Modern Love: Seeking a Rabbi’s Blessing
A few weeks ago, my friend Amy Klein published this piece in the New York Times’ Modern Love column, about seeking a blessing to marry from a rabbi in Israel.
I might have stopped being Orthodox, but its indoctrination had left me with the sense that nearly anything — God, spiritualists, healers, psychics and witches — might be equally possible. Thus I found myself in an airless Jerusalem classroom with this old rabbi, who had a white beard so long I couldn’t see his mouth and glasses so thick I couldn’t see his eyes.
“Yes, I want a husband,” I admitted aloud for the first time.
He held a heavy Hebrew book out to me. “Open a page, any page,” he said, like a magician. “Read me a word on the page.”
I opened the book, pointed my finger toward the center, and read one of the random Hebrew words: “Kishuf.”
“You know what this means?” he asked.
“No, no,” he said. “Not witch. A curse. Someone has cursed you. This is why you are not married.”
Of all the things he could have said — that I wasn’t married because I didn’t pray daily, or eat kosher food, or observe the Sabbath (not to mention my nonvirginal dating habits) — a curse was the last thing I’d expected. Who would curse me? I mean, if there were such a thing as a curse.
“We need to make pidyon nefashot,” he said, referring to a “redemption of the soul,” similar to the ceremony that Jews do before the Day of Atonement. “You pay me 400 shekel,” he said. “Cash.”
“But I don’t have 400 shekels here,” I protested.
“You go to A.T.M.,” he said, pointing to the door. A.T.M. — this was a word he knew. I told him I’d come back, and I walked out into the hot August sunshine, thinking I’d never see him again.
“What kind of sucker does he think I am?” I asked myself as I walked toward the bus stop to go back to my hotel. “A hundred bucks for a prayer I already know.” But the problem with being raised religious is that no matter how much skepticism you acquire later in life, you’re never quite sure about your own instincts; you always secretly suspect that the rabbis are right about everything.