Editor’s Note: Salaam. This is an excerpt — part of Chapter Three — from
The Weight of Three Thousand Years
by Professor Israel Shahak
I am presently editing the book which has several minor errors in the copy i managed to download. However, this information is absolutely essential to understanding the dynamics surrounding Jews, Zionism, Israel, and the Christian worship of these scoundrels. I will make the entire book available as soon as the edit is finished. — oz
Orthodoxy and Interpretation
THIS CHAPTER is devoted to a more detailed description of the theologico-legal structure of classical Judaism.1 However, before embarking on that description, it is necessary to dispel at least some of the many misconceptions disseminated in almost all foreign-language (non-Hebrew) accounts of Judaism, especially by those who propagate such currently fashionable phrases as ‘the Judeo-Christian tradition’ or ‘the common values of the monotheistic religions’.
Because of considerations of space I shall only deal in detail with the most important of these popular delusions: that the Jewish religion is, and always was, monotheistic. Now, as many biblical scholars know, and as a careful reading of the Old Testament easily reveals, this a-historical view is quite wrong. In many, if not most books of the Old Testament the existence and power of ‘other gods’ are clearly acknowledged, but Yahweh (Jehovah), who is the most powerful god 2 is also very jealous of his rivals and forbids his people to worship them.3 It is only very late in the Bible, in some of the later prophets, that the existence of all gods other than Yahweh is denied.4
What concerns us, however, is not biblical but classical Judaism; and it is quite clear, though much less widely realized, that the latter, during its last few hundred years, was, for the most part, far from pure monotheism. The same can be said about the real doctrines dominant in present-day Orthodox Judaism, which is a direct continuation of classical Judaism. The decay of monotheism came about through the spread of Jewish mysticism (the cabbala) which developed in the 12th and 13th centuries, and by the late 16th century had won an almost complete victory in virtually all the centers of Judaism. The Jewish Enlightenment, which arose out of the crisis of classical Judaism, had to fight against this mysticism and its influence more than against anything else, but in latter-lay Jewish Orthodoxy, especially among the rabbis, the influence of the cabbala has remained predominant.5 For example, the Gush Emunim movement is inspired to a great extent by cabbalistic ideas.
Knowledge and understanding of these ideas is therefore important for two reasons. First, without it one cannot understand the true beliefs of Judaism at the end of its classical period. Secondly, these ideas play an important contemporary political role, inasmuch as they form part of the explicit system of beliefs of many religious politicians, including most leaders of Gush Emunim, and have an indirect influence on many Zionist leaders of all parties, including the Zionist left.
According to the cabbala, the universe is ruled not by one god but by several deities, of various characters and influences, emanated by a dim, distant First Cause. Omitting many details, one can summarize the system as follows. From the First Cause, first a male god called ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Father’ and then a female goddess called ‘Knowledge’ or ‘Mother’ were emanated or born. From the marriage of these two, a pair of younger gods were born: Son, also called by many other names such as ‘Small Face’ or ‘The Holy Blessed One’; and Daughter, also called ‘Lady’ (or ‘Matronit’, a word derived from Latin), ‘Shekhinah’, ‘Queen’, and so on. These two younger gods should be united, but their union is prevented by the machinations of Satan, who in this system is a very important and independent personage. The Creation was undertaken by the First Cause in order to allow them to unite, but because of the Fall they became more disunited than ever, and indeed Satan has managed to come very close to the divine Daughter and even to rape her (either seemingly or in fact – opinions differ on this). The creation of the Jewish people was undertaken in order to mend the break caused by Adam and Eve, and under Mount Sinai this was for a moment achieved: the male god Son, incarnated in Moses, was united with the goddess Shekhinah. Unfortunately, the sin of the Golden Calf again caused disunity in the godhead; but the repentance of the Jewish people has mended matters to some extent. Similarly, each incident of biblical Jewish history is believed to be associated with the union or disunion of the divine pair. The Jewish conquest of Palestine from the Canaanites and the building of the first and second Temple are particularly propitious for their union, while the destruction of the Temples and exile of the Jews from the Holy Land are merely external signs not only of the divine disunion but also of a real ‘whoring after strange gods’: Daughter falls closely into the power of Satan, while Son takes various female satanic personages to his bed, instead of his proper wife.
The duty of pious Jews is to restore through their prayers and religious acts the perfect divine unity, in the form of sexual union, between the male and female deities.6 Thus before most ritual acts, which every devout Jew has to perform many times each day, the following cabbalistic formula is recited: ‘For the sake of the [sexual] congress7 of the Holy Blessed One and his Shekhinah…’ The Jewish morning prayers are also arranged so as to promote this sexual union, if only temporarily. Successive parts of the prayer mystically correspond to successive stages of the union: at one point the goddess approaches with her hand-maidens, at another the god puts his arm around her neck and fondles her breast, and finally the sexual act is supposed to take place.
Other prayers or religious acts, as interpreted by the cabbalists, are designed to deceive various angels (imagined as minor deities with a measure of independence) or to propitiate Satan. At a certain point in the morning-prayer some verses in Aramaic (rather than the more usual Hebrew) are pronounced.8