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RELIGION 101 FROM ALLAH TO ZEN BUDDHISM, AN EXPLORATION OF THE KEY PEOPLE, PRACTICES, AND BELIEFS THAT HAVE SHAPED THE RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD Peter Archer, MA, MLitt Avon, Massachusetts CONTENTS INTRODUCTION CHAPTER 1 EARLY RELIGIONS THE RITES OF DIONYSUS THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES ISIS AND OSIRIS THE EGYPTIAN CULT OF THE DEAD THE ROMAN GODS THE CULT OF MITHRAS ALEXANDER THE GREAT CHAPTER 2 JUDAISM THE KABBALAH BRANCHES OF JUDAISM HEBREW AND YIDDISH THE TORAH, THE TALMUD, AND THE MIDRASH JEWISH HOLY DAYS JEWISH CULTURE ABULAFIA CHAPTER 3 TAOISM AND CONFUCIANISM TAOIST WRITINGS TAOIST RITUALS AND FESTIVALS THE TEACHINGS OF CONFUCIUS CONFUCIAN LITERATURE AND RITUALS LAOZI CHAPTER 4 CHRISTIANITY JESUS OF NAZARETH EARLY CHRISTIANS MONKS AND MONASTERIES THE REFORMATION MISSIONARIES SCHOLASTICISM PAUL OF TARSUS CHAPTER 5 ISLAM ARTICLES OF FAITH PILLARS OF PRACTICE JIHAD: THE HOLY STRUGGLE ISLAMIC INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS THE QUR’AN ISLAMIC LAW AND CUSTOMS DIVISIONS WITHIN ISLAM MUHAMMAD CHAPTER 6 HINDUISM THE FOUR AIMS OF LIFE THE VEDAS THE UPANISHADS THE BHAGAVAD GITA KARMA AND SAMSARA MOHANDAS GANDHI CHAPTER 7 BUDDHISM THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS THE EIGHTFOLD PATH THE THREE JEWELS THERAVADA, MAHAYANA, AND VAJRAYANA BUDDHISM ZEN BUDDHISM SIDDHARTHA CHAPTER 8 OTHER FAITHS MORMONISM PENTECOSTALISM WICCA RASTAFARIANISM SCIENTOLOGY APPENDIX Copyright INTRODUCTION Religion has, for 5,000 years, been an essential part of the human condition. Spiritual beliefs of all kinds have sought to shape the human psyche and leave a lasting imprint on our souls. In the pages of this book, you’ll stroll through the temples of the Greeks and Romans, marvel at the soaring spires of medieval Christian cathedrals, stand astonished before the graceful minarets of the Blue Mosque in the ancient city of Istanbul, and gaze in wonder at the Borobudur Buddhist temple in Indonesia. You’ll read about saints and sinners, heroes and heretics, and the great t; hinkers, visionaries, and mystics who shaped our spiritual landscape. Religion is a complicated subject, partly because there are so many shades of religious belief and partly due to the difficulty of actually defining what religion is. The Concise Oxford Dictionary characterizes it as “the belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship.” That’s a pretty loose definition and it covers a lot of ground. Today, there are five major religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. There are countless smaller groups, some of which are subsections of these five and others that have no connection to them. While we can’t possibly cover all of them, this book will be a crash course in the main elements of world religion. Religion has also been a huge source of conflict, from the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. By understanding one another’s belief systems and respecting them, we can avoid such fanaticism ourselves and recognize it when it appears in others. Religion has created complex philosophies, profound and moving literature, and works of art that dazzle and awe us with their magnificence. These endure, even when the religious beliefs that produced them are no longer actively pursued. Through religion’s astounding cultural legacy, we can continue to appreciate it and its contribution to the world. So get ready for a long, fascinating journey down the path of spiritual enlightenment. CHAPTER 1 EARLY RELIGIONS The earliest religious rituals seem to have arisen simultaneously with the development of communities of humans. The cave paintings in Lascaux in France, for example, which were the product of bands of hunters and gatherers, may well have had a religious significance; it’s been argued by anthropologists that they are often found in the most remote areas of the caves — where the strongest magic resided. It’s possible that creating an image of an animal (particularly an animal that was in the process of being hunted) was an appeal to the Divine to give good fortune to the hunter in his quest for food. With the rise of settled societies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, we find the systematic worship of deities and particular powers ascribed to them. Mesopotamian religion was often dark and gloomy. The hero Gilgamesh in the epic poem of the same name does not look forward to any blessed afterlife; rather, he believes that the afterlife will be full of suffering and sorrow. This may well reflect the tenuous nature of Mesopotamian society. By the time of the rise of ancient Greece, religious rituals and beliefs were well established, and a special order of people — priests — had been set aside to serve as intermediaries between ordinary people and the gods. The gods of Greece were seen as neither especially benevolent or evil. They just … were. Often they embodied natural phenomena: GOD DOMAIN Zeus Lightning Apollo The Sun Artemis The Moon Poseidon The Oceans and Seas Others reflected human concerns and products: Aphrodite Love Ares War Demeter Grain Athena Wisdom Hestia The Hearth Dionysus Wine and Drunkenness Unlike later religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), the gods were unconcerned with ethical issues. At most, they might punish pride, particularly if it took the form of blaspheming against them. But oftentimes their motivations were unknowable to humans. To mourn avails not: man is born to bear. Such is, alas! the gods’ severe decree: They, only they are blest, and only free. — Homer, The Iliad (trans. Alexander Pope) People prayed to the gods not for divine guidance but so that either the gods would grant favor to them or — more often — that the gods would leave them alone. Almost all ancient societies were polytheistic. Even the Jews, who worshiped a single god, Yahweh, did not initially deny the existence of other gods. They were merely exclusive in their worship. Other societies such as the Greeks, the Romans, and the Egyptians worshiped a broad pantheon of gods and seem to have frequently borrowed gods from one another. In the world of the Mediterranean and the East, myths and stories circulated freely, spreading religious beliefs across Europe and Asia. THE RITES OF DIONYSUS The God of Disorder The ancient Greeks were polytheists (that is, they worshiped many gods). These included Zeus, lord of all the gods and bringer of thunder; his wife Hera, goddess of marriage; Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty; her brother Ares, god of war; and Dionysus, god of wine and revelry. The religious rites of Dionysus were different from those held to honor other Olympian deities. Traditional rites honored the gods and goddesses in temples specially built for that purpose. Dionysus wandered among the people, and his cults celebrated him in the woods. In Dionysian festivals, worshipers became one with the god. This god loved people; he loved dance; and he loved wine. His festivals were like big parties. Dionysus was usually accompanied on his travels by the Maenads, wild followers whose name means “madwomen.” The Maenads carried a thyrsus, a symbol of Dionysus, and incited people to join Dionysus’s cult and participate in his rites. Although everyone was invited, women were the most eager participants in Dionysian festivals. What Was a Thyrsus? A thyrsus was a long pole or rod covered in grapevines or ivy, adorned with grapes or other berries, and topped with a pinecone. It was a symbol of fertility and a sacred object in Dionysian rites. Dionysus was the god of wine, and his rituals celebrated this drink. It was believed that wine gave people the ability to feel the greatness and power of the gods. Through wine, his worshipers achieved the ecstasy they needed to merge with the god. One of Dionysus’s names was Lysios, which meant “the god of letting go.” But the excesses of his festivals often led to frenzy and madness. Dionysian rites were usually held at night. Women dressed in fawn skins, drank wine, wore wreaths of ivy, and participated in wild dances around an image of Dionysus (believed to be the god himself). Sometimes the women would suckle baby animals such as wolves or deer, and sometimes they would hunt down an animal, tear it to pieces, and devour the raw meat. Occasionally, the crazed women would tear apart a man or a child in their rites. Wine in Ancient Greece The Greeks have been cultivating grapes for winemaking since the late Neolithic period. As Greek society expanded, so too did its trade in grapes and wines. By the time classical Greek civilization was at its height in the fourth century B.C., the Greeks were exporting and importing wine from as far away as Spain and Portugal. The wine and tumultuous dancing took worshipers to a state of ecstasy, in which they felt the power of the gods. Religious ecstasy was often heightened by sexual ecstasy. The nights were wild and the followers frenzied — and anything was possible. Dionysus Takes a Wife Ariadne, daughter of the Cretan king Minos, was in love with the great hero Theseus. When Theseus came to Crete to kill the Minotaur (a terrifying monster), Ariadne fell in love with him at first sight. Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Ariadne helped Theseus achieve his quest, thus alienating herself from her father. She ran off with Theseus, who promised to marry her when they reached Athens. On their journey, they stopped at the island of Naxos. As Ariadne lay sleeping on the shore, Theseus sailed away and left her. She awoke alone and friendless on a strange island, abandoned by her lover. But Dionysus saw her and was struck by her beauty. He fell in love with her instantly and made her his wife. Some myths say the couple resided on the island of Lemnos; others say he took his bride to Mount Olympus. Offspring of the God Ariadne and Dionysus had many children, including: Oenopion Phanus Staphylus Thoas Oenopion became the king of Chios. Phanus and Staphylus accompanied another Greek hero, Jason, on his quest for the Golden Fleece. Thoas became the king of Lemnos. Madness Unleashed Although the Dionysian rites were popular, not everyone accepted them. Some held that Dionysus wasn’t truly a god, a claim that stirred his wrath. Just as Hera had punished Dionysus with madness, he punished those who offended him in the same way. Then, he’d watch the afflicted mortal destroy himself. Dionysus, though a good-time guy, had a short temper and a creative imagination. His punishments were cruel and brutal — and not just for the one being punished. Sometimes, innocent bystanders also got hurt. The Madness of King Lycurgus Lycurgus, king of Thrace, banned the cult of Dionysus in his kingdom. When he learned that Dionysus and his Maenads had arrived in Thrace, Lycurgus tried to have Dionysus imprisoned, but the god fled to the sea, where he was sheltered by the nymph Thetis. The king’s forces did manage to capture and imprison some of Dionysus’s followers. In retaliation, Dionysus inflicted Lycurgus with madness. With the king unable to rule, the imprisoned followers were released. