The Sacred Fire, by B.Z. Goldberg, , at sacred-texts.com
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."—Solomon.
El Shaddai was the God of the early Hebrews. He was stern and relentless, unapproachable even to His prophets. One could not see His face and live. He was the Lord of Hosts and the God of vengeance, visiting the sins of the parents upon the children. He was the God of might dealing with man in mighty fashion. Before He selected Abraham as his servant, he tested him in many ways, going so far as to try his willingness to slaughter his only son for his Lord. He sealed His covenant with Abraham in the blood of the foreskin, and even then was Abraham to walk humbly before Him.
El Shaddai chose a people appropriately hard, stiff-necked, self-willed, and the greater period of his early relations with them was one of quarrels and vain attempts to break their stubbornness. He would have His people live according to His command, and this they would not do. He was forever admonishing, threatening, punishing. He dealt with men straightforwardly and allowed no room for love. His humble male servants to this day say among their prayers: "Blessed be His name that He did not create me a woman."
In time, El Shaddai came to be known by the simpler name of Jehovah. He mellowed with age and grew loving
and kind. He ever had only mankind in view. It was in His desire to do well by His creatures that He created the universe. Not merely to have it existing did He create it, but He desired it to be filled with living beings. Life, then, the eternal stream of life, was the prime motive of creation. Life forever was the greatest passion of the psalmist. It became mandatory to add to the stream of life; a sin to destroy a drop of it. He destroys a whole universe who destroys a single soul. And the pious Jew reads in his book of prayer:
"And so our Creator and Maker ordered us to be fruitful and multiply, and whoever does not engage in reproducing the race is likened unto one who is shedding blood, thus diminishing the essence of the deity and he is the cause that the holy spirit shall depart from Israel; his sin is great indeed."
The exercise of the sexual function is, therefore, neither sinful nor ignominious. Quite to the contrary, it is the fulfillment of the first divine command to mankind. It is the realization of God's will for a peopled universe. "And know," writes a Rabbi whom Jews call holy, "that the sexual union, achieved in the proper manner and the proper time and entered into with the right spirit, is a matter pure and sacred; let no man think that there is anything ignoble or ugly in it." The introduction into the sexual life, the intercourse with a virgin, is a sacred act to be preceded by a prayer, reading as follows:
"Blessed be he who placed a nut-tree in the Garden of Eden, a lily of the valley, that no stranger rule within the inclosed wall; therefore she preserved in purity the powers of love and did not break the rule. Blessed be He who chooses the children of Israel."
No one may, therefore, abstain from sexual life. A Jew who has no wife does not deserve the designation of "man." He who has no wife lives without blessing and without peace of soul. One may not deny himself the love-life even for the sake of the Law. He who would devote all his life and every waking hour in it to religious study and contemplation must first marry and have children, a boy and a girl. Only then is he permitted to separate from his wife and devote himself entirely to the study of the Law. Such individuals, the Jewish equivalent of the Christian monks, are still found in the theologic academies. They are known as Perushim, the separated ones.
Just as it is sinful to abstain from marriage, so is it unlawful to live childless in the marital state. One should not marry a woman that is too old or too young to bear children. If a man has lived with his wife for ten years and has had no children with her, he is obligated to divorce her and to marry another who will bring him offspring. Masturbation is the great horror of the pious, and the intentional loss of semen is an unpardonable sin. He who wastes his semen is a murderer. Onan, son of Judah, was slain by the Lord for "spilling his seed on the ground," in an attempt to prevent childbirth. He gave his name to masturbation—onanism.
The man who destroyed his powers of procreation was twice a murderer. Even he who was born sterile had no place in the religious communal life. A Jew is forbidden to castrate even an animal; he may not so much as request a Gentile to perform the operation upon his beast. For the Gentile is a son of Noah, and all children of Noah are expected by the Divine Power to observe the interdict
concerning castration. The command to live and to populate the world goes beyond race and faith. It rests upon all dwellers of the earth, whether or not their forefathers stood at Sinai and accepted the Law.
