Rebecca Harrison, ReutersPublished: Tuesday, February 19, 2008
JERUSALEM – Some want a wife. Others long for children, a miracle cure for illness or a quick fix for their finances.
Believers are seeking divine intervention for as little as $80 at www.westernwallprayers.org, a Jerusalem-based website that dispatches a squad of “agents” to pray at one of Judaism’s holiest sites on behalf of those who can’t get there themselves.
Batya Burd, a devout Jew who lives in Jerusalem’s Old City, set up her proxy prayer business to provide spiritual succour and, she says, religious miracles for the faithful while raising funds for those who devote their lives to biblical study.
The 33-year-old mother of two, who gave up a career as a corporate lawyer in Canada to come to Israel, collects e-mailed requests from around the world, then composes personal prayers for each client and assigns them an agent.
The emissary recites the prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall — a remnant of the ancient Jewish temple compound — every day for 40 days. Many visitors to the holy site write their prayers on slips of paper, which they press into the wall’s crevices.
“When I looked at the needs around me here in Jerusalem they were mostly financial, whereas the needs of people where I come from were mostly spiritual,” said Burd in a cafe overlooking the Western Wall. “This was a way of merging both.”
Burd has composed prayers for 700-800 people and says she has several “miracles” under her belt, including a man who met his soul mate, a woman who won the lottery and two people who say their cancer disappeared after they signed up for prayer.
Sceptics will argue that believers looking for results will always find them, and that many so-called answers to prayers are simply canny coincidences.
Some might say it’s a scam.
But Burd believes fervently in the power of prayer and challenges sceptics to try it themselves.
“There are always sceptics, but without experiencing it you’re just ignorant,” she said. “The more sincerely you believe in something, the more God allows it to happen.”
The minimum donation is $2 a day, which will pay a member of Burd’s 35-strong squad of observant Jews to pray at the Western Wall for 40 days.
A total of $720 will get you exclusive prayer at the wall and at an Old City synagogue.
A special request and at least $1,800 will pay for 10 observant men to pray together for 40 days deep in the tunnels under the Western Wall that are off-limits to public worship.
Burd splits the money between the members of the prayer squad, who live in Jerusalem and devote most of their time to biblical study rather than secular work, so do not earn big salaries.
Although 70 per cent of her clients are Jewish, Burd also gets requests from people of other religions, or of none at all.
Most come from the United States and Canada, but some hail from as far afield as India, South Africa or Mexico.
Burd denies it’s a quick fix for cash-rich but spiritually poor Westerners, arguing clients are also asked to pray themselves every day during the 40-day period and to take on good deeds — a process she says brings them closer to God. “We hope they will become more connected to God, more connected to themselves and better human beings,” said Burd.