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The mad Lycurgus mistook his son for a vine of ivy, a plant sacred to Dionysus. In a rage, the king hacked his own son to death. To make matters worse, Dionysus plagued Thrace with a drought and a famine. An oracle revealed that the drought would continue until Lycurgus was put to death. The starving Thracians captured their king and took him to Mount Pangaeus, where they threw him among wild horses, which dismembered and killed him. Dionysus lifted the drought, and the famine ended. A God Imprisoned In Thebes, the young king Pentheus banned Dionysian rites. In defiance of the king’s decree, Dionysus lured the city’s women (including Pentheus’s mother and aunts) to Mount Cithaeron, where they took part in a frenzied rite. Pentheus refused to recognize Dionysus’s divinity and had Dionysus imprisoned in a dungeon. But the dungeon couldn’t hold Dionysus; his chains fell off, and the doors opened wide to release him. Next, Dionysus convinced the king to spy on the rites held on Mount Cithaeron, promising him spectacular sights and a chance to witness sexual acts. Pentheus hid himself in a tree as Dionysus had instructed. The women taking part in the rites saw Pentheus in the tree and mistook the king for a mountain lion. In a wild frenzy and led by Pentheus’s own mother, the women pulled him down and tore him to pieces. THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES The Mysterious Heart of Greek Religion Among the most enduring of Greek myths was that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Hades, god of the Underworld — the realm of the dead — noticed Persephone as she gathered flowers on a plain in Sicily. He was immediately overwhelmed by her beauty, and without bothering to court her he bore her off to his underground realm. Upon discovering her daughter’s abduction, Demeter could not be consoled; she was beside herself with fury, pain, and grief. She abandoned Mount Olympus and her duties as a goddess. Without Demeter’s attention, the world was plagued by drought and famine. Plants withered and died, and no new crops would grow. Demeter’s Travels In her grief, Demeter wandered the countryside. Sometimes she encountered hospitality; other times she met with ridicule. For example, a woman named Misme received Demeter in her home and offered her a drink, as was the custom of hospitality. Thirsty, Demeter consumed her drink quickly, and the son of Misme made fun of her, saying she should drink from a tub, not a cup. Angry with his rudeness, Demeter threw the dregs of her drink on the boy, turning him into a lizard. Religion 101 Question The Roman name for Demeter was Ceres. Since she was the goddess of grain, what English word do you think comes from “Ceres”? Cereal In Eleusis, Demeter transformed herself into an old woman and stopped to rest beside a well. A daughter of King Celeus invited her to take refreshment in her father’s house. Demeter, pleased with the girl’s kindness, agreed and followed her home. At the king’s house, Demeter was met with great hospitality from the king’s daughter and the queen. Although Demeter sat in silence and would not taste food or drink for a long time, eventually a servant, Iambe, made her laugh with her jokes. Demeter became a servant in the house of Celeus along with Iambe. The queen trusted Demeter and asked her to nurse her infant son Demophon. In caring for this baby, Demeter found comfort only a child could give her and decided to give the boy the gift of immortality. To do this, Demeter fed him ambrosia (the sacred food of the gods) during the day and, at night, placed him in the fire to burn away his mortality. But the queen saw the child in the fire and screamed in horror and alarm. Angry at the interruption, Demeter snatched the child from the flames and threw him on the floor. Demeter changed back into her true form and explained that she would have made the boy immortal, but now he’d be subject to death like other humans. Then, she ordered the royal house to build her a temple and taught them the proper religious rites to perform in her honor. These rites became known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. Still a Mystery: Eleusinian Rites The Eleusinian Mysteries were the most sacred ritual celebrations in ancient Greece. The people of Eleusis built a temple in Demeter’s honor, where the Eleusinian Mysteries were observed. The cult was a secret cult, and so it was considered a mystery religion, in which only initiates could participate in rituals and were sworn to secrecy about what happened during those rituals. At Eleusis, stipulations existed about who could be initiated. For example, any person who had ever shed blood could not join the cult. Women and slaves, however, were allowed to participate, even though other sects excluded these groups. Other Mystery Religions Besides the Eleusinian Mysteries, ancient mystery religions included the Dionysian cults, the Orphic cults, the Cabiri cults, and the Roman Mithraic cults. These cults were popular and received government support. Starting around the fourth century A.D., however, the spread of Christianity diminished interest in the ancient mystery religions. The Eleusinian initiates took their pledge of secrecy seriously and were careful to honor it. In fact, they did such a good job of maintaining silence that today’s scholars do not know what happened in the Eleusinian rites, although there are many theories. There were two sets of rites: the Lesser Mysteries (which corresponded with the harvest) and the Greater Mysteries (which corresponded with the planting season and took ten days to complete). The Lesser Mysteries were probably held once a year, while the Greater Mysteries may only have been celebrated every five years. Persephone’s Return After wandering for a long time, Demeter consulted Zeus on the best way to retrieve her daughter. Because of the vast famine caused by her grief, the chief of the gods took pity on her and on the world’s people and forced Hades to return the stolen girl. However, the Fates had decreed that if anyone consumed food in the Underworld, he would be condemned to spend eternity there. Persephone had eaten six (some say four) pomegranate seeds and was thus condemned to spend that number of months each year with Hades. During her absence, her mother mourned for her, and the earth was cold and barren. When Persephone returned to the surface, Demeter celebrated, and the earth became warm and fertile with crops. ISIS AND OSIRIS God and Goddess Matched in Love and Death One of the most important and powerful civilizations of the ancient world grew up along the banks of the Nile River in northern Africa. The Egyptians created a society that lasted for 3,000 years, and whose sun-bleached remains may be seen today by visitors to the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the tombs of the great pharaohs. The Egyptians worshiped a variety of gods, some of whom they borrowed from other civilizations with whom they came into contact through trade and conquest. A principal feature of their religion was a belief in the divinity of the ruler, the pharaoh. The pharaoh, it was said, was of divine descent and had come down from the sky to rule the people. The Egyptians also believed in the importance of the afterlife, and for this reason, when a pharaoh died his funerary rites were at least as important as any conducted while he was living. The Egyptians were sun worshipers — not very surprising in a society whose livelihood depended so much on the weather to bring good crops and feed them. Like many ancient people, the Egyptians identified natural forces with particular gods. Among the most important of these gods was Osiris. Son of Gods Osiris was said to be the son of the god Geb and the goddess Nut. Geb was the god of the earth, while Nut ruled the sky, so Osiris was the unifying element who made human existence possible. Osiris, it was believed, controlled the flooding of the River Nile, which was the natural phenomenon that made Egyptian civilization vital. Each year, the Nile floods, depositing a rich silt on the banks, which in turn is farmed by the Egyptians. It’s the regularity of this flooding that made it possible for the Egyptians to construct a strong, stable civilization. Disaster in Mesopotamia To the east, in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, another civilization sprang up, that of Mesopotamia. However, while the Tigris and Euphrates also flood, their flooding is irregular and unpredictable, making farming a much more chancy business than in Egypt. For this reason, the gods of Mesopotamia were far more dangerous and feared than those of the Egyptians, reflecting the unstable life of people in this part of the world. The Greek writer Plutarch tells a version of the mythology of Osiris in which Osiris’s brother Set, jealous of him, seized Osiris and shut him in a box, sealed it with lead, and cast it into the Nile. It was rescued by Osiris’s wife Isis, who opened the box and brought her husband back to life. The two had a child, Horus, but Osiris later died again, and Isis concealed his body in the desert. There it was found by Set, who tore it into fourteen pieces and scattered them across Egypt. Isis gathered the pieces and buried them. The other gods, impressed by this devotion, resurrected Osiris once again and made him god of the Underworld. God of the Underworld As a god of the Afterlife, Osiris presided over a kingdom of those souls who had lived their lives well, in accord with the principles of Ma’at, the Egyptian notion of balance and order. All souls, upon death, were judged (a concept later adopted by Christianity) and either delivered to the kingdom of Osiris or subject to punishment for their sins. The cult of Isis and Osiris lasted for a surprisingly long time — until at least the sixth century A.D. in some parts of Egypt and the Near East. The worship of these deities finally ended when the Roman emperor Justinian (482–565) ordered their temples pulled down and their statues sent to Rome for display. Religion 101 Question Osiris’s death and resurrection is seen by most anthropologists as clearly related to an annual event that occurred in Egypt. What do you think it was? The death and rebirth of the land of Egypt each year through the floodwaters of the Nile. The murder and rebirth of the god was reenacted each year by Egyptian priests as a way of placating the gods and ensuring a good harvest. THE EGYPTIAN CULT OF THE DEAD The Journey of the Deceased Beyond the Grave The Egyptians were fascinated by the concept of an afterlife and developed many rituals and practices that were designed to help the soul (ka) survive and thrive after death. Many of these spells were contained in the various versions of the Book of the Dead, first created about 1700 B.C. and developed in at least four major versions during the next 2,000 years. According to the Book of the Dead, there were a number of different parts of humans including some that survived death. The khat or physical body, which began to decay with death. The sahu or spiritual body, into which the khat is transformed through prayers of the living. The ka, usually translated as “soul.” This had an independent existence from the body and could move freely from place to place. It could eat food, and it was necessary to provide food and drink for it in the burial chamber. Prayers of the living could also transform food painted on the walls of the burial chamber into food that could be consumed by the ka. The part of humans that could enjoy an eternal existence was called the ba. The ba rests in the ka and is sustained by it. We might think of it as the spiritual heart of the ka. The khaibit or shadow. Like the ka, this could separate itself from the body but was generally in the vicinity of the ka. The khu, or covering of the body. In Egyptian funeral art, the khu is often depicted as a mummy. The ren or name of a man, which existed in the realm of Osiris. Mummification One very important reason for mummification in ancient Egypt was to preserve the physical body (khat) long enough for it to be transformed into a spiritual body (sahu). However, because the process of mummification was prolonged and expensive, most people in Egypt did not undergo it after death. The Egyptians began to mummify their dead at least as early as 3400 B.C. The process, as it developed over the centuries, went like this: The brain was removed with a hook through the nose, after which the inside of the skull was washed. Internal organs were removed, and the body was stuffed with spices to preserve it. The body was dried for seventy days, using salts to remove moisture. Protective husks were placed over the fingers and toes to prevent breakage; then the body was wrapped first in linen strips, then in canvas. The mummy was placed in a wooden coffin, which was then encased in a stone sarcophagus. The Pyramids The pyramids are the most iconic structures associated with ancient Egypt. They are closely bound up with Egyptian veneration of the dead, as well as a demonstration of the awesome power of the ancient pharaohs. The earliest was built between 2630 and 2611 B.C.; the most famous are those at Giza outside Cairo. Contrary to popular impression, not all pharaohs were interred in pyramids. Tutankhamun, for example, one of the best-known (to us) pharaohs, was buried in an underground tomb in the Valley of the Kings. However, the sheer scale of the pyramids at Giza makes them impressive tributes to the pharaohs who built them. The largest of these pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza, was probably constructed as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu (c. 2580 B.C.), a ruler of the fourth dynasty. Impressive Statistics The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest manmade structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. The pyramid consists of 2.3 million limestone blocks. The mean opening in the joints between the blocks is 0.5 millimeters. 