“Megirot” (lit. drawers) is one of many recent attempts to help religious women attain a higher spiritual level in their lives. The Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon has an exposé in today’s paper about the method and its founder. Women who have been active for many years and have taught using Megirot’s methods are calling it a cult. The method has many followers in the religious Zionist community in Israel.
According to the article by Yifat Erlich, Megirot was founded by Sylvia Dahari. A widowed mother of six originally from Gush Katif (the Jewish settlement of Gaza), she wished to share the “secrets” that helped her cope during the period after her husband was murdered in a terrorist attack. She attracted women with her dynamic personality and her ability to transform mundane daily tasks, especially housekeeping, into a quest for reaching a high level of holiness. The women brought the contents of their drawers to the lessons, where Sylvie (or the teachers trained by her) analyzed the objects and drew conclusions about the woman’s inner life.
At a lesson attended by the reporter in preparation for the article, Sylvie told of a woman who came to her saying that she wanted a divorce after two years of marriage. They “did a drawer,” which contained tapes of children’s songs. Sylvie asked why the woman was saving the tapes, and the woman said they were for her children. Sylvie pointed out that tapes would be worthless by the time the children grew up, and the woman was really saving them for herself because she still felt like a child. The woman agreed with Sylvie, and said that she wanted a divorce because she was afraid of growing up and becoming a mother.
The women interviewed in the article, who had been trained by Sylvie to teach the method, continue to be grateful for many things that they learned. However, they were seriously disturbed by Sylvie’s focus on sexual matters, including the close emotional relationships she developed with several husbands of her students. She interfered with the students’ private lives and mocked students after class. She deliberately came hours late to class, despite knowing that students traveled long distances.
Here are examples from the article:
- Sylvie told of her son, whose daughter jumped on him and interrupted his learning. “Do everything so that she will listen to you in the end,” instructed Sylvie to her son. “I am breaking your hands,” he told the girl, and when she jumped on him again, he turned her hand until a “tick” was heard. “That’s it, finished,” explained Sylvie to the students. “It won’t happen again. Fear of punishment is necessary.” [Why do these cults always involve child abuse?]
- Two years ago Sylvie began courting L., a married father of seven, who ran a ranch for teens at risk. The two would closet themselves in a room for hours and be seen around the country all hours of the day and night. “Every man has a physical wife and a spiritual wife. I am L.’s spiritual wife,” she explained to the students. [Why do these cults always involve sexual impropriety?]
- She told L.’s ["physical"] wife, Y., “It’s from Hashem, for your own good. I am building his personality and saving him from spiritual death, and you are interfering in the process.” Y. was apparently convinced, and sadly told one of the women: “You think this isn’t hard for me? Sylvie is working with me on this.”
- Sylvie gave a class for single women, and concluded that the reason they remained unmarried was their inability to speak openly with men. She recruited L. [see above] and a 17-year-old boy from his ranch, so the women could practice intimate phone conversations with them. When the women suggested that Sylvie herself marry, she replied, “Marry? For what? Why do I need a husband on my head? What is bad about my life? To serve him? So he will limit me? I don’t have enough to do?”
- Sylvie tells women to carefully guard her husband’s honor: to stand up when he gets home, cook what he likes, and get into bed five minutes earlier than he. But if the men disagree with Sylvie about something, it’s a different matter entirely.
- [We have sex, we have child abuse, so what's left? Money, of course.] Tens of thousands of shekalim went into Sylvie’s pocket in the guise of sacred money, with a promise that the donors will merit blessings and be protected from harm. During the course of opening drawers, objects deemed unnecessary or impediments to growth remained with Sylvie. These included electrical appliances, a diamond ring, clothes and more. Women paid to attend lessons, but no receipts were ever given by Sylvie. (Some other teachers do give receipts.)
When haredi women began flocking to meetings in Bnei Brak, the Badatz of the Edah Haredit (one haredi community’s religious court) banned it. But it took longer for the religious Zionist rabbis to get the picture. Rabi Eliahu of Safed at one time recommended the Megirot method to women, but no longer. He believes a religious court should be convened to discuss the matter.
And some people seem to think that our community is too cynical. But it’s clear to me that we’re not suspicious enough. Yemima is another religious woman giving classes to promote spiritual growth; I see advertisements for her everywhere. I’d be interested to know more about her too.
The article has more, but it’s Friday afternoon and I’ve covered the main points.