Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

I happened upon a thread on Blogcritics yesterday where the discussion was over a certain George O'Dowd (who first made a name for himself looking like a vision of Borough Park when under the influence of hallucinogenics) criticizing Mrs. Ritchie over his interpretation of Mrs. Ritchie's favorite sect's alleged opinion regarding sexual orientation. There, that couldn't be more oblique, could it?

What I'm about to post about has nothing to do with Mr. O'Dowd, other than he's probably spouting fashionable Euro anti-semitic tendencies, only peripherally related to Mrs. Ritchie in the sense that being a dumb celebrity with a following can be exploited by a shaman, and everything to do with shamans and religion.

What Mrs. Ritchie follows is only related in the most superficial sense of the word to Judaism. As I noted on Blogcritics:

There is somewhat of a Jewish tradition of mysticism that does include kabbalah, which is an esoteric interpretation of the Torah based on a couple of books "Sefer Yezirah" and "Zohar", however, this tradition dates from medieval times by most scholarly opinions (the Zohar, although written in Aramaic, shows many grammatical errors and has words from medieval Hebrew and Spanish in the text). There are other such texts such as "Tanya" (the popular name for "Likkutei Amarim", a Hasidic text) which are similar in spirit and approach, just not as trendy. Traditionally, Jewish scholars don't delve into these areas until they've become quite learned in the foundation texts.

I fault my own Jewish education for not expounding better on the matter, but the concept I'm trying to get across is simply that Philip Berg's version of Kabbalah, to put it bluntly, is a load of hooey. I should probably change my reference to the Tanya from "spirit and approach" to "spirit if not approach" if I were to be truly accurate, but then again, I have to defer to the experts, as I'll stick to learning the ground rules first (I don't think anyone should be messing with kabbalah until they can give a decent divrei Torah, something I'm far from able to do). I had known that the Zohar was written in Aramaic, but I wasn't aware of the Aramaic grammar errors (I have to admit that I started nodding off in Talmud Torah when they got to teaching us Aramaic, I had enough trouble understanding the differences in the Hebrew in Chumash. I well remember going nuts with Lech Lecha, which our teacher insisted on us repeating back each phrase in a more modern Hebrew - in this case Lech l'tovascha. For the non-cognoscenti, the portion of the Bible I’m referring to is Genesis 12:1).

OK, so it's a fair bet that the Zohar actually dates to medieval times and not biblical times, not exactly earth-shattering, in that it's a commentary and an interpretation, another of the very long line of such texts interpreting Jewish theology and practice. It's somewhat different because of its mystic bent and as such was traditionally only open to more mature scholars for study (given the esoteric nature of it, it takes an advanced scholar to penetrate it). The Tanya is fairly ubiquitous in Lubavitcher circles but it's something that's not marketed to the average baal teshuva, at least until they've gotten a lot more conversant with matters.

Since I know my own limitations in these matters, I know enough not to touch these texts in any manner until I understand all of the underlying principles and history. Which brings me to Mr. Berg. Presumably, by his qualifications, he has a heck of a lot better Jewish education than I do, yet he peddles a "light" version of what is some very dense and esoteric material to a bunch of dilettantes that cheapens on many levels. Rather than encouraging fundamental Jewish education for his Jewish patrons, and rather than encouraging his non-Jewish patrons to observe the Noahide laws or just be good people, he peddles strings and bottled water, along with books that few if any of his patrons have a hope of understanding. It cheapens on so many levels, it's angering.

Think back to the Beatles going to the Maharishi. The Maharishi's path was an easy one, just a few minutes of meditation a day and you were on the road to enlightenment. Then came Rishikesh. Ringo headed home after a few days, dismissing the place as being like Butlin's (the English holiday camp). John ended up telling the yogi off after discovering some allegedly less-than-holy conduct. George ended up discovering the deeper ways of Indian mysticism after leaving the popularized version to the innocents who devoured the Maharishi's plaudits.

Other than the blinding glimpse of the obvious that celebrities are dumber than dumb for the most part and are easily led around by shamans, it points out the dangers of individuals like the Bergs, who peddle ersatz religiosity for the gullible while conveniently omitting the years of intense study needed to understand the concepts they're basing their marketing campaign on. Shamans are dangerous, and come in all varieties, be they robe and sandal-clad, pompadoured televangelist, or whatever "spiritual" pontificator flavor of the month.


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