Great as is the fear of death, it is surpassed by one even greater in the heart of the pious Jew. It is the fear of being left without a kadish, a son who will continue the life-force after he has gone and who will help, by his life and deeds and prayers, the departed soul in heaven. It is the son who pronounces the prayer for the dead thrice daily during the first year after the parent's demise and upon every anniversary of his death. Even Abraham, pious and trusting as he was, found little joy in all the divine promises because he had no son, and he asked the Lord: "O Lord God, what wilt thou give me seeing I go hence childless?"
Man's sexual function has, therefore, this high purpose: the continuance of life upon earth. It was not designed for the carnal pleasures it offers. In fact, according to the Jewish mystics, carnal pleasure was especially provided by Providence through a specific agent created to supervise it, so that man might be driven into the performance of this divine command. But the pious need no driving to do the will of God. One is to engage in the sexual life only according to the Law and the comments of the rabbis. He must not be frivolous about it or gluttonous in his desires. Theoretically, he must not seek to express his passions or to continue the union after its purpose has been achieved, after the woman has conceived.
Other views, however, led to the removal of the restrictions upon man's sexual life that had been built up in Hebrew tradition. The Law was given for man to live
by it, and consequently, it should not demand the impossible of him. Rather than expose all men to sin, the rabbis permitted the husband to "do with his wife as he pleases, to cohabit with her at any time he may desire and to kiss her upon any place but one." Here the ways part. The intellectuals look upon this as a compromise with men who are spiritually weak and insist that the truly pious will not take advantage of this permission. The mystics see in this attitude a divine secret. They claim that there should be no union but it be preceded by embraces and kisses and that during the intercourse kissing should come as another expression of the union of the sexes, a union that finds its reflection in heaven. Man's passion thus found its outlet in a function meant only for the procreation of the race.
There was yet another tradition that unfettered the sexual function and permitted indulgence in it even after its divine purpose had been achieved. This came in the attitude of the husband toward the wife. Curiously enough, the command to multiply pertains only to the male, the female being entirely unobligated. A woman may abstain from marriage if this abstinence will not lead her into temptation. She may even take steps to make futile the man's attempt at procreation, resorting to the use of contraceptives. But the husband has been commanded by Moses to satiate the woman's sexual hunger: "Her food, her raiment, and her conjugal rights shall he not diminish." The extent of these conjugal rights has been considerably disputed, but anything near sexual starvation is a breach of this command. If a man is unable to live up to this mandate, he must divorce his wife. The frequency of the sexual union is therefore dependent not only upon conception
but upon the emotional needs of the woman as well. Man has to thank woman for his conjugal joys.
If it is the woman that is to be considered in the sexual union, it is quite natural that the husband is expected to be gentle and considerate. He may not embrace his wife except by her free will and full consent. Nor is he to wait for her to invite him, as this might be a strain upon her feminine modesty. Any indirect suggestion should be sufficient. He may notice his wife trying to make herself attractive to him, seeking to please him in various ways. He may thus realize that his attentions would be welcome to her. Again, he should not be entirely passive in this early call for mating. He should be considerate and generous, seeking to ingratiate himself with her to the end that she will not only consent to the union but even be passionately desirous of having him.
It was to do well by His creatures that God willed the earth to be populated; and in His desire to be kind to them, He permitted the joys that the fulfillment of this command brought to the soul of man.
There is quite an heritage that El Shaddai passed on to Jehovah in the religious life of His chosen people. Much of it deals with sex, and the covenant forms a basic element in it. The covenant is an agreement into which the Creator of the world entered with an individual living in it—Abraham. The Creator agreed to be a God unto Abraham and to enrich and multiply him. The latter was to walk humbly before his God and to do so wholeheartedly. The covenant extended into infinity, and its terms increased as time went on. God was to deliver the children of Abraham
from servitude in Egypt, to conquer Canaan for them, and to bless them with the fat of the land as well as to protect them against their enemies. The children of Abraham were to accept the Word of God at Sinai in commandment and Law and to live thereafter accordingly. The God of the universe entered into a particular relationship with a single people upon earth. Jewish mystics conceived this relationship as a form of spiritual marriage between the Divine Being and His chosen people, on the basis of the Law, the Word that w as ere the world had been created.
