The good: In the past post, I explained that even though the idea of raising drawer-cleaning to ritual strikes me as silly, and even though I think it is pop-psychology clothed as religion, there are some good aspects to it. Namely, it is good to engage in self-introspection and it is good for harried religious women to have a kosher support group. It may well be that Megeirot or programs like it are the only realistic way for them to have it. And even if some of Megirot is ineffective or silly, the process of engaging in it with other people in the same boat and with someone to support and listen to you can have real emotional psychological effect.
The worrisome: However, in general, present-day Orthodox Judaism has its problem with folk-religion. To a large extent such trends are checked among men, who have plenty of Jewish ritual to engage in, and gemara and so on to keep them occupied. But particularly among frum Jewish women, there is a risk of falling into the trap of folk-religion.
Why particularly women?
First, often (though not always) they are taught lots of "fluff" in school. Like in one concrete example, when they are taught that the purpose hair-covering is so that their hair will be super-special for their husband, but are not told anything about the Das Yehudis or sear beIsha erva. Or hashkafa, which is not a serious source-based discussion, but a mussar shmuez reflecting the particular biases of their teacher. So when they encounter someone else saying incorrect fluff, it is hard to distinguish and say why this particular fluff is wrong.
Secondly, in many cases, they are not given the place to express themselves in Jewish ritual. The husband's role is to learn, and the woman's role is to cook supper, get the kids dressed, and clean the drawers. This is an overstatement, but one pulled from a recent comment on this blog. Since Judaism does not give them the ritual, they sometimes make ritual up, or else invest existing actions with deeper significance.
I made this point in an earlier post, when I suggested that when the gemara states that "the best of women practices witchcraft" means particularly the best, who seek spiritual fulfillment, just as "the best of doctors" in that gemara meant particularly the best.
Thus, baking challah in honor of Shabbos is a great thing to do -- and halachic sources even insisted that the man should do this in honor of Shabbos (though Aruch haShulchan says that it is OK for the wife to do it because of ishto kegufo). But since this has developed into woman's work, and she is the one who does hafrashat challah, this has been changed into a ritual for a coven of women. They get together in groups made up of specific (in-)signicant numbers of people, have names of people who need a shidduch or a refuah sheleima, and have them in mind when they perform their ritual. And they come up with silly "fluff" about the mystical significance of the ingredients of challah, and so on.
Women's prayer groups are the efforts of feminists to practice rituals usually reserved just for men. But the "frum" variant is more problematic, in my opinion. They consider Amen to be a word of power, and they meet at the new moon.
A similar problem with Shir haShirim groups. Women like romance, and shir hashirim uses the metaphor of a man and his lover, so this is something women should form a group to say. And of course have in mind shidduchim. And women talk a lot! 9 measures of talk was given to women. So they should have Shmiras haLashon groups, once again having in mind particular people in need of assistance. So these become rituals and segulahs to bring about a particular desired result.
Sometimes, the transforming of life experiences into segulahs and rituals takes away from the living of those life experiences. I have seen kallahs shuffling down the aisle reading a list of names (of sick or single) or saying tehillim, while crying, rather than experiencing the joy and experience of getting married to her bashert. All because the time is portentous, and must be harnessed into a segulah.
Megeirot seems to be along the same lines. Women are overworked, but their role is surely in the home -- making me a sandwich. (I kid, I kid.) And so a ritual is made out of ... cleaning drawers.
I did not mention the competing group -- Chitulim. The idea in this movement is that before changing a diaper, the mother must say a prayer to Hashem. As she uses the baby wipe, she must contemplate what sort of c**p in her life she would like to clear away.
Such is obviously ridiculous. I made it up. Yet Megeirot is taken seriously! Chazal never ritualized drawer cleaning. This is a made-up modern ritual which fills a void.
I must hasten to say that that does not mean that there cannot be value in this. It is good to invest our lives with meaning, and to find meaning in the otherwise mundane.
But here are a group of women following what might be considered a guru figure who are coming up with tefillot to say at this particular ritualized act. I believe that part of the reason of Baal Tosif is to prevent this organic, wild growth of our religion.
That brings me to the founder of this group. There is nothing that says that a woman cannot be spiritual and knowledgable. But when men try to lead, they do so within the framework of established halacha, with a long and developed history behind it. And they do so as rabbis, where there is peer review. One rises in the ranks as one is recognized for knowledge and insight into halacha and hashkafa. And if one diverges, other rabbis are there to challenge it. (At least in an ideal world. But at least these checks are in place.)
Meanwhile, there is no post of "rabbi" for a woman. There is rebbetzin, which many may earn just by marrying a rabbi. In the case of Rabbanit Keren, I saw on a discussion board that a woman asked her rebbetzin whether Rabbanit Keren's practices were off the deep end. The rebbetzin responded that even though this is not our hashkafa, she is a rebbetzin, which means that she is married to a rabbi, which in turn means that he presumably knows about and approves of her message. So she is not off the deep end, but must be based on a legitimate position. Meanwhile, the husband in that case was not really a force in the home.
There are no checks and balances in place, the women who attend are used to fluff, and the connection is to a type of "guru" figure.
The head of Megeirot might not say a single word of kefirah, may say over divrei Torah, and want to bring people close to Hashem. That does not mean that she is a professional therapist who understands what will positively or negatively affect people in general and people in particular; it also does not mean that she knows what Torah sources should be brought to bear, and which to be given prominence, in any given situation.
Thus, this may be true:
No matter what the student said, the instructor was told to tell her: "Sheker (falsehood), that is a statement of the ordinary sechel (intellect) which is your non-sechel. You don't have any sechel." Then the student recited a prayer, intended to redirect the woman's thoughts.If true, and if this is a bad thing, it is not because of any evil intent of the founder of Megeirot, but because she is not a trained therapist.
Furthermore, back to the fluff angle. I know that many, many things can be cast as a Jewish ideas, when one uses the right words and frames it appropriately. This has happened many times in the distant and recent past. If Rav Dov Lior "warned that it was not based on Jewish teachings," this is quite possible, even though followers of Megeirot will gladly and readily engage in argument that it does.
It is also worrisome that in defending the group and the group leader, someone would see fit to compare Sylvie to Rav Nachman of Breslov or to the Baal Shem Tov. This suggests that the group is more serious about themselves and their practices than I first thought. Usually, we try to vet our leaders more thoroughly. As the saying goes, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."
I do not know of any particulars of it, and do not intend to get into any particulars. However, perhaps in the next post (if I decide to post it), I will discuss a bit about why I think discussing perceived problems, or problematic experiences, about something which has the form of a cult, might be a good thing, even if (and I am not saying it does or does not) such goes against the laws of lashon hara.