5.5 million tonnes of limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite, and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used to build the Great Pyramid. The Tomb of Tutankhamun Among the most famous of all Egyptian tombs is that of the pharaoh Tutankhamun (ruled c. 1332–1333 B.C.). The tomb was discovered on November 4, 1922, by the archeologist Howard Carter and, though this was not known until some years later, was entered the night it was discovered by Carter, his patron Lord Carnarvon, and Carnarvon’s daughter, Evelyn, who examined it and then left, carefully resealing the door. The tomb had, at some point in the far distant past, been opened by robbers, but the thieves had evidently been caught and the tomb resealed. It was in a remarkable state of preservation; Carter found funeral flowers preserved in the still air (though they dissolved when touched) and could see in the dust on the floor the bare footprints of the workmen who had resealed the tomb. From the contents of the tomb, archeologists were able to learn much about Egyptian funerary customs. Tutankhamun’s body had been placed in a series of coffins, nestled one within the other; one was made of pure gold. The face of the mummy was covered by a golden mask, which became one of the most famous images associated with the pharaoh. Artifacts preserved from the tomb have toured museums worldwide on several occasions, allowing millions of people to view firsthand this remarkable collection of objects. THE ROMAN GODS Borrowing from the Greeks for a Unique Pantheon Early in Rome’s history, the ancient Romans had a religion that was completely their own. As time passed, however, extensive changes occurred within this religion. As Romans conquered neighboring territories, they absorbed some aspects of local religions, and as Greek literature became known in Rome, it influenced Roman religion. Greek mythology was assimilated into Roman mythology to fill in gaps in the latter; eventually, Romans adopted (and adapted) Greek myths on a broad scale. Although the Romans borrowed heavily from Greek mythology, they kept their own names for the gods and goddesses. To gain a very basic knowledge of Roman mythology, just examine the Roman and Greek counterparts in the following table. Because Roman myths are so similar to Greek ones, knowing the Roman equivalents of Greek names gives you a head start in understanding Roman mythology. Greek Name Roman Name Greek Name Roman Name Aphrodite Venus Hephaestus Vulcan Apollo Sol Hera Juno Ares Mars Heracles Hercules Artemis Diana Hermes Mercury Athena Minerva Hestia Vesta Cronus Saturn Muses (Musae) Camenae Demeter Ceres Odysseus Ulysses Dionysus Bacchus Pan Faunus Eos Aurora Persephone Proserpine Eris Discordia Poseidon Neptune Eros Cupid Rhea Ops Fates (Morae) Parcae Zeus Jupiter Hades Pluto Unlike the Greeks, Roman religion was a highly political affair — not surprising in the world’s first great political institution, the Roman Empire. Priests were not separated out from the rest of society and positions within the Roman priesthood were often filled by citizens who had formerly been great soldiers or orators. Pontifices and Augurs There were two kinds of Roman priests. The pontifices (from which word we get the English word pontiff) were the leaders of Roman religious organizations. Their duties included regulation of the Roman calendar and the ceremonies worshiping the various gods. There were fifteen pontifices, and their leader, the Pontifex Maximus, was the head of the Roman religious establishment. The augurs, on the other hand, specialized in divining the will of the gods from elaborate rituals that often (though not always) involved the slaughter of animals. After the sacrifice, having been sprinkled with wine and a sacred cake, was killed, its liver and entrails were examined. From this the augurs could predict the future and, they hoped, gain the favor of the gods. To that end, if any mistake was made in the ritual, the priest had to begin again. Beginning during the reign of the first emperor, Augustus (63 B.C.– A.D. 14), there grew up a cult of the emperor. After Augustus, all emperors were ritualistically deified and worshiped, and colleges of priests called augustales oversaw the worship. Religion as a Unifier The Romans administered a vast and diverse empire, one that had begun to grow under the old Republic and reached its zenith under the emperors. In ruling such different peoples with their varied customs, the Romans showed great tolerance of local customs, but they insisted that subjects of the empire recognize the divinity of the emperor. This meant that the cult of the emperor served as a unifying device; it worked particularly well in the eastern regions of the empire, where there was a long tradition of god-kings. The Divine Origins of Rome The Romans could not credit the notion that their empire was the result of mere chance. Clearly, the gods must have intended them to emerge as a great power, ruling the Mediterranean world. Various origin stories about Rome grew from legend and myth and were given artistic coherence in the first century B.C. by Virgil, greatest of all Roman poets. Virgil composed The Aeneid to both link the beginning of the Roman people to the greatest of all ancient legends — the fall of Troy — and to show that the gods themselves had decreed that Rome would emerge as the greatest city in the world. But next behold the youth of form divine, Caesar himself, exalted in his line; Augustus, promis’d oft, and long foretold, Sent to the realm that Saturn rul’d of old; Born to restore a better age of gold. — Virgil, The Aeneid (trans. John Dryden) According to Virgil, Prince Aeneas of Troy escaped the destruction of the city at the hands of the Greeks. Bearing his aged father on his shoulders, and leading his little son by the hand, Aeneas made his way from the burning fortress and, with followers, escaped. They spent many years wandering but finally arrived at the mouth of the Tiber River, when they founded a city, Alba Longa. Aeneas married Lavinia, daughter of the local king, Latinus (from which comes the word Latin). Their descendants were the founders of Rome. A Visit to the Underworld During his wanderings, Aeneas was permitted by the gods to visit the Underworld. There he encountered not just the spirits of the dead but also beheld those waiting to be born. These included the founder of the city of Rome, Romulus; great generals and kings who would lead the city to glory; and the figure of Augustus himself. This last was a not-so-subtle bit of flattery on the part of Virgil, since the poem was written with Augustus’s patronage. THE CULT OF MITHRAS The Worship of the Bull of Heaven One consequence of the Roman Empire spreading very far afield was that its soldiers picked up a lot of religious customs from the fringes of Europe and Asia and, eventually, transmitted them throughout the empire. The outstanding example of this kind of religious migration was the cult of Mithras, which reached its height in the fourth century A.D. Mithras probably started off as a Persian religious figure, though he may also have been worshiped in India under the name Mitra (“the shining one”). He was a sky god, like Zeus and Jupiter, referred to in ancient texts as “the genius of the heavenly light.” He was associated with a pantheon of Persian gods that culminated in the supreme deity Ahura Mazda. The Mithraic Bull There are many depictions of Mithras in Roman art, but the dominant motif shows him sacrificing a bull. In the telling of this story, the sacrifice is made to the sun god, Sol. The bull has escaped from a burning stable, and while grazing peacefully, it is attacked by Mithras, who seizes it by the horns, mounts and rides it, and eventually casts over his shoulders. In most depictions of the sacrifice, Mithras wears a Phrygian cap (that is, a cap worn by inhabitants of central Turkey). Mithras is often accompanied in his sacrifice by a youth named Cautes. The story has its origins in a Persian myth that Ahura Mazda created the bull before all else. The bull was slain by the god of evil, Ahriman, and from the bull’s side came the first man, Gayômort, while from its tail came seeds and plants, from its blood the vine, and from its semen all other beasts. In some depictions of the sacrifice, once Mithras has slain the bull he and the sun god sit down to a banquet. At its conclusion, Mithras mounts a chariot with the sun god and ascends into the sky. Some scholars see similarities to the story of Christ’s ascension into heaven. Spread of the Cult Like the Eleusinian Mysteries, Mithraism was a mystery religion, so it is difficult to say much about its rituals and practices. Religion 101 Question What Christian holiday do some scholars argue was actually an appropriation of the date attributed to the birth of Mithras? December 25, Christmas Day What we know for certain is that the cult of Mithras spread with great speed and that it was especially popular with Roman soldiers. The remains of Mithraic temples have been found at the sites of a number of Roman military camps. ALEXANDER THE GREAT Creator of Hellenistic Culture It might seem odd in a book about religion to devote a section to a political and military figure such as Alexander of Macedon. But Alexander’s conquest had profound results for all of Greek and Eastern culture, including religion. Alexander (356–323 B.C.) was the son of Philip of Macedon, king of what had been up to that point a minor realm on the Greek Peninsula. Young Alexander was tutored by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (though it’s unclear how much influence this had on him) and succeeded to the throne when his father was assassinated in 336. In the next thirteen years, he would create the largest empire the world to that point had known. Alexander struck first against the Greeks’ old enemy, the Persians. At the battle of Issus in 333, he definitively broke the power of the Persian ruler Darius III and swept over the remnants of the Persian kingdom. He expanded into Egypt, where he founded the city of Alexandria, including its great library (one of the glories of the ancient world). Alexandria after Alexander The library of Alexandria became one of the most important repositories of learning in the ancient world. Ships entering the city’s port were searched for books; those that were found were confiscated and added to the library’s collection (although copies were returned to their owners). The library also contained a zoo and an astronomical observatory. Among the library’s holdings were a book by Aristarchus of Samos (310 B.C.–c. 230 B.C.), who first proposed that the earth travels around the sun; and Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276 B.C.–c. 195 B.C.), who correctly calculated the circumference of the globe. In 326, Alexander invaded India and marched his men as far as the Indus River. He would have gone farther, but his men were close to revolt, and he was forced to turn back. In 323 he died of a fever near the city of Babylon. He was thirty-three years old. Hellenism The conquests of Alexander were not merely military; they were cultural as well. Greek culture spread throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. As it did so, it fused with native cultures to form what historians call Hellenism. New gods were added to the Greek pantheon (and Greek gods found their way into the religious practices of Egypt, Persia, and elsewhere). The impetus for this came from Alexander himself, who was extremely tolerant of and interested in foreign customs. The Greeks identified local gods with their Greek counterparts: Greece Egypt Dionysius Osiris Demeter Isis Apollo Horus Zeus Ammon The Egyptians deified Alexander and made worship of him part of their daily rituals. (He was also, of course, venerated as the ruler of Egypt.) Contemporary accounts say Alexander sacrificed to Egyptian gods and encouraged the building of new temples. As he conquered Persia, Alexander followed a similar pattern of tolerating those religious beliefs he found and attempting to integrate them into the Greek religious system. In India he was fascinated by what contact he had with Hindu Brahmins and hermits, although he seems not to have had any interaction with followers of the Buddha, who preceded him by about 200 years. Overall, Alexander was responsible for one of the greatest expansions of religious belief in world history and for the fusing of complex religious traditions that would continue to influence one another for the next 500 years. CHAPTER 2 JUDAISM Judaism is more than just a religion. Jews have been regarded as a “people,” a “nation” (though, for most of its existence, one without a homeland), a “race,” and a “culture.” Consequently, it has never been clear who is a Jew nor what exactly defines “Judaism.” First and foremost, it must