Appropriately enough, the covenant was sealed by the life-blood of Abraham, coming from the source of human life. "This is my covenant which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every male among you shall be circumcised . . . in the flesh of the foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt me and you . . . the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."
This was centuries ago. The world has since changed many times over and with it the concept of Jehovah. The Lord of Israel became the God of mankind. His dwelling was no longer a private place for the descendants of Abraham but a house of worship for all peoples. His tastes underwent a change no less. He came to despise praise. He would have none of the steers and lambs brought as sacrifices to Him. He was no longer concerned with the flesh of His worshippers but with the stirrings of their souls. Still, the covenant continues to this very day. A Jew may cease visiting the synagogue. He may no longer pray at all. He may shave his whiskers, eat
pork, and smoke on the Sabbath. He will be a sinning Jew, but a Jew nevertheless. However, once he is uncircumcised, he has broken the covenant and is "cut off from his people." He will even be refused a burial place in the Jewish cemetery.
Even the non-religious Jew will, in most cases, keep the covenant. He may be a free-thinker or an agnostic. He
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A sacrificial altar
may have estranged himself from the religious life of his people, having almost forgotten the precepts and customs of his faith. Still, he will circumcise his male children. Most likely he will rationalize his observance of the rite. He may be doing it not to break the heart of his believing father or mother or uncle; he may be doing it for the sake of family ties or for purely hygienic reasons. But at heart he observes the rite because he does not dare to break the covenant. All his excuses are only an attempt to rationalize an act that involves an emotional attitude. For, even if the covenant no longer holds between Jew and
[paragraph continues] God, it still endures between Jew and Jew. Only those free-thinking Jews who actively oppose religion and those who, while professing the Christian faith, still keep "within the fold" as Christian Jews, do not circumcise their males.
All other Jews, when a male child is born to them, on the eighth day of the boy's life, will perform the bris. Even when the boy is born already circumcised, some incision must be made so that blood will come forth, for in the blood of this organ the covenant between Israel and Jehovah has been consecrated. If possible, there will be a minyan at the ceremony, just as there is at any other important religious service. It is the father's duty to perform the operation, but he makes the professional mohel his agent in this act. The child, resting on a pillow, is brought from the mother's room to the room where the bris is to be performed. It is passed from one person to another, an honor accorded to a chosen few. If there happens to be among the guests a couple about to be married, they are especially honored, and the child is given to them or to a member of the immediate family to be placed upon the chair of Elijah. This is an ordinary household chair on which is placed a pillow, covered with a white sheet. It is the chair supposedly reserved for the prophet Elijah, who, by his zealous fight for Jehovah against the servants of Baal, earned for himself the distinction of being the symbolic guest of honor at every circumcision ceremony.
The child is turned over to the sandak, who, seated upon an elevated chair, holds the baby on the pillow. He is the Jewish equivalent of the Christian god-father and his honor is equally as great. The operation takes only a few minutes. The bleeding is stopped at once and the child is
soon pacified. There is usually but a single outburst and crying for a few minutes.
The father prays: "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified us by thy commandments and hast commanded us to make him enter into the covenant of Abraham, our father." Prayers follow with libations of sacramental wine. The mohel lets a drop or two of wine fall into the mouth of the child, repeating as he does so a quotation from the Scriptures: "And I passed by thee and I saw thee wallowing in thy blood, and I said: In thy blood shalt thou live, in thy blood shalt thou live."
