By Daphna Berman
The latest marriage of technology and millennia-old traditions enables anyone with a special request, at least $90 to spare and Internet access to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Batya Burd, 31, a former corporate lawyer from Toronto now living in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has founded an Internet [non-profit] that offers personal prayers at the Western Wall and other Jewish religious sites.
“Who doesn’t want their prayers answered?,” Burd asked rhetorically during a recent interview in her apartment.
Burd…immigrated to Israel [after a Birthright trip in 2001]… She and her husband Gershon, a full-time yeshiva student, established [www.WesternWallPrayers.org] last year. It took off quickly through word of mouth and advertisements on Google.
The main service offered is 40 days of consecutive prayers at the Western Wall, where God’s presence is said to permanently dwell. The number was selected because of its recurrence throughout the Bible, among others as the number of days that Moses stayed on Mount Sinai before the giving of the Torah.
Burd explained that hiring a proxy is an acceptable religious alternative for people who don’t have daily access to the wall. “People do have to pray for themselves too,” she insisted, “but the more people you have praying for you, the better.”
The basic package, for a minimum of $2 a day [donation] for the 40-day period, provides for inclusion in a group prayer at the wall. For $9 a day [donation], a representative prays at the wall exclusively on your behalf. The $18 a day [donation] option includes the exclusive prayer as well as the recitation of all of Psalms and special prayers at an Old City synagogue. For an additional [donation] of $540, Burd can arrange for a 40-day course of prayers at the tomb of King David on Mt. Zion or at that of the Kabbalist Yitzhak Luria (“Arizal”), in Safed. Most clients take the basic package, Burd admitted, “because it’s cheapest.”
Hundreds of people from around the world, most of them Jews, have turned to the site for divine intervention on matters such as fertility, health, or marriage. Unusual requests have included divine help in being released from prison, losing weight and obtaining American citizenship. One Christian client, who sought prayers for the resurrection of Jesus, was politely declined.
In addition to their requests, [donors] provide their Hebrew name and that of their mother, in keeping with Jewish tradition. Some [donors] relate their life stories, while others send pictures. Burd keeps in touch by phone or email. “You’d be amazed at how much a person can care for and connect with a complete stranger,” she said.
Teachers and students whom the Burds know from the Jewish Quarter help to fulfill the requests.
“This feels like such holy work,” Burd said. “My heart is in the job for the first time and I am earning money from something that I believe in.”
Trusting in prayer
Skeptics may scoff at the idea of [donating for] someone on the other side of the world to pray on your behalf. [People can donate] hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars with no proof of performance. But Burd says that with references from rabbis such as Rabbi Berel Wein, a popular Jewish historian and Rabbi Shimon Green of the Bircas HaTorah yeshiva, her pure intentions should be obvious. “If you don’t know the rabbis, it’s true, you need to take a leap of faith,” she admitted. “But anyone who wants prayers at the Kotel has already put their faith in God.”
Burd claims “dozens” of success stories for her [donors], ranging from love discovered to health regained. “It’s not magic, but it is a Torah recipe for success,” she said.
Still, Burd does include a liability clause in the contract. As we cannot play God, we offer no guarantees,” the clause states, “but with heartfelt prayers, good deeds, and Torah-learning, we do our best.”