be remembered that Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. Though over the centuries Jews have dispersed among the nations, a strong sense of kinship has remained among them. Some Jews like to think of themselves as “the tribe”; for instance, the Yiddish word landsman (countryman) is used fondly to refer to another Jew. This explains why some Jews feel a connection when introduced to someone who is also Jewish, feel a sense of pride when a Jew is honored for a major accomplishment, or bear an inordinate sense of loss when learning something terrible befell a fellow Jew. To be a Jew means to feel that wherever a Jew is persecuted for being a Jew — that means you. — Amos Oz, Israeli writer The “Chosen” People Judaism teaches that God made an eternal covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel), and that every Jew participates in this covenant as a part of the Chosen People. However, being “chosen” by God does not in any way impart a notion of superiority. In fact, according to one rabbinic interpretation, the Hebrews were not the first to be offered God’s covenant and to receive the Torah — this took place only after all the other nations turned it down! Judaism is a living religion that functions in terms of many relationships: between God and the Jewish People; between God and each individual Jew; and among all humans. Judaism is not practiced in a cloistered environment — it is a religion of the community. This is why prayer takes place in groups of ten or more (a minyan), and holidays are celebrated in the home, where family and friends gather together. The Canons of Judaism There is not a single accepted definition of Judaism acknowledged as absolute dogma. However, Judaism does encompass certain tenets that all religious Jews adhere to. Maimonides, a twelfth-century influential Jewish thinker, outlined these tenets as the Thirteen Principles of Faith. God exists. God is one and unique. God is incorporeal. God is eternal. Prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other. The words of the prophets are true. Moses’ prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets. The written Torah (first five books of the Bible) and the oral Torah (teachings contained in the Talmud and other writings), were given to Moses. There will be no other Torah. God knows the thoughts and deeds of men. God will reward the good and punish the wicked. The Messiah will come. The dead will be resurrected. It’s a Way of Life It is crucial to remember that Judaism is not merely a set of ideas about the world. Perhaps more importantly, it is a blueprint for a way of life. To follow Judaism means more than praying or contemplating, having faith, or believing in a supreme being or an afterlife. Following the dictates of Judaism means taking action. Jews cannot excuse themselves from this requirement by claiming that one person cannot possibly make a difference in the world. Such an attitude is anathema to Judaism, which emphasizes the significance of the individual. In the Talmud, the Jews are taught that every person is like a balanced scale — a person’s deeds will tip the scale either toward good or toward evil. A Jew is defined by his actions more than his intentions. It is his actions that bind him to his community and, through it, to the larger human community. — Elie Wiesel, writer and human rights activist God holds people responsible for their actions and teaches us to follow His high standards of ethical behavior. His expectations apply to all human beings, even those who have lost contact with God. In Micah 6:8, it is written that God requires that we “do justice … love goodness and … walk modestly with … God.” THE KABBALAH Source of Jewish Mysticism The Kabbalah is a mystical tradition within Judaism. Mysticism refers to the belief that personal communication with or experience of God, or the Divine, is possible through intuition or sudden insight rather than through rational thought. While it is difficult to know the historical origins of Kabbalah with absolute certainty, discovered texts indicate that it surfaced in the late 1100s in southern France in the area of Provence, and soon spread to northern Spain. The first unequivocal kabbalistic text, Sefer HaBahir, is written as though it has a readership that is familiar with its kabbalistic terminology, even though such terms had never appeared in writing before. The earliest Kabbalists speak of the oral transmission of secret knowledge from master to disciple throughout the generations, so there was evidently a kabbalistic community already in existence when Sefer HaBahir was written. What’s It Mean? The term Kabbalah comes from the Hebrew root word l’kabel, which means “to receive,” so Kabbalah means “received teachings.” Kabbalah also denotes “tradition,” meaning a body of knowledge and customs passed down from one generation to another. Kabbalah also has the connotation of the oral transmission of tradition and knowledge containing the inner and secret mystical teachings of the Torah. Despite the fact that Hebrew had ceased to be the spoken language of the Jews even before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, the vast majority of kabbalistic texts are written in Hebrew. A particularly striking exception for the history of Jewish mysticism is that the most influential kabbalistic text of all, the Zohar, is mostly written in Aramaic. Since the Zohar is so heavily quoted in later sources, it is very common to find Hebrew kabbalistic texts from the end of the 1200s sprinkled with Aramaic phrases. Over the centuries some kabbalistic texts were translated into other languages such as Latin beginning in the late fifteenth century. In our own day some kabbalistic texts are finding their way into English translations of varying quality. In the thirteenth century, Spanish Kabbalists spoke of the Torah existing on four different levels. Moshe de Leon coined the term Pardes to refer to these four levels. Pardes, which literally means “orchard” but also has the connotation of Paradise, refers to mystical knowledge. Moshe de Leon treated this term as an acronym for the four levels of reading Torah. Each of the consonants in the word Pardes stands for one of the levels of meaning in the Torah. The p stands for pshat or the simple, literal meaning of the words. The r stands for remez, which means “hint,” but in medieval Hebrew came to stand for the allegorical reading of the text that was the mainstay of Jewish philosophy. The d stands for d’rash, which essentially means “to investigate, to seek out, to expound” and here refers to Aggadic and Talmudic interpretations. The s stands for sod, the secret meaning of the text. Kabbalah itself is understood as constituting this secret meaning of the Torah. All the levels of the Torah complement each other. Kabbalists often use the analogy of a nut to visually communicate the relationship between these levels. The outer shell conceals the soft, deep core that is the most nourishing part of the nut. An Unsolved Mystery Some of the most basic questions about Sefer HaBahir remain unanswered. The Bahir is acknowledged by all modern scholars as the first true work of Kabbalah because it contains the major elements that distinguish Kabbalah from other, earlier forms of Jewish mysticism. While traces of the earlier mystical traditions are evident in the Bahir, a new literature had clearly emerged.Although it is unclear where the book first appeared, it may have been in Germany in the area where another very important mystical school flourished. This other school was called Hasidei Ashkenaz, which means the German Pietists (that is, very pious people), and is also known as the Hasidim of Medieval Germany. The other possible location of the Bahir’s origin is Provence in southern France. The latest research points toward a German origin with a later editing stage in Provence. It is a common assertion among Kabbalists that God and Torah are one. In other words, Torah at its deepest level contains the essence of divinity. What exactly does this mean? By equating the Torah with God’s essence, Kabbalists emphasize the primacy and strength of language in Judaism. The power of language is evident in the Creation story in Genesis, where it says, “Let there be … and there was.” The perception that God and Torah are one lends a completely new meaning to the study of Torah. Recognizing the spiritual power of the letters of the Torah makes meditating on a passage of Torah particularly potent. For Kabbalists, texts are important and are to be meditated upon. Studying a spiritual text is not like reading a novel or a history book. There is a layering of words, a trait of kabbalistic literature that becomes more apparent the more times you go over the same passages. Re-examining a certain passage and using it as a focus of meditation can suddenly reveal its many meanings to you. All of this is part of altering your consciousness, the result of spiritual meditation. Heavenly Messengers: Maggidim One more avenue of attaining secrets of Torah is through the phenomenon of maggidim. The term maggid has numerous meanings, the most common of which is the “traveling preacher.” However, in this case a maggid is a disembodied heavenly messenger that visits someone to reveal secrets of Torah and often appears as a voice emerging from the person visited by the maggid. Probably the most famous maggid is the one that appeared with regularity to Rabbi Yosef Karo. Historically, this phenomenon began to be spoken of during the sixteenth century. A number of well-known Kabbalists were visited by maggidim. In addition to Yosef Karo, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and the Vilna Gaon also claimed to have been visited by maggidim. Understanding with Your Heart An important thing to understand when speaking about things such as the Torah being all names of God and other striking statements is that these are not intended as intellectual concepts. This is part of the esoteric nature of Kabbalah. When these statements remain “ideas” or “concepts,” they are truly hidden. It’s only when one begins to experience what is implied by these words that Kabbalah ceases to be a cerebral activity and becomes a much more spiritual one. The process is achieved, if ever, by entering the lifestyle of contemplative study, meditation, kavana (awareness), and so on. As Pirkei Avot (one of the tractates of the Mishna) says, “it’s not study that is most important, but practice” (1:17). Ein Sof and the Sefirot Kabbalah embodies two major experiences of Divinity. One is that God is transcendent, eternal, and unchangeable. The other is that God is also deeply personal, in other words, the very same Transcendent One is also dynamic and immanent throughout Creation. Kabbalah depicts these two perspectives through the terms Ein Sof and the Sefirot. Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbai explains that we cannot grasp Ein Sof — a term first used by Isaac the Blind, which literally means “without end,” or “infinite” — through contemplation or logic. The ultimate nature of God is beyond our grasp, though we may experience a glimpse of that reality and recognize the existence of that which is so far beyond our comprehension. Ein Sof itself is a negative formulation, meaning that there is no end. This is similar to Maimonides’s explanation that we can only say what God is not, because God transcends our human ability to define. To define is to limit, whereas God is limitless. The Kabbalists understood that Ein Sof is beyond language and thought, so nothing could actually be said about it. The Cosmic Influence of Our Acts Part of what may account for Kabbalah’s impact on Judaism and its prominent position for a number of centuries is that it invigorated the everyday acts of people by attributing cosmic influence to them. Kabbalists understand their kavana, meaning a person’s focus and consciousness, as having an effect beyond their immediate obvious influence. Though people have always had to grapple with the clear lack of connection between a person’s moral qualities and their fate and fortune in this world, Kabbalah teaches that our actions have an impact, nevertheless, in ways that are not plainly evident. Religion 101 Question Who are some famous Americans who adhere to Kabbalah? Madonna, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher are among the celebrities who say they have been influenced by Kabbalah. BRANCHES OF JUDAISM Orthodox, Reform, Conservative Throughout history, various movements in Judaism have sometimes split up, like different branches growing from a trunk of the same tree. The oldest records we have of an explicit difference of opinion took place in the second century B.C. In that period Jews lived under Greek occupation. The Greeks were an enlightened people and tolerant of their subjects. As a result, many Jews were attracted to Greek culture, known as Hellenism. Those Jews who allowed themselves to be influenced by Hellenism were known as Hellenistic Jews; the Hasideans (not to be confused with Hasids) formed their conservative opposition. Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees At a later period in history, when Rome conquered the lands of the ancient Israel, Judaism had split into three sects: The Essenes formed an ascetic and mystical order that consisted mostly of adult males who took an oath of celibacy. The Sadducees embraced some of the Hellenistic elements of Judaism. Pharisees, the most powerful group among the Jews, believed that both the written and oral Torah came directly from God and were therefore valid and binding. In accordance with the Torah, the Pharisees began to codify the Halakhah (the Law), insisting upon its strict observance. Origin of the Synagogue Because of their disagreements with the Sadducees, who had control of the Temple, the Pharisees developed the synagogue as an alternative place for study and worship. Their liturgy consisted of biblical and prophetic readings and the repetition of the Shema (Judaism’s central prayer). The Orthodox What ultimately did lead to divisions within Judaism was the same old controversy, that is, the difference of perceptions concerning the Halakhah and the Torah. During the last millennium and up until the nineteenth century, the Orthodox branch of Judaism was by far the most prevalent. The essential principle governing Orthodox Judaism is Torah min Hashamayim. This means that the Torah, both the written Law (Scriptures) and the oral Law (rabbinic interpretation and commentaries), is directly derived from God and therefore must be obeyed. Synagogue services are conducted in Hebrew and men and women sit separately. Women are not ordained as rabbis, nor do they count in a minyan (the group of ten necessary for public prayer). While the synagogue is the domain of men, women clearly have dominion over the home. When Jews were segregated in ghettos or the “pale of settlement” (regions in Russia that were designated for Jews to inhabit), they had no access to the secular society of the “outside world.” They therefore led their lives according to the customs that had been practiced for generations before them. As the Enlightenment spread through Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many societies began to open at least some of their doors to Jews. Suddenly, Jews now had access to new ideas and new occupations; the barriers that had encased their own closed society were broken down. Strict observance of Halakhah made it difficult, if not impossible, to integrate into secular society. Moreover, many Jews incorporated aspects of the Enlightenment into their own way of thinking. Such were the circumstances that brought forth Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism In the early nineteenth century, several synagogue congregations in Germany instituted fundamental changes in the service, including mixed-gender seating, a shortened service, use of the vernacular in the liturgy, single-day observance of holidays, and the inclusion of musical instruments and a choir. American Reform Judaism was born when some of these reformers immigrated to the United States from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. Under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, Reform Judaism became the dominant belief held by American Jews. Reform Judaism in America Some of the first Reform congregations in the United States: Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina (1825) Har Sinai in Baltimore, Maryland (1842) Bene Yeshurun (I.M. Wise) in Cincinnati, Ohio (1854) Adath Israel (The Temple) in Louisville, Kentucky (1842–43) Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1856) Principles of Reform Judaism Along with the great deal of room it offers for individualism, Reform Judaism includes the following beliefs: The Torah was divinely inspired but authored by humans. There is only one God. The reinterpretation of Torah is continuous and must be adapted for new circumstances and challenges. The moral and ethical components in the Torah are important. The sexes are to be treated equally. Conservative Judaism Despite its many supporters, some Jews felt that Reform Judaism had admirable intentions but that it simply went too far. Out of this middle-ground movement came Conservative Judaism. Like Reform Jews, Conservatives believe that written and oral Torah were divinely inspired but authored by humans — that it does not come to us directly from God. Conservative Judaism parts with Reform in that it generally accepts the binding nature of Halakhah. However, Conservatives agree that Halakhah is subject to change and that adaptations may be made to it based on the contemporary culture, so long as the Halakhah remains true to Judaism’s values. In the synagogue service Conservative Judaism has provided a distinct middle ground for Jews who are not satisfied with either the Orthodox or the Reform approach. Hebrew is the predominant language of the liturgy, but the native language of the worshipers is used as well. In Conservative congregations, men and women may sit together, and many Conservative congregations have choirs and even organs. Reconstructionism This is Judaism’s youngest movement. It germinated from an eloquent and momentous article written by Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983) in 1920, in which he called for a reinterpretation of Judaism in keeping with modern thought and the strengthening of ties with Jewish communities in Palestine. Two years later, he resigned from the pulpit of a Conservative congregation in Manhattan and founded a congregation based on his philosophy of Judaism that came to be known as the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ). Kaplan had no desire to create a new branch of Judaism, but given his unique philosophy, this was inevitable. As of the 1970s, Reconstructionism has been recognized as the fourth branch on the Judaic tree. It remains the smallest movement, with 100 congregations worldwide, but its impact belies its numbers, given Kaplan’s legacy and the philosophy developed by his followers. Reconstructionists reject the notion that the Jews are God’s “chosen people.” Each culture and civilization, Kaplan postulated, has a unique contribution to make to the greater human community. Judaism is only one of these cultures. There is nothing special or divine about it. Furthermore, Halakhah need only be observed if one chooses to do so; if a person does follow an aspect of Halakhah, this is not because it is binding law from God but because it is a valuable cultural remnant. In fact, the entire notion of a supernatural God acting in history is discarded. Instead, God is considered to be a process or power — an expression of the highest values and ideas of a civilization. Kaplan taught that Judaism is more than a religion. It’s an evolving religious civilization that incorporates traditions, laws, customs, language, literature, music, and art. While he believed in the need for all Jewish communities to thrive in the Diaspora, Kaplan foresaw a Jewish state as the hub on the Jewish wheel. Therefore, Zionism and the establishment of Israel have always been fundamental to Reconstructionism. HEBREW AND YIDDISH The Languages of the Chosen People Hebrew is one of the world’s oldest languages, dating perhaps as far back as 4,000 B.C. The early Israelites conversed in Hebrew, a Semitic idiom of the Canaanite group that includes Arabic. The patriarchs spoke Hebrew as they made their way into the Promised Land, and it remained the language of the Israelites throughout the biblical period. However, in the fifth century B.C., when Jews began to return to Israel from Babylon, where many had lived after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C., most of the inhabitants of Palestine conversed in Aramaic, which gradually infiltrated the language of the Israelites. A few centuries later, Hebrew had all but ceased to exist as a spoken language. It would not be re-established as such for two millennia. Learn Hebrew If you would like to learn Hebrew, there are books and websites available to you and courses that you can take. As a matter of fact, there are intensive courses in conversational Hebrew of which you may avail yourself, should you be planning a visit or a stay in Israel and desire to be fluent in its vernacular language. Writing in Hebrew Hebrew is read from right to left, just the opposite of reading English. You have to learn a new alphabet, which consists of twenty-two consonants, five of which assume a different form when they appear at the end of a word. And if this isn’t enough of a challenge, Hebrew is generally written without vowel sounds! In contrast to the block print that is customarily seen in Hebrew books, sacred documents are written in a style that uses “crowns” on many of the letters. These crowns resemble crows’ feet that emanate from the upper points. This type of writing is known as “STA’M” (an acronym for Sifrei Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzot). A more modern cursive form of writing is frequently employed for handwriting. Yet another style, Rashi script, appears in certain texts to differentiate the body of the text from the commentary. This kind of text, named in honor of Rashi, the great commentator on the Torah and Talmud, is used for the exposition. Why More Than One Spelling? Hebrew words are spelled out in English letters according to a transliteration system, and there is more than one system to choose from. For example, the distinctive throaty Hebrew h is sometimes transliterated as ch, so the word Hanukah may be spelled as Chanukah, as it is in this book. Hebrew Letters Have Numerical Values The Hebrew numerical system uses letters as digits. Each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. The first ten letters have values of one through ten; the next nine have values of twenty through 100, counting by tens; and the remaining letters have values of 200, 300, and 400, respectively. Since every Hebrew word can be calculated to represent a number, Jewish mysticism has been painstakingly engaged in discerning the hidden meanings in the numerical value of words. For example, the numerical value of the Hebrew word chai (life) is eighteen. Hence, it is a common practice to make charitable contributions and give gifts, especially for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, in multiples of eighteen. Modern Hebrew In the nineteenth century, Hebrew underwent a renaissance. Thanks in large part to Eliezer ben Yehudah (1858–1922), who dedicated himself to the revival of Hebrew and introduced thousands of modern terms to the ancient language, Hebrew regained its status as a vernacular language. The Roots of Yiddish Yiddish can trace its roots to the beginning of the second millennium, when Jewish emigrants from northern France began to settle along the Rhine. These emigrants, who conversed in a combination of Hebrew and Old French, also began to assimilate German dialects. The written language consisted completely of Hebrew characters. At the beginning of the twelfth century, after the horrific pogroms of the First Crusade, Jews migrated to Austria, Bohemia, and northern Italy, taking their new language, Yiddish, with them. When Jews were invited to enter Poland as traders, Yiddish incorporated Polish, Czech, and Russian language traits. As an end result, Yiddish was composed mostly of Middle/High German, with a measure of Hebrew and touches of Slavic tongues and Loez (a combination of Old French and Old Italian). Yiddish and Jewish Jews do not speak “Jewish.” Just because Yiddish means “Jewish” in the language of Yiddish, these words are not synonymous. Jewish is an adjective, while Yiddish is a noun that describes a particular Jewish language. Yiddish served the Jewish people well because it was an adaptable and assimilative language. Consequently, even English words and phrases made their way into Yiddish after the waves of immigration into the United States by European Jewry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Who Spoke Yiddish? The Yiddish language was the chief vernacular of Ashkenazic Jews (that is, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe), but not all Ashkenazic Jews spoke Yiddish. The language for prayer and study remained Hebrew, although Yiddish was often used in yeshivas (religious schools) to