The ceremony is followed by a feast of proportions varying according to the means of the family and the customs of the particular country. Men, women, and children are present at the ceremony and feast, but the female children are usually kept out of the room until after the operation is performed. And thus is the covenant established between the God of Israel and a new son of Abraham. It is a solemn occasion upon which the believing Jew seeks to fathom the great mystery of his race—the intimate relation between his father Abraham and the God of the universe.
Among the things El Shaddai passed on to Jehovah was a system of taboos. Everything was not only good or bad, but primarily pure or impure. What was impure was taboo, forbidden to be eaten, worn, touched, or mentioned. There still are many such taboos in the House of the Lord. The name of God is not to be pronounced. Clothes made of a mixture of wool and linen are not to be worn. Fish that have no scales, as the eel or shell-fish, are not to be
eaten. Not only is the meat of the pig a forbidden food, but even the mere act of raising the animal for the market is deemed ill-befitting the good Jew.
There were other taboos on semen and menstruating blood that gave rise to many purity laws and voluminous commentaries. Of these taboos, however, only the latter is still closely followed by the pious daughters of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, the four mothers of the race.
In primitive society, man had tremendous fear of menstruating blood. Almost everywhere women approaching their periods were separated and kept apart from the camp, often in huts built purposely for them. The menstruating woman was to keep out of the path frequented by men and, if by accident a man did come her way, she was to call out in a loud voice so that he might make a circuit to avoid her. Whatever she touched was to be burned; in some places, she must not touch even her own food, having, therefore, to be fed by other women. An Australian native, discovering that he had slept on a coat upon which his menstruating wife had lain, was so horrified that he killed her and he himself died of fear.
The superstitions about menstruating women have persisted in various forms throughout history. In his Natural History, Pliny states, in all seriousness, that the touch of a menstruating woman will turn wine into vinegar, blunt razors, rust iron or brass and cause mares to miscarry. It is still believed in some European countries that a menstruating woman, walking on the shore, will drive the fish away; if she crosses a hunter's path, he will catch no game; if she enters a brewery, the beer will turn sour, and if she makes jam, it will not keep. Her very shadow will
cause flowers to wither, trees to perish, and the serpent to cease its wriggling.
Moses gave this taboo divine sanction. A man shall not "approach a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is impure by her uncleanliness." Childbirth was the beginning of such a period of "uncleanliness," and required a period of purification, forty days after the birth of a boy
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Warding off the unclean spirits from mother and infant
and eighty after that of a girl. During the periods the woman was unclean "as in the days of the impurity of her sickness." She must touch no hallowed thing nor come into the sanctuary. After the purification days were over, she was to come to the door of the temple, bringing a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon for a sin offering. Only then was she "cleansed from the fountain of her blood." During this period of impurity the sexual union was strictly forbidden: "And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness and shall uncover her nakedness—he hath made naked her fountain and she hath
uncovered the fountain of her blood—both of them shall be cut off from among their people."
In Talmudic lore, this command has been quite elaborately extended. Since the punishment for coition in menstrual periods is untimely death for both husband and wife, the rabbis sought to guard them from the temptations that might lead them to commit this horrible sin. Consequently, the two must not show any affection toward each other during this time. The husband must not touch his wife, even without any desire. In fact, he must not even hand her anything so small that it may cause their fingers to meet. He may not eat out of the same dishes with her, nor drink from her cup; but she may eat and drink out of the dishes he has used. He may not sit upon her bed even in her absence, and she is not permitted to make his bed in his presence. He must not even see any part of her body that is customarily covered.
There are many detailed specifications as to what does or does not constitute a period. A special tractate in the Talmud is devoted to this subject. There are various kinds of blood that may or may not make the woman taboo to her husband. In olden times, possibly even now in eastern Europe, it is not unusual that some phase of this matter be brought to the attention of the rabbi, who may examine the linen to determine whether the mark in question be from menstrual blood or accidental discharge.
