal bleeding might have been responsible for the large quantity of blood Wazana vomited as he was dying (see Geffries 1971: 1379–80).

  5.   Some informants referred to Wazana’s fatal affliction as derba (“an attack”). This term describes a demonic disease category considered to be a dangerous attack usually resulting in death. The short duration of this type of affliction gave birth to the term “derbat (e)l-yom-uleyla,” i.e., an attack which sealed a person’s fate within a single day. The duration of Wazana’s sickness fits into this category. See Bilu 1978: 78–81.

  6.   This assurance is based on a wish rather than on fact. In my visit to Agouim in 1993, I found the Jewish cemetery, lying on a steep slope across from the village, untended and ruined, with only a few gravestones intact. Wazana’s tomb could not be located. I did manage to find a piece of a broken tombstone with the Hebrew inscription Tammuz, which is the month of Wazana’s death (see picture on p. 115).

  7.   On the option of being cured of an affliction by “transferring” it to someone else, see Bilu 1978: 169; and Westermarck 1926: 605–7.

Chapter 14

  1.   These are all traditional garments worn in Morocco. Chamir refers to a closed cloak with a collar. Farajiya is an open cloak with covered buttons. Salam is a fur overcoat worn in winter.

Chapter 15

  1.   The benefits of holding a book attributed to Wazana are illustrated in detail in the epilogue.

  2.   There was a widespread belief among Moroccan Jewry that a saint could appear to his followers in the form of a snake (see Westermarck 1926: 65–66).

Chapter 16

  1.   It is tempting to think of these items in terms of psychoanalytic object relations theory as transitional objects of the type of the doll or blanket with which young children develop a strong attachment. We can see that this attachment is, among other things, an attempt to cope with experiences of separation from the parents and to reduce the anxiety to which they give rise. “Transitional objects are created in loneliness. They are based on feeling alone, yearning for past intimacy, and the recreation of past togetherness.… [T]ransitional objects restore lost objects” (Kestenberg and Weinstein 1978: 90). The “fetishistic” relationship Wazana exhibited for his parents’ belongings is compatible with the conceptualization outlined above. For the origin of the term “transitional objects” see Winnicott 1980.

             The term “linking objects,” coined by the psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan, is even better suited for our purposes. As Volkan says, “I have found that patients with established pathological grief typically select an inanimate object—a symbolic bridge [or link] to the representation of the dead person.… The mourner sees them [linking objects] as containing elements of himself and of the one he has lost. By using his linking object, the mourner can keep alive the illusion that he has the power either to return the dead person to life or to ‘kill’ him” (Volkan 1981: 20, emphasis added). The items once belonging to his parents that Wazana guarded so closely should be regarded more as “linking objects” than “transitional objects.” The former are usually used by the individual during adulthood to compensate for loss of a close figure, while the latter are initially manifested during childhood in the course of normal development.

  2.   For the dangers of calling demons by their explicit name see Westermarck 1926: 603.

  3.   For an illuminating analysis of the psychological similarities between reactions to grief, mourning, and loss and mystical experiences, see Aberbach 1987. For the association between the absence of fathers and religious commitment see Masson 1976; and Ullman 1989. On the wish to compensate for the loss of a parent that might lead to achievement and excellence in many areas see Eisenstadt, Haynal, Rentchnick, and De Senarclens 1989.

Chapter 17

  1.   On the “tendency” for tsaddiqim to be buried on Friday, prior to the commencement of the Sabbath, see note 2 to chapter 5.

  2.   For details of demons’ attraction to blood see Westermarck, 1926:104, 277.

  3.   See note 3 to chapter 13.

  4.   Rabbinic discussions of the Three Weeks add another layer of significance to Wazana’s death date. It is indicated in the Talmudic (Pesakhim 111) and Midrashic (Lamentations Rabba) literature that in this period of the year, ketev meriri, a very dangerous demon, is particularly active. This time is also viewed as inauspicious for transactions with non-Jews. Thus, from a Jewish perspective, Wazana’s overinvolvement with Muslims and demons during the Three Weeks period made him especially vulnerable. Note, however, that none of the interviewees explicitly discussed these associations with us.

  5.   For a structural analysis of the story of Wazana’s death with emphasis on this aspect of harmony, disruption, and restoration, see Jason 1976.

  6.   My analysis of the lawful regularity of the binary oppositions between Wazana and his father that appear in the legends discussed is of course based on the structuralist approach, whose arch-proponent is Lévi-Strauss (cf. 1964, 1966). For an interesting attempt to integrate “timeless” structuralist explanations with a historical approach best suited to analyzing the legendary aspects of the life of Wazana as a historical figure, see Ardener 1989.

  7.   Turner developed and expanded the concept of liminality first used by Van Gennep (1960) in the context of rites of passage.

  8.   For discussions of the shaman’s role see Eliade 1964; Halifax 1980; Harner 1973; and Rogers 1982.

  9.   This puzzling correlation happens to be historically true. In the early 1950s, when Wazana died, the struggle for independence led to violent clashes between Moroccan nationalists and the French colonial government (see, for example, Bernard 1968).

10.   The motif of a world without limits, where the only restriction imposed is ignored, is a common folklore theme (Thompson 1966:I:526 [motif C 600–49: The one forbidden thing]).


  1.   The pieces appeared in Yediot Haḥronot (Yigal Sarna) and Ma’ariv (Nurit Baretski) on March 26, 1993.

  2.   Yosef’s family name is disguised.

  3.   On Maghrebi traditions of saint apparitions in dreams see Bilu and Abramovitch 1985, and Crapanzano 1975.

  4.   If indeed Yosef adopted in fantasy the biblical ascription of Joseph son of Jacob, this could endow surplus mystical depth to the triangular relations between Wazana, Yosef, and myself. Note that in his deconstruction of my name, Yosef presented me as partaking of “the House of Jacob.”

  5.   In all probability, this title, “the Cat Scanner of Be’er Sheva,” was inspired by the soaring success of a rabbi-healer from a neighboring development town, who was dubbed “the X ray of Netivot” for his diagnostic achievements.

Additional Information

MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Creative Commons
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.