Friday, September 30, 2005

The Kabbalah Factor

Apparently, Madonna has gone and written a song about Isaac Luria. Well, all right. It's a free country.

The Balabusta was reminded of the time a couple of years ago, when a friend mentioned that she had a tenant who was doing a paper about women in world religions, and wanted to talk to someone about kabbalah. The Balabusta, being the only rabbinic school dropout this friend knew, got volunteered. Mind you, the Balabusta's knowledge of, and interest in, kabbalah, is pretty minimal. I know a little of the basic history, and have read some Chava Weissler. And I grew up on stories about some of the greats, and their Greatest Hits Miracles. I was also raised to keep a considerable distance between me and anything that even smelled a little kabbalistic, so there you are.

But I figured I'd see if I could give this girl a hand, and at least recommend Weissler. We made contact, by e-mail. It was an interesting encounter. This young woman seemed very nice, extremely sincere, and had a question.

The question was this: she had done enough reading to determine that you're supposed to be thirty, or forty, or seventy-four, or whatever it is, before taking up the Study of the Stuff. Also that you should be male. Her question: why were women not included in the study of kabbalah?

She had even gotten a tentative theory together. Her theory was that possibly, since she had also determined that studying kabbalah was dangerous, that in a matrilineal culture like Judaism, women were too valuable to be risked.

Ze'ev Chaifets says something in one of his books about a kabbalah class for some adult ed program, and describes it as being like teaching advanced physics to people who believe that a ball thrown in the air continues to rise. I had a similar reaction to this. How to respond?

I explained, gingerly, that women were generally underrepresented in Jewish scholarship, and that kabbalah is pretty arcane, also impractical as all get-out, so historically speaking, if you get a woman who's learning, it probably still won't be Kabbalah. It's funny. I'm usually the one with the examples showing that women were more learned than we think, but I found myself painstakingly trying to explain the gap that existed between men's and women's access to text in most Jewish communities, historically (and currently).

I didn't hear back. I hope she recovered. It's not easy to be told about patriarchy for the first time at twenty-two. Also, I think her grip on the structure of Jewish texts was kinda vague, so I'm not sure how much sense I was making.

Now Madonna-Esther, I hear, doesn't even sit behind the mechitza at her shul, because she's just too darn spiritually advanced. I don't much hold with a mechitza myself, but permit me to throw stuff as I consider THAT turn of events.

I wonder if I can download the song somewhere. I can't imagine buying a whole Madonna CD, but heck, to hear a pop song about Luria...

Anyway, I have a terrible confession to make. I read a book of inspirational Hasidic stories about pious women not too long ago, and there's an intriguing piece about some rebbe boasting of his daughter's kabbalistic coffee-tray arranging. You're supposed to pour the milk into the coffee, not the other way round. I've been carefully doing it like that ever since. Am I deranged, or what?


Anonymous said...
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Eliyahu said...

thank you, thank you! kabbalistic coffee-tray arranging...You're supposed to pour the milk into the coffee, not the other way round. who knew? thanks to you, maybe my life will be rearranged this rosh hashanah. for years, i've poured the milk in first, just to avoid messing with the spoon.

Eliyahu said...

btw, sounds like the story were from Yitzhak Buxbaum's book. while i have not read this one, he is also a good storyteller in person, and has some other wonderful books. ps, you can turn on a word verification function, which will help keep the spam out of the comments. it's in the blogger dashboard. may you be blessed with the sweetest year!

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Yes, it's Buxbaum, and I am planning to turn on the word ID--this is ridiculous!