The Talmudic law demands that, at the close of the menstrual period, the woman wash herself and then take an immersion. This may be taken in sea, river, well, or basin. The basins especially prepared for this purpose are called mikvas; they are deep enough so that the person may stand in water up to the chest. Such baths are found in almost
every Jewish community and are generally built and maintained by the religious communal organizations. The young bride must come to this bath on the day before her marriage to fulfill the requirement of the law.
On the seventh day of her purification period, the woman cuts her nails, washes and combs her hair, and bathes herself thoroughly so that there may be no uncleanliness in any part of her body. Then she enters the mikva where her immersion is supervised by two women. They may hold her hand if she is afraid to duck beneath the water, but she must dip three times, the women watching that not a single hair of her head remains above the surface. After the immersion, she clothes herself in fresh linen and is considered pure again.
In medieval times, the keeper of the bath or the sexton would come the following morning to the husband and say: "Mazol tov," Good luck! The assumption was that on the first night of purification, the husband visited his wife, and it was hoped that his visit would result in a pregnancy. Congratulations were therefore in order. Medieval Jewish legends also tell of Jews living in small, poverty-stricken communities where there was no mikva. The women would therefore immerse themselves in the river, and in the winter, when the river was frozen over, an opening would be cut in the ice for them. There is many a story of the young bride who shuddered at the thought of immersing herself in the ice-cold water on a wintry night. The mother or mother-in-law would exhort the child-bride to execute the rite upon the observance of which the happiness of her after-life as well as the character of her future children depended. The bride consented and went under the water never to be seen again.
The God of the Hebrews had a difficult time in dealing with His chosen people. They were not only stiff-necked, but realistic and distrustful as well. When the Lord promised Abraham the land of Canaan to "inherit it," Abraham promptly asked: "Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" When he did "believe in the Lord," Jehovah appreciated it so much that He "counted it to him as a righteousness." When "I am that I am" appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He was not only asked for His name, but was even called upon to give a sign. And for all the signs and miracles that Moses showed the children of Israel in and out of Egypt, Jehovah still found it necessary to come down upon Mount Sinai, where His people might hear Him speaking and "believe forever." Only when they perceived the "thundering and the lightning and the voice of the horn and the mountain smoking" were they impressed. Even here, the legend relates, they were not sufficiently moved to accept the Law which had been declined by all other nations. So the Lord raised a mountain over their heads and said: "Accept my Law or here you will be buried." And they accepted.
There was little room for the mystic in Jewish theology. The people knew full well who their God was, and His essence little concerned them as He had neither shape nor form. They knew how He had created the world and why; and what He was expecting from the people living upon it. All this was set down in clear, plain writing. There was no mystery into which to delve and no secret to unearth. And yet there was something unfathomable about Jehovah. His absolute spirituality was an enigma. His very formlessness aroused speculation as to His nature.
[paragraph continues] When He did appear before His people, it was in smoke and cloud—a fiery cloud, but a cloud nevertheless.
The very simplicity and clarity of the Hebrew faith led sensitive natures to seek beyond the simple and the obvious. There were many who at various times set out upon the hidden ways to search beyond sense and reason. Their vain attempts and their findings constitute a considerable treasure of mystic lore. The clarity of the faith did not prevent it from developing a mysticism of its own. The formality of the Law did not destroy the spontaneity and the outpouring of the longing heart.
The Psalmist sang: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee . . . Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee . . ." His spontaneity expressed itself in love, and through love has the mystic sought to commune with his God. In this endeavor, he has simply carried over the terminology of physical love to his spiritual relationship. Did not this spiritual craving take the place of the pining of his heart?
The longing for union and the desire for oneness permeate the entire Jewish mysticism. By the very nature of things, there is a break in the universe, a split that makes for dualism where unity should obtain. God is infinite. The world is finite. God is spirit. The world is matter. How can the two touch each other? Where is the bridge of communion between them? Jewish mystics in Babylon conceived the intermediary of an angel, whom God created to rule the world, and it is to him that all the anthropomorphic passages in the Bible refer. There was a quasi-physical phase to this angel hovering over the deep between God and man; and this was later reflected in the
idea of primordial man, who was human and yet much more than that. It was the form of a man that Ezekiel saw in the chariot moving across the sky that symbolized the absolute form of all existence: the source of all other forms of creation, of all ideas, of the supreme thought. He is the Logos and the Word, the man that stands between God and mankind.