discuss the texts. The fact that Yiddish had to do with the daily task of living is reflected in the language itself, and this is one of the factors that makes Yiddish such a unique and alluring language. The Mother Tongue Since Jewish women were not taught Hebrew, they spoke Yiddish to their children, who, in turn, later spoke it to their own children. Thus, Yiddish became known as mame loshen, the “mother’s language,” as opposed to Hebrew, loshen ha-kodesh, or “the sacred language.” Yiddish is a very social language, replete with nicknames, terms of endearment, and more than a good share of expletives. You will find proverbs and proverbial expressions, curses for just about every occasion, and idioms reflecting the fears and superstitions of the times. To learn and know Yiddish is to understand the Jews who created and spoke the language hundreds of years ago. The most important factor in the rapid decline of Yiddish in the twentieth century was the Shoah (Nazi Holocaust), which destroyed entire communities of Yiddish-speaking Jews. In Israel Yiddish was frowned upon as a language of the “ghetto” that reflected a subservient mentality. However, in recent decades Yiddish has shown itself to be as stubborn and resilient as the Jewish people themselves. In the United States, colleges and universities offer Yiddish courses, and special organizations and groups promote Yiddish both in the United States and in Israel. THE TORAH, THE TALMUD, AND THE MIDRASH The Writings of Judaism Religious study has always been greatly revered in the Jewish tradition, and there is much to study, such as the Torah, Talmud, the Midrash, and other important texts. The Torah The word Torah is sometimes translated as “the Law.” It also means “a teaching,” because it represents God’s instructions regarding how Jews should live and what they ought to believe. In its most limited sense, the Torah comprises the Five Books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch. However, in its broadest sense, Torah encompasses everything that follows the Pentateuch — the whole body of Jewish law and teachings. In its most general sense, the Torah is composed of two parts. First, there is the written Torah (Torah Shebichtav), which in turn has three parts. The first part is the Pentateuch, also known as the Five Books of Moses or Chumash. The Pentateuch includes the following five books (named for the first phrase in each book): B’reishit (Genesis) Shemot (Exodus) Vayikra (Leviticus) Bamidbar (Numbers) Devarim (Deuteronomy) The second part of the written Torah is Nevi’im (Prophets), which contains the following eight books: Yehoshua (Joshua) Shoftim (Judges) Shmuel (Samuel I and II) Melachim (Kings I and II) Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) Yechezkel (Ezekiel) Yeshayahu (Isaiah) Trey Asar (the Twelve) Finally, the third part of the written Torah is the Ketuvim (Writings), which consists of eleven books: Tehillim (Psalms) Mishlei (Proverbs) Iyov (Job) Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs) Ruth Eichah (Lamentations) Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) Esther Daniel Ezra and Nechemiah Divrei Ha-Yamim (Chronicles) The Oral Torah In addition to giving Moses the written Torah, God also provided explanations that are called the Torah Sheb’al Peh or the oral Torah. These exegeses, which were not written down, were meant to be passed from teacher to student. From God to the Torah God transmitted the Torah to His chosen people through Moses. Beginning around the year A.D. 200, the oral Torah was inscribed into a series of books called the Mishna. It is axiomatic in Judaism that the Torah is everlasting and immutable. Since Torah comes from God and God is eternal, it follows that the Torah also shares this feature. This is one reason Judaism takes upon itself the responsibility to be true to the Torah and to maintain it as part of the Jews’ very existence. According to Judaism, God chose the Hebrews for the task of receiving and preserving the Torah, and this task cannot be abrogated. The Talmud In the years after the destruction of the Second Temple (A.D. 70), there was a danger that the oral Law, passed down from teacher to student, would be forgotten. In order to prevent this from happening, a group of scholars and jurists, led by Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi (died c. 217), assembled a basic outline of the oral Law into the Mishna by about 200. A Saintly Rabbi Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi was variously addressed as Rabbi, Rabbi Judah the Prince, and our Master the Saint. He was referred to as “Rabbi” because he taught the Torah; he was designated “the Prince” because he was elevated and made the prince and most honored of Israel; he was called “our Master the Saint” because it was said that his body was as pure as his soul. But the students and scholars of Torah had not completed their work. Over the next several hundred years, they continued to seek explanations for the text and its laws. Once again, in order to keep the results of their efforts from being lost, Rav Ashi (352–427) and Ravina (died 421) guided the compilation of the material into the Gemara. Together, the Mishna and Gemara form what we know as the Talmud. The Talmud is a record of the way rabbis and scholars and jurists have applied the laws of the Bible to the life they faced. Consequently, it covers “all of life” because it encompasses everything that went on in those people’s daily existence. Themes include the social and the private, urban and rural, civil and criminal, public and domestic, everyday and ritual. Virtually nothing was overlooked. Two Talmuds There are actually two Talmuds — the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. Generally, when people speak of the Talmud, they are referring to the more comprehensive of the two, the Babylonian Talmud. Organization of the Talmud The Talmud is divided into six sections called sedarim (orders). Each seder contains several books called masekhtot (tractates); in total, there are sixty-three masekhtot. Although the respective sedarim seem to address rather specific and narrow topics, each seder in fact contains diverse and assorted subjects. The six sedarim are the following: Zera’im (seeds): This seder deals primarily with agricultural laws but also laws of prayer and blessings; it is comprised of eleven masekhtot. Mo’ed (season): This seder addresses Shabbat and festivals; it includes twelve masekhtot. Nashim (women): This seder deals with the laws of marriage and divorce; it contains seven masekhtot. Nezikin (damages): This seder deals with civil law and ethics; it contains ten masekhtot. Kodashim (holy things): Sacrifices and the Temple are considered in this seder, which includes eleven masekhtot. Toharot (purities): This seder deals with laws of ritual purity and impurity, and contains twelve masekhtot. A Work of Many Genres Despite the fact that it deals with legalisms and extremely specific issues, the Talmud is not a code or catechism that lays down the law in summary, categorical form. In fact, the Talmud is filled with legend, folklore, parables, reminiscences, prayers, theology, and theosophy. The Talmud is the end result of a process by means of which the law is made clear. Hence, the tensions, conflicts, and arguments of its collaborators come alive before the reader’s eyes. The Midrash Between the third and twelfth centuries, rabbis and religious scholars compiled ideas and arguments in the form of stories that sought to explicate and probe even deeper the underlying truths and meanings of the biblical text. These stories eventually became known as the Midrash. In the Midrash, each interpretive story is designed to expand on incidents in the Bible, to derive principles and laws, or to offer moral lessons. Moreover, because of their nature, midrashim can be used to gain a glimpse into the way the rabbis read the biblical text and into their thinking processes. What’s It Mean? The Hebrew word midrash translates as “commentary” or “interpretation.” It is based on a Hebrew root meaning, “to investigate” or “to study.” Midrash is a method used to inquire into what a biblical text might mean. Some Midrashim Many midrashim deal with the story of Creation. For example, when God was ready to create man, He said, “Let us make man.” But who is “us”? Wasn’t God alone? The midrash explains this by concluding that, indeed, God was not alone and that God consulted with the ministering angels. In contemporary times, there is much controversy over the matter of capital punishment. But the issue is raised much earlier, in the biblical story of Cain killing his brother Abel. While the Bible does allow for capital punishment, God does not inflict this penalty upon Cain. Why not? The midrash addressing this question suggests that since Cain had never witnessed death, he could not possibly have known how his physical assault on Abel would culminate. Therefore, it would not be just to have taken Cain’s life — that’s why he was sentenced to permanent exile instead. In modern legal jargon, this equates to American and English jurisprudence, where there is a distinction between involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter as well as among other degrees of murder. JEWISH HOLY DAYS Celebrations of Triumph and Tragedy The Jewish Holy Days begin with the Days of Awe, a ten-day period that generally falls sometime in September or October. These include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Other important holidays include Chanukah, Purim, and Passover. Rosh Hashanah The phrase “Rosh Hashanah” emerged sometime during the Talmudic times (the first five centuries A.D.). However, the holiday itself was well established by the fourth century B.C., when some Jews had returned from exile to Jerusalem to construct the Second Temple. Given the importance of this period, preparations for the Days of Awe begin in the preceding month of Elul, when it is customary to blow the shofar during weekly services in synagogue. What’s a Shofar? A shofar is a trumpet made of a ram’s horn. In biblical times, blowing the shofar heralded important events such as holidays, the new moon, or preparation for war. It is also symbolic of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac, when a ram was offered in Isaac’s stead. As the month of Elul draws to an end, there is a special Selichot (forgiveness) service on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, when the congregation recites a series of important prayers. Around midnight, the congregation reviews the thirteen attributes of God, a ceremony that helps to prepare everyone for the approaching holy days. Yom Kippur Yom Kippur, the last of the Days of Awe, is observed on the tenth of Tishri. While Shabbat is the holiest of days, it is only human nature to regard Yom Kippur, which occurs only once a year as opposed to once a week, as something very special and out of the ordinary. Yom Kippur is the “Day of Atonement.” It is a day to atone for the sins of the prior year. Yom Kippur is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths” and has been an integral part of Judaism for thousands of years. Fasting is an important part of Yom Kippur. Refraining from consuming food or liquid is a concrete expression of the gravity of the day. It helps each person attain the state of mind required to focus on the spiritual. Furthermore, fasting manifests a form of self-mastery over bodily needs. Another more socially conscious justification states that by fasting, people can identify more readily with the poor and the hungry. No Young Children, Please Jews need to observe the mitzvah to fast as long as it does not pose a physical threat. Children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (that is, from the time the labor commences to three days following the birth) are absolutely not permitted to fast. Older children, not yet bar or bat mitzvah, and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth, are permitted to fast, but should resume eating or drinking if they feel the need. Chanukah In 167 B.C., the Greek king Antiochus IV attempted to force the Jews to officially adopt Greek practices. His edicts included the banning of all practice of Judaism, the placement of a Hellenist (a Sadducee) in control of the Temple, desecration of the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs on the altar, and killing those who refused to obey. The time was ripe for rebellion. The Maccabean Rebellion Mattityahu (Mattathias) was an elder and religious leader of the distinguished Hasmonean family who lived in Modiin. Resisting the efforts of the Greek army to establish a pagan altar, he launched an uprising against them. Mattityahu and his five sons became known as the Maccabees, which in Hebrew means “men who are as strong as hammers.” Though much smaller than the mighty Greek armies, the Jewish forces under the command of Judah Maccabee ultimately triumphed. On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev (the first day of Chanukah), the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple. It was a victory of the oppressed over the oppressors. When the Jewish forces recaptured the Temple Mount, they wanted to rededicate the Temple. (In fact, Chanukah is the Hebrew word for “dedication.”) Part of the rededication ceremony required lighting the Temple Menorah, but the Jews could find nothing more than a small quantity of suitable oil, enough to last for one day. The day after the battle for the Temple Mount, a rider was dispatched to Mount Ephraim, where olive trees grew that provided the oil for the Menorah. It would take three days to reach his destination and three days to return, plus the day needed to press the oil. Meanwhile, there was no way the oil found in the Temple would last that long — but it did. The small quantity of oil burned for eight days, until the messenger returned with new oil suitable for the Menorah. Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil. Purim The festival of Purim is a happy occasion. It commemorates a historical episode packed with court intrigue, convoluted plots, revelry and insobriety, a cast of characters possessed of every human trait from treachery to jealousy to courage, the near annihilation of the Jewish population, and, finally, its deliverance at the hands of a beautiful damsel. On Purim, many people arrive to the synagogue in costume or participate in a Purim parade or carnival held at the synagogue. Most often, people dress in costumes representing one of the characters in the Purim story, but contemporary political and historical figures appear as well. The Story About 2,500 years after the destruction of the first temple, the Persian king Ahasuerus had married Esther, a beautiful young woman. On the advice of her uncle and guardian, Mordecai, she concealed from him the fact that she was Jewish. Mordecai thwarted a plot to assassinate the king but went unrewarded. Meanwhile, an evil counselor of the king, Haman, decided to destroy the Jews. He arranged with the king to have them slaughtered on a day that was determined by drawing lots (purim). Mordecai learned of the plot and asked Esther to intervene with the king. When Esther did so, Ahasuerus relented. Rather than killing the Jews, he hung Haman from the very gallows the counselor had erected to execute Mordecai. The day before Purim, the thirteenth of Adar (when the story says the massacre of the Jews had been planned), the Jews observe the Fast of Esther, which commemorates her three-day fast before walking in unannounced to confront King Ahasuerus. Like all days of fasting, other than Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, the fast lasts from dawn until nightfall. Haman’s Hat One of the traditional foods eaten at Purim is a small three-sided pastry, called hamantashen or Haman’s Hat, commemorating the king’s evil advisor. Passover Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, perhaps the most pre-eminent event in Jewish history. Today, Passover remains the most widely observed Jewish holiday. During their time in Egypt, the Israelites fell out of favor with the Pharaoh. Their growing numbers threatened his power structure. In an effort to keep the Israelite population in check, the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews, assigning them harsh work under cruel conditions. Things became even more precarious when Pharaoh was informed by astrologers that an Israelite male child born at that time would grow up to overthrow him. As a result, Pharaoh decreed that every Israelite male newborn be drowned in the Nile River. Not willing to accept the decree, Amram and Yochebed placed their baby boy in a basket and floated him down the Nile. The boy’s sister, Miriam, following at a safe distance, saw the Pharaoh’s daughter, Bityah, lift the basket from the river. Bityah called the baby boy Moses. Moses and the Exodus Moses grew up as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace. One day, he saw an Egyptian overseer striking a Hebrew slave. When the overseer would not stop the beating, Moses killed him. Fearing for his life, Moses fled to Midian, where he became a shepherd and was content with his life until one day, when he was tending to his flock and came upon a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames. It was then that God spoke to Moses, instructing His reluctant emissary to go into Egypt and tell the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. Along with his brother Aaron, Moses conveyed God’s demand to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh was angered and only made things worse for the Hebrews. To demonstrate the power of God, ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptians. Before subjecting the Egyptians to the final plague, the slaying of the firstborn males, God directed Moses to instruct each Israelite family to slaughter an unblemished lamb before sundown. They were to smear the blood of the lamb on doorposts and thresholds and then prepare the lamb for their dinner. During this meal, the Israelites ate the roasted lamb, unleavened bread (because there was not sufficient time for the dough to rise), and maror (bitter herbs). While they recounted the many miracles God had performed for them, God passed through Egypt, slaying every firstborn male. Because the houses with the smeared blood of the sacrificial lambs denoting the homes of the Israelites were passed over, the holiday that celebrates the Jews’ eventual liberation from Egypt is known as Passover. What’s It Mean? The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach, derived from the Hebrew root peh-samech-chet, which means to pass through or over, or to spare. The following day, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to immediately leave Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses, somewhere between 2 and 3 million Israelites departed from Egypt. Pharaoh soon regretted his decision. He sent his army to pursue the Israelites, catching up with them at the Sea of Reeds. With the sea directly ahead of them and Pharaoh’s mighty army at their backs, the Israelites were trapped, but God parted the water and allowed the Israelites to pass through. When the Egyptian army pursued, the water fell back and they all drowned. Reed Sea or Red Sea Historical opinion generally agrees that the crossing took place at Lake Timsah, a shallow salt-water lake filled with reeds (hence the name Sea of Reeds). Later narrators moved the site of the crossing to the much deeper Red Sea, making the story a much more dramatic demonstration of God’s power. JEWISH CULTURE The Ties That Bind All Jews Together Jews share more than Judaism, their religion. They also have a common culture. Given a history of almost 4,000 years and the geographic dispersal that forced the Jews to confront and sometimes assimilate other world cultures, Jewish culture has always been heterogeneous. Yet somehow all the diverse customs and practices have managed to come together in a remarkable synthesis. Jewish Literature Wherever Jews live in respectable numbers, there is a presence of Jewish literature that augments a sense of oneness as a people. In the last fifty years, American Jewish literature has flourished. Jewish American Writers A variety of well-established Jewish American writers have achieved critical acclaim, including Saul Bellow, Henry Roth, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Elie Wiesel, Chaim Potok, Cynthia Ozick, and Leon Uris. With young writers of fiction such as Michael Chabon, Myla Goldberg, Thane Rosenbaum, and Allegra Goodman, the future of Jewish literature in twenty-first-century America is secure. In Israel, not only have Israeli novelists had a great impact on Israelis, but much of their work has been translated from Hebrew, making them accessible to Jewish communities around the globe. We have been fortunate to witness the likes of Aharon Appelfeld, S.Y. Agnon, A.B. Yehoshua, and Amos Oz, as well as the emergence of a new generation of gifted Israeli writers such as David Grossman and Etgar Keret. Jewish Music How can you not sense the bond with Jews living in Israel when the resonance of “Ha-Tikvah” (the Israeli anthem) fills your ears? And when hearing “Jerusalem of Gold,” do you not find yourself closing your eyes and seeing before you the hills of Jerusalem? Nor do you need to understand a word of Yiddish in order to perceive a kinship with all the sons and daughters who ever sang “My Yiddish Momme.” Today there is a resurgence of Jewish music called Klezmer music, reminiscent of the times when groups of itinerant musicians went from village to village in Eastern Europe, entertaining the local Jewish populace with folk songs and folk dance as well as traditional music. Another branch of Jewish music is comprised of traditional and contemporary songs in Hebrew that originate from Israel. Jewish Food Food plays an important part in many cultures, and the Jews are no exception in this regard. In fact, food has probably had a greater role in keeping the Jews together as a people than it has for most other groups because food frequently serves both ethnic and religious functions. Jewish food as a concept is really an amalgamation of many cultures. It reflects the numerous places the Jews have lived over the centuries. Therefore, you will find the influence of Middle Eastern, Spanish, German, Mediterranean, and Eastern European styles of cooking in Jewish cuisine. Jewish Food … or Not? Many foods that you might consider “Jewish” are not exclusive to Jewish cuisine. For example, hummus and falafel are common in much of the Middle East; stuffed cabbage is not just a Jewish food but is prevalent in Eastern Europe; and knishes are familiar to Germans as well as to Jews. Nonetheless, in part because the style of preparation and cooking had to conform with kashrut (dietary laws) and in part out of a desire to be original, a Jewish flair and distinct touch was often applied to the foods and cooking techniques extracted from the lands in which Jews resided. Certain Jewish foods are associated with particular holidays because they are generally served on specific occasions. Of course, there is nothing wrong in having these dishes served throughout the year, which many people choose to do. For instance, Jews serve challah, a soft, sweet, eggy bread, as part of the Shabbat dinner, as well as at most other festive meals. What’s It Mean? The word challah refers to the portion of dough that was set aside as “the priest’s [kohein’s] share” (Numbers 15:20 and Ezekiel 44:30). When challah is baked, a small piece is customarily tossed into the oven or fire as a token and remembrance of this practice. Matzah is a flat bread made of a simple mix of flour and water (without any eggs). Food dishes made with matzah abound. One good example is matzah ball soup, which is made of chicken broth with vegetables, like celery and carrots, and matzah balls that are floating in it. These matzah balls are known as knaydelach (Yiddish for “dumplings”). Some people like matzah soaked in water and egg and then fried. There is even a Passover variation of latkes (which, by the way, are served on Chanukah) that are made out of matzah meal. The bagel is a lonely roll to eat all by yourself, because in order for the true taste to come out you need your family. — Gertrude Berg, actress Arguably the most quintessentially Jewish food item is the bagel, a donut-shaped piece of bread that is boiled and then baked. Bagels are often topped with sesame seeds or poppy seeds or given a touch of flavor with other ingredients. The addition of cream cheese and lox is a custom born in America. Bagels for Babies The first printed reference to the bagel can be found in the Community Regulations of Cracow, Poland, in 1610. At that time, it was the custom to give bagels as a gift to pregnant women shortly before childbirth. Another popular food item is the blintz. Looking a bit like an egg roll, a blintz is a flat pancake rolled around sweetened cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, jam, or fresh fruit. Blintzes are frequently accompanied with sour cream or applesauce. Other common Jewish food items include: Borscht. Borscht is beet soup, served either hot or cold. Knishes. A knish is a potato and flour dumpling normally stuffed with mashed potato and onion, chopped