Thursday, January 01, 2009

Truthiness and the Divine

Roseanne Barr made it into the JPost for announcing in on her blog that Israel is a Nazi state. I don't know exactly why this made the JPost. Roseanne is always sayin' death to someone she don't like. (Name that movie reference!) And she has general big issues with Israel. Since Cynthia McKinney failed to sailed to Gaza in a cabin cruiser, she's been very cranky. So, like I say, not sure why this was news.

But it did make me go and check out Roseanne's blog, and this time I read quite a bit of her archives, and well, it's quite something. I particularly enjoy the lengthy bits about how Mary, mother of Jesus, was the last Priestess of the Temple (yes, that's the Temple in Jerusalem, the second one, you know, the one that there's one wall left of, and al-Aqsa built on top), and Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus, was raised to be a priestess, and ya know, they killed Jesus to end the matriarchal Goddess cult that apparently survived right up until that point and then just fell in like a house of cards. Someone has read The Moon Beneath Her Feet too many times, and well, OMG as the vilde chayas say.

Anyway, as I am sifting through this chaos and confusion, I find a link to This is an interesting little site, which entertains me no end. Sgulah, you see, is a new spiritual movement. Its goal is to re-win the Grace of Kabbalah (I think she may be related to a fabulous waitress some friends of mine used to call The Amazing Grace of Dunkin' Donuts) lost in a very successful attempt of mass production.

I guess this is a jab at the Kabbalah Centers, although this website sells such great Sgulah accessories as $500.00 Shabbos candlesticks, (silver, which enhances the energy of Shabbat with the energy of Hesed.), $200.00 keys--the Large Key of Prosperity or the Small Key of Luck, your choice, and a $380.00 mezuzah--they recommend that each house should have two.

But anyway, on the front page, they're selling some new book of theirs, and they pitch it like this: A book is a book is a book, right? Not exactly! A book in Hebrew is SEPHER. If you are a spy and want to send me a message that nobody else can understand, you will use a special code or a so-called CIPHER. The word CIPHER comes from the Hebrew word SEPHER, meaning a book.

Now isn't that fascinating? The problem is that I have a copy of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and I go to this source to learn that the source of the word "cipher" is actually the Arabic "sifr", which means "zero". To cipher, in the old sense, is to do arithmetic--math with Arabic numerals, using the zero, rather than the Latin system with no zero. Now that really is fascinating.

And as I muse over Roseanne's fascinating version of history in which a Cohenet Gdolah distributed the words of the Goddess to the people of Jerusalem until the last generation of BCE, I am reminded of an article by Rabbi Gershon Winkler in which he asserts that Jewish women had an equal role in Jewish society, until in Europe (but not in the Middle East or North Africa), in the Middle Ages, Jews began to remove "their women" from public roles to prevent them from being burned as witches.

So why am I nattering about these things? Because when I was in college, I was surrounded by people who were attracted to things like this--secrets, and ancient history of women's power--and I would always be the one who said "OK, but is that true?"

It's not true that the Virgin Mary was a priestess in the Second Temple. It's not true that gender inequity was only acquired by Jews from Europeans. It's not true that "cipher" is derived from "sepher". And I think it is important to know that these things, if only so that those things that are truly fascinating and real about history and language keep their beauty and importance.

So what about midrash? I had a moment with one of my colleagues at work, in the religion department, who told me that Origen (father of the Church) interprets the lines in the Shir haShirim about the woman's navel being a cup of wine, and her belly a heap of wheat as an image of the Eucharist. "Oh, that's a beautiful midrash," said the Balabusta, enraptured. "There's NO textual evidence for it," says the coworker, crankily. But there's not SUPPOSED to be evidence for it. It's poetry. It's interpretation. It's symbolic truth. It's not an assertion that Christianity was secretly practiced in Solomon's day. This, by me, is different than creating a secret history that you make up and then insist is true, against all evidence.

I've been watching a lot of Bones reruns, and while I am not in the least like Dr. Temperance Brennan, I understand her insistence on scientific truth. I am not a scientist, but I am an historian at heart. I believe in finding out the truth, so far as we can know it. I believe in honoring the real experience and thought of those who came before us, even if we may do and believe differently. "Truthiness" is not a basis for religion.

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