This humanized bridge across the chasm in the universe is still too simple and concrete. It does not yet satisfy the searching soul of the exalted mystic. The Cabalist, therefore, groped still further into the dark of dualism for the light of unity. He evolved the thought of concentration, according to which the infinite was supposed to contract and to make room for a finite world of matter. Between the spirit and matter, there are series of emanations—ten sephirot. Not one bridge, but ten bridges lead between the Creator and His universe—radiations from the Divine Will, growing fainter in brightness as they proceed outward.
Ten bridges between two spheres do not yet make for unity. But sometime absolute unity will be attained. The finite in man will disappear along with sin and Satan and Hell. This will happen on the advent of the Messiah. He will come when all souls will have been born and purified in a series of transmigrations, to return uncontaminated to their divine source. The soul of the Messiah is the last in the repository of souls created by God at the time that He formed the world. He who increases the population upon earth shortens the interval between the present and the birth of the Messiah. He makes closer the approach between the Divine Being and His creations. Sexual life is making for unity in the universe.
But there are many other ways in which universal unity
is dependent upon the union of the sexes below. The Creator is reflected in His creations. As He is one, He dwells in him who is likewise one; "only when man has so perfected himself as to be one does the Holy One dwell therein. And when may a man be called one? When he is in union with a woman." The Divine Presence is considered as a dualism in union, manifested in the pairing of the emanations. There is the King, who symbolizes the ideal world, and the Queen, the symbol of the real world. The King and the Queen, often referred to as the "two faces," form a pair whose task it is to constantly pour forth new grace upon the world. Through their union, they continue the process of creation and, what is even more important, perpetuate the works of creation.
Similarly, the two arms of God, Judgment and Grace, are another dualism that must be united. Grace is the expansion of the will and the source of the male souls. Judgment is the contraction of the will and the source of the female souls. The one gives life; the other brings death. Their separation would make it impossible for the world to exist. Fortunately, they combine in the common symbol of Beauty, whose material representation is the heart. The arms of God and the sexes of man are joined by love, and the world is enabled to continue its existence.
There are two other divine emanations ever seeking union; the spheres of Beauty and of Kingdom. The former represents heaven; the latter earth. The two meet at the sphere called Foundation, or Basis, which also means Copulation. But the two can not unite unless there is human copulation as well. Once more: the union of the sexes among humans brings about the union of the separate emanations of the Divinity.
Just as the universe is a dualism seeking unity, so was man himself originally dual; for God created man two-faced, that is double-sexed, and cut him asunder into male and female. Ever since that separation was accomplished,
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The universe a dualism seeking unity
neither man nor woman has been complete alone. To realize one's self, to find completion and harmony, he must seek union with his mate of the opposite sex.
God himself, for all His unity, was not absolutely complete, for He did not realize harmony until He created
the universe. And why did He create it? Out of love for another being, out of longing for His uncreated world. And He did not come into His own until He chose Israel as His bride, for here He entered into a union with His glory. All mystic prayers begin with the phrase "for the sake of the union of the Holy One with His glory." All man is seeking to obtain by prayer is this divine union, for he, too, is a part of the glory, and his union with God is his greatest hope. God is reflected in His Law, and the Law is as beloved by Israel as sexual intercourse is by other peoples. Therefore, he who has not known passionate love for woman cannot attain love for God. No prayer will reach the throne of heaven unless the worshipper has experienced physical passion while offering it. In fact, sexual union is in itself of divine nature. "Three are possessed of a divine aspect: the sun, the Sabbath, and sexual intercourse."
