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Ancient Rabbi Becomes a Modern Israeli Matchmaker

Amuka Journal; Ancient Rabbi Becomes a Modern Israeli Matchmaker

In these days of and television's ''Bachelorette,'' there are thousands of men and women in this country who look for love in a decidedly old-fashioned way: they pray at the tomb of a rabbi who has been dead for 2,000 years.

The rabbi, Yonatan ben Uziel, was a disciple of Hillel, the revered Talmudic sage of the first century B.C. Rabbi Yonatan was said to study Torah with such burning passion that any bird flying overhead would instantly be incinerated.

Like too many people fanatical about their work, he died a bachelor, or so the folk legend has it. Yet there has evolved around him an unshakable belief that he can intercede for those desperate to find love.

That is why every year, on the yahrzeit or anniversary of his death in the Hebrew calendar, thousands of pilgrims in buses and cars -- young Hasidic men with peach-fuzz cheeks, women in tight jeans and aviator glasses, grizzled parents frantic to find a spouse for sons and daughters who have reached the ripe age of 25 -- descend on this gorge of cedars and olive trees in the northern Galilee to recite Psalms at Rabbi Yonatan's grave.

There was certainly a carnival atmosphere this year, the whiff of a Lourdes for romance rather than healing. Along the sun-baked walk twisting up to the stone-block structure housing the tomb there were vendors, some with prayer fringes, hawking amulets, candles, CD's and kiddush cups. There were panhandlers with a variety of hard-luck stories. There was klezmer music over a loudspeaker, and barbecued food.

Inside the shrine were men and women, crowded into compartments on opposite sides of the tomb, holding battered books of Psalms and swaying and murmuring with fervor, many pressing their fingers tightly against the faded blue velvet covering Rabbi Yonatan's resting place. On the men's side blasts of the shofar cut the air; on the women's side ululations of grief could be heard.

But there was also the plain longing of people who had never found love or had erred in love and hoped still to find it, and of parents who were suffering because their children were alone.

Orly Hazan, a 30-year-old woman from Hadera in denim jacket and pants and a T-shirt that read ''Best Brand of the Year,'' joined a procession of women in wigs and long skirts circling the tomb seven times, a ritual reminiscent of the prayers for salvation during the autumn Sukkot festival.

She said that although she often dated, she prayed at the grave five years ago, asking simply for marriage, and was rewarded with a husband. They were divorced after a year, though, and now she is back to offer a subtly different prayer.

''Now I'll ask to get married to the right one,'' she said.

Esther Mirav of Ashdod, whose daughter is divorced, emerged from the tomb with tears glistening in her eyes.

''I pray to God that he will send her someone who will love her,'' she said.

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