Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Tour Europe and Practice Idolatry at Over 400 Graves
What particularly caught my attention was the passage: "In places that are not visited as frequently you can often have your prayers 'heard' more readily in the merit of the Tzadikim that are not visited as often." I am glad that they put the word "heard" in quotes. I would hope that they meant that God does not literally hear prayers since God is not a physical being with ears or even affected by sound. Most probably they meant to merely acknowledge that God is aware of everything and does not hear things more readily or less readily.
None of this gets this company off the hook for idolatry. Usually one can cover for praying at graves by saying that the righteous person is incidental just that if you are going to pray you might as well go to a place associated with a righteous person. One can even argue that there is a special merit in praying in a place where many other people are gathering (hence why we have synagogues in the first place) or even to pray in a place where many people have prayed at in the past. In this case we are choosing to pray at a place specifically where there have not been many prayers said. This trip only makes sense if we accept the theological premise that God wishes for human beings to honor deceased righteous people by praying at their graves to such an extent that he counts it as a special merit to those who find out of the way graves of righteous people to pray by. Hence the focus is not God. At best God only comes in as the Santa Claus at the end of the tunnel with his bag of goodies. This is about venerating dead rabbis as not just righteous people to be imitated, but spiritual forces in their own right. This is idolatry.
As a historian and a religious Jew, I strongly support touring Eastern Europe and tending the graves of Jewish leaders. These are historic landmarks for the Jewish people and just as the Bible records the locations where the Israelites traveled in the desert so to should we record the locations of past Jewish communities and the important figures that lived and were buried there. I would make a special effort to seek out those graves that have been forgotten. I would even make the effort to pray and recite Psalms there. God forbid out of any belief that they have power or any desire to make use of that power to "manipulate" God, but simply to include them within Jewish memory.