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Ritualistic Reading among Oriental Jews

Abraham Stahl
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 52, No. 2 (Apr., 1979), pp. 115-120
DOI: 10.2307/3317261
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3317261
Page Count: 6
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Ritualistic Reading among Oriental Jews
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Abstract

It was the custom among Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, for groups of men to meet in order to read the Zohar, the principal text of Jewish mysticism. This very difficult text was read with great devotion although the readers were unable to understand its language and its meaning. People formed "Zohar Societies" which regularly held reading sessions. This practice is continued by Oriental immigrants in Israel. The paper describes such sessions among Moroccan Jews: the way in which the meeting is conducted, the manner of recitation, and the general atmosphere. The "Zohar Society" has various social functions: it strengthens the ties among its members and it performs readings for the community on several occasions, such as birth, death and illness. There are festive meetings at which the whole community or many of its male members participate. The reading of the Zohar is believed to have beneficial effect, leading the reader to communion with God. The effect of the reading is not dependent on the understanding of the text, but only on the reader's devotion. Indeed, the holy book will protect its owner even if merely kept at home without being read. The religious text is made into an object of magic. Cultural and religious change in Israel will probably lead to gradual disappearance of ritualistic reading.

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