liver, or cheese. Kasha. Kasha or kasha varnishkes is a mixture of buckwheat and bow-tie macaroni noodles. Kugel. Kugel is either served as a casserole of potatoes, eggs, and onions or as a dessert made with noodles, fruits, and nuts in an egg-based pudding. Kishkas. Parchment paper or plastic filled with either meat or celery and carrots, onions, flour, and spices. Gefilte fish. Originally, gefilte fish was stuffed fish, but today it looks more like fish cakes or fish loaf. Gefilte fish may be made from a variety of fish, though it’s most often made of carp. The fish is chopped or ground, then mixed with eggs, salt, onions, and pepper, or a vegetable mix. Stuffed cabbage. You can prepare stuffed cabbage in a number of ways, one of which is to fill it with beef and then serve in a sweet-and-sour sauce. ABULAFIA Father of the Mystical Tradition Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291) is by far the most influential Kabbalist in the school of Ecstatic (or Prophetic) Kabbalah. In fact, he essentially founded this kabbalistic orientation. His personality was powerful, his ideas were radical and controversial, and his influence has been long lasting. Abulafia was born in Saragossa, Spain. He spent his first twenty years in Spain before beginning a life that was often characterized by wandering. His rabbinical education was good, but far from outstanding. On the other hand, his knowledge of philosophy was quite extensive. Abulafia’s father died when Abraham was only eighteen, and two years later, he journeyed to the land of Israel in search of the mythical river Sambatyon, beyond which, according to legend, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel dwelled. From Israel he took a boat from Acco to Greece and spent the next ten years in Greece and Italy. Scholars speculate as to whether he made contact with Sufis (Islamic mystics) in the Land of Israel because some of his meditational methods seemed comparable to those of Sufis. Abulafia also focused on breathing techniques during meditation and scholars wonder whether he may have been indirectly influenced by Yoga via Sufism. In 1271, at the age of thirty-one, Abulafia had his first transformative experience. He understood the experience as that of attaining prophetic inspiration and he began teaching his methods and insights to a small number of chosen students. Prolific Author Abulafia wrote close to fifty works. A little more than half were kabbalistic texts of various sorts. In addition to commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation) and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides’s Moreh Nevukhim (Guide for the Perplexed), he wrote numerous books in which he explains his meditation techniques, teaches the secrets of the various names of God, and writes his insights into the Torah and the mitzvot (commandments). Abulafia also wrote another type of work, which he called his prophetic books. Of the more than twenty that he wrote, only one has survived, Sefer HaOt (The Book of the Sign; the word Ot, however, also means “letter”). These emerge more out of his immediate experiences. Going to See the Pope In the summer of 1280, Abulafia went to Rome to see Pope Nicholas III, to speak on behalf of the Jewish people and to persuade the pope to improve the difficult conditions under which they lived. Nicholas, however, was suspicious of him and ordered him arrested and put to death by burning. However, the night of his arrest the pope suddenly died. Abulafia was kept for a month in the College of the Franciscans and was subsequently freed. After his release, Abulafia went to Sicily and remained there for most of the rest of his life. During this period of time he composed the majority of his books. Abulafia believed that his meditative use of the Hebrew language could give you a deeper understanding of reality than philosophy could. Contemplating the letters and meditating with them would unlock secrets inaccessible by any other means. To Abulafia, the structure of the Hebrew language itself contained within it the secrets of the natural universe. Functions of the Hebrew Language For Abulafia, language had two essential functions. The conventional one was communication of our thoughts. The second function was for the attainment of prophecy. Hebrew was believed to be the original language, the language in which Adam named all the animals, the language through which Creation came about. All other languages were understood as in some way coming from it. Another belief was that there were seventy languages. In ancient times, some people took this literally, but by medieval times it was seen as a reference to all the other languages and to all knowledge that humans possess collectively. Those, like Abulafia, who philosophized about human language in general, tended to think that language came about through human convention, but that Hebrew, the language of divine revelation, reflected reality on a different level. Some saw it as a revealed language, others as a language whose nature made it the ideal medium for communicating revelation. The Kabbalistic Meaning of Letters Abulafia wrote that different aspects of the Hebrew alphabet were filled with mystical meaning. The shapes of the letters themselves were not a matter of human convention, but were provided through prophetic insight by those who communicated God’s revelation. The names of the letters were deeply significant. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the aleph, for example, is spelled aleph, lamed, pheh. The name of the aleph, therefore, has the gematria (a form of biblical interpretation in which each Hebrew letter has a numerical value) of 111, which emphasizes its standing for “unity” (the gematria of the aleph itself is 1). In addition to the visual form and the names of the letters both being meaningful, the numerical equivalents of the letters were highly significant. Abulafia saw the combining of letters as the construction of something, much as any living being is put together with different parts of the body. Sefer HaBahir had said that the vowels were the souls of words and Abulafia agreed with this perspective. The vowels provided various pronunciations of YHVH when using them as a meditation technique with this name. Also, the vowels indicated the head movements and breathing exercises that Abulafia practiced to accompany the pronunciation and meditation on the divine letters. Permutations of the Divine Names There are many elements to Abulafia’s techniques of letter combinations. He primarily worked with YHVH and with the seventy-two-letter name of God. When using YHVH, he combined each letter individually with the aleph and used five different Hebrew vowels (according to Sephardic Hebrew grammar) in changing combinations. So he might begin with aleph and yud and vocalize them with the same vowel and then proceed with different combinations from there. The vowels he used are the kholam (pronounced oh), kamatz (pronounced ah), khirik (pronounced ee), tzereh (pronounced eh), and kubutz (pronounced oo). With great care and concentration, Abulafia put each set of letters together with every possible combination of vowels. Abulafia saw the divine name as reflecting the structure of reality and also as being embedded in a person’s soul. The manipulation of the letters and vowels of the name would consequently change a person’s soul and consciousness. Therefore it was especially important that a person undertake these processes with maximum awareness, to avoid causing harm to oneself. CHAPTER 3 TAOISM AND CONFUCIANISM Confucianism is not officially considered a world religion because it is not organized as such. It is often grouped with religions, however, perhaps because it is a spiritual philosophy, a social ethic, a political ideology, and a scholarly tradition. The belief system began in China around the sixth to fifth century B.C. by Confucius. It has been followed by the Chinese people for over two millennia. A major part of the belief is its emphasis on learning; Confucianism is also a source of values. Its influence has spread to many other countries, including Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Confucianism made its mark extensively in Chinese literature, education, culture, and both spiritual and political life. Taoism arose in the first century A.D. The name came from the Chinese character that means path or way: Tao. In English it is pronounced “dow.” The Tao is a natural force that makes the universe the way it is. Taoism advocates the philosophy of disharmony or harmony of opposites, meaning there is no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female — in other words, yin and yang. Collectively the writings called Tao Tsang are concerned with the ritual meditations of the Tao. Taoist thought permeated the Chinese culture in the same way that Confucianism did, and the two are often linked. Taoism became more popular than Confucianism, even though Confucianism had state patronage. Taoism was based on the individual and tended to reject the organized society of Confucianism. The traditions became so well entrenched within China that many people accepted both of them, although they applied the concepts to their lives in different ways. Taoism was first conceived as a philosophy and evolved into a religion that has a number of deities. Lao-tzu (or Laozi), whom many believed was the founder of Taoism, was so revered that he was thought of as a deity. On the other hand, there were some who thought of him as a mystical character. A key Taoist concept is that of nonaction or the natural course of things. It is a direct link to yin and yang. Yin (dark/female) represents cold, feminine, evil, and negative principles. The yang (light/male) represents good, masculine, warmth, and positive principles. Yin (the dark side) is the breath that formed the earth. Yang (the light side) is the breath that formed the heavens. Yin and yang are not polar opposites; they are values in people that depend on individual circumstances. So, what is cold for one person may be warm for another. Yin and yang are said to be identical aspects of the same reality. The study, practice, and readings of yin and yang have become a school of philosophy in its own right. The idea is for the student to find balance in life where yin represents inactivity, rest, and reflection, while yang represents activity and creativity. The basic feature of Taoism is to restore balance. Extremes produce a swinging back to the opposite. Therefore, there is a constant movement from activity to inactivity and back again. TAOIST WRITINGS Accept What Is The major piece of literature in Taoism is Laozi’s Dao de Jing (Classic Way of Power — de means power, the energy of Tao at work in the world). It has never been established that Laozi was the sole author. There are no references in the work to other persons, events, places, or even writings that could provide any evidence to assist in placing or dating the composition. The fact that the work can’t be authenticated as to its author or place is, again, somehow in keeping with the philosophy of Taoism; the work exists and that is everything. The essence of the book is pure simplicity: accept what is without wanting to change it. Study the natural order and go with it, rather than against it. The effort to change something creates resistance. Everything nature provides is free; a person should emulate nature and consider everyone as an equal. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. — Laozi If people stand and observe, they will see that work proceeds best if they stop trying too hard. The more extra effort you exert and the harder you look for results, the less gets done. The philosophy of Taoism is to simply be. The Dao de Jing was compiled in an environment that was racked by widespread disorder, wanton self-seeking rulers, and rampant immoral behavior. The popularity of the work has been, and is, widespread. An amazing number of translations have been produced, more than for any other literary work except the Bible. There have been eighty English translations alone. Feng Shui One example of the use of harmony and meditation is the practice of Feng Shui. The literal meaning of Feng Shui is “wind and water,” which are the natural elements that shape the landscape. A Feng Shui expert can advise on how to get the best results in a home or office by establishing the most advantageous alignment of space and furnishings to allow the most positive and harmonious flow of chi (energy). Zhuangzi (fourth century B.C.) was a great Taoist sage. He is best known for the book that bears his name, the Zhuangzi, also known as Nánhuá Zhēnjīng (The Pure