And just as man is seeking to bring about divine unity, so is the Holy One desirous of seeing humans in union. When man and woman unite in purity and holiness, the Holy One is found among them, for in the result of this union God has a part. There are three partners in man: the father, the mother, and God. When man's life comes to an end, the Holy One takes away His part, the soul, and the father and mother remain with the body. The temporary, earthly partnership of man, woman, and God is dissolved. The soul is released for another and truer union in the world above. There, it returns to its source in the Divine Being.
The Cabalist refers to this world above as the world of truth. It is also the world of union. For long before the world below was created, there was already love, and all
existence was one great embrace. Then the physical world was created, and the universal love embrace was disturbed. Instead of permanent union, there came to be temporary unions, copulations, both in the spheres above and below. However, the universe is ever drawing nearer and nearer to its Creator. It is on its way to the permanent union—the merging of the Creator with His creation.
The God of the Hebrews was a zealous divinity. His was the kingdom of heaven and earth, and He would have no other gods before Him. His people were not to touch an idol or to keep any sort of image or likeness. "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth . . ."
To what extent this commandment is to be followed constitutes a considerable portion of Talmudic and Rabbinic discussion. Opinions vary as to whether the order includes bas-reliefs and set-ins or busts since these are not the entire figure. Similarly, opinions differ as to whether it embraces the images serving as designs in carpets and tapestries, since they are actually only a part of the material into which they are woven. Generally, with the advance of the iconoclast movement in the Christian faith, the taboo on images was partially raised by the rabbis. Yet, sculpture and painting were arts conspicuously missing among the Jews. Only during the last two or three generations have these arts been accepted within the fold of Israel.
For all that, there never was a time when the synagogue was entirely devoid of figures and forms of erotic significance. Some of these came in stealthily without the approval or the knowledge of the prophet. They were admitted by the priest as necessity required. For he was dealing in practical religion. He was administering to the religious wants of the people and had to reckon with their desires and inclinations. In a critical moment in the wilderness, Aaron himself cast a golden calf to stay the popular stampede for a concrete god. The children of Aaron often compromised with the phallic ceremonials of other faiths so as to keep the worshippers in line. Then the prophet came and effected the removal of the idols.
Adorning the porch, at the entrance to King Solomon's temple there were two pillars named Jachin, which means "he shall prepare," and Boaz, signifying "in him there is strength." Traditional commentary maintains that these pillars symbolized the male generative principle. In Ezekiel there is a suggestion of a large image of the lingam in the Holy of Holies in the temple. And round about the graven images of lions, palm-trees and cherubim were figures of the lingam and yoni in union. This we know from a passage in Kings I: 7, 36, which has been generally omitted in Biblical translations even as far back as the Peshito, or Syriac translation, of some nineteen hundred years ago. Where a translation is attempted, its sense is vague and almost meaningless. This phrase, which in Hebrew is K’maar Ish U’lyotha, is rendered by Rashi, the most authoritative commentator of the eleventh century, on the basis of a passage in the Talmud (Yuma 54a), as: "like the male and female in embrace." The u’lyotha, which appears to have been a common figure in the decorative
schemes of the temple, is explained by Rashi as "male and female in union."
There were also purely Hebraic erotic symbols in the temple of Jehovah. These the children of Israel did not borrow from other peoples, but created for themselves. Such symbols were the cherubim, the exact shapes of which we do not know today. Tradition has it that they were a lingam and yoni in union. A Talmudic legend relates that when the Israelites made their pilgrimages to the temple for the holy days, the curtain before the ark was raised, and, as the cherubim were displayed, they were told: "Your love for God is like this love of the male for the female."
There are many figures in the synagogue today which serve as ornaments for various sacred articles of worship. The ark containing the scroll is usually done in hand-carved wood, ornamented with the figures of lions, their mouths open and their tongues hanging. Those who know erotic symbolism will recognize in the open mouth the symbol of the yoni and in the tongue that of the lingam. The ornaments often include a bronze or wooden serpent with the tip of the tail in its mouth, forming an oval. The justification for this symbol is found in a Biblical passage according to which, on the occasion of a scourge, Moses put up the image of a serpent over the entrance to the tabernacle so that any afflicted person might "look at the serpent and live." The ark itself, the container of the Law, like the ark among all peoples, is symbolic of the female principle of generation.
