The Saint of Beersheba
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Weingrod presents an anthropological study of the development of a new Jewish saint, or zaddikin Israel and of the annual pilgrimage to his enshrined grave by thousands of North African Jews. It is the fascinating story of how Rabbi Chayim Chouri, an aged Tunisian rabbi, became famed as the "Saint of Beersheba," after his death in the 1950s. The author focuses upon the meaning of this event in the lives of the participants, and interprets the relevance of mystical-religious traditions to present-day Israeli society, politics, and culture. It includes a photographic essay that brilliantly evokes the joyful events that occur during the ritual and festivity of the pilgrimage.
Alex Weingrod is Chilewich Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel.
"Alex Weingrod has written an important and fascinating book that contributes to an understanding of contemporary Israel, on the one hand, and to theories of religion, ethnicity and cultural revitalization, on the other. Weingrod's rich ethnographic description of the origin, development, and functions of the cult of one Jewish saint in contemporary Israel, and the annual pilgrimage to his grave, not only is intrinsically valuable, but it also points a spotlight on a little known, but immensely important, aspect of traditional North African (but not only North African) Judaism—the veneration of miracle-working saints. If that were not enough, Weingrod employs a sophisticated theory of 'cultural performance' for the interpretation of the events comprising the pilgrimage, and he deploys comparative materials for the development of a multidimensional explanation for the resuscitation of saint cults more generally among North African Jewish immigrants to Israel (the quest for magical power, the celebration of ethnic identity, the assertion of political influence. "—Melford E. Spiro, University of California at San Diego
"This is an important and interesting study. It documents with care and precision the remarkable phenomenon of the birth of a major local saint in contemporary Israel. The story is fascinating in itself. However, Weingrod's skilled and sophisticated analysis of this phenomenon gives it an intellectual depth and relevance which extends beyond Beersheba, beyond Israel, and beyond the Middle East. "—Professor A. L. Udovitch, Princeton University