Every morning with the exception of the Sabbath and holy days, the Jew prays in phylacteries. As he twists the leather strips about his left arm and hand he forms a ring
about his middle finger. While doing so, he repeats phrases from the Bible, saying: "And I have betrothed thee unto me with truth . . . And I have betrothed thee unto me with justice." However abstract the words are, the ring he forms about his finger is symbolic of the marriage ring, of the union between God and man. Like all ring ceremonials, it is suggestive of what is naturally to follow.
Addressing his bride at the marriage ceremony, the Jewish bridegroom says: "By this ring you are hallowed unto me, according to the law of Moses and Israel." These words are pronounced by the groom under a canopy, generally out in the open. The cloth of the canopy symbolizes the roof and the four poles to which it is attached, the four walls. It is a symbolic vestige of the room into which the bride and groom were conducted in olden times, after the wedding ceremony, there to have their first intercourse. During the interval, the assembled guests celebrated the event in the other parts of the house, awaiting the results. For, if it were discovered that the bride was not a virgin, the groom might refuse to accept her or he could demand an appropriate recompense. Sometimes, the families of the bride and the groom had their representatives or witnesses in the inner chamber. A similar custom still prevails among Slavic peasants. The bridal couple is led to a bedroom and left alone for some time. The mother of the bride later enters the room and removes the sheet from the bridal bed, displaying before all the guests the proof of her daughter's virginity.
Even more erotic symbolism may be found in what is read, studied, and sung in the synagogue. The scriptures
abound in expressions of love and sex. The very relationship between Israel and Jehovah is represented as the
Click to enlarge
An old conception of the Cherubim, the yoni with the male figure in its center radiating the heat of passion
relationship between wife, often enough unfaithful, and her husband.
Hosea said that, when the Lord spoke to him, He told him: "Go, take unto thee a wife of harlotry and children
of harlotry, for the land doth commit great harlotry, departing from the Lord." And again God is made to say:
When the chosen people decided to be good and faithful to their God, this relationship was again described in terms of love. The ideal attitude of Israel to its God and of God to His people has been pictured in the greatest love poem of all times, the Song of Songs. This is read in the synagogue along with the other books of the Bible and in the homes after the close of the jovial ceremony of seder. It abounds in expressions of love; the loved one sings:
and the lover continues:
Of course, the kissing refers not to the act of osculation, but to an incident at Mount Sinai when each word spoken by God was carried by an angel, or by itself traveled to
the lips of every son of Israel standing at the foot of the mountain. The wine is really a symbol of the Law. The thighs are the Torah, and the belly is the Book of Leviticus.
The exuberance of love in this book is only too evident. The Talmudic student, setting out on the road to mysticism, will take to it as his favorite part of the scriptures. He who is about to deny himself physical love and all thought of pleasure and sex is already preparing an outlet for his emotion in the deep sea of love for the Creator. The Cabalist felt no restraint in his anthropomorphic conception of the divine. He even went so far as to say that the evil doer, by his transgression, causes a process of menstruation in the Divine Presence, so that the Holy One cannot unite with the soul.
On Friday night, most pious Jews still sing the Sabbath song, which is a dedication of the feast to the Lord. The celebration of the Sabbath is described as a wedding feast, with the principal personages the bride and the groom. The Sabbath is the bride and Israel the groom. After picturing the magnificence of the feast, the splendour of the personages, and the details of the wedding, the song tells how the husband embraces the bride, "and does what is pleasing to her by continuous grinding." The meaning is that Israel is uniting with the Sabbath in love, which is most pleasing to her. And they who would disturb this love relationship are ground to destruction. The highly suggestive phraseology is rationalized and explained away, but no words can hide the great love that is forever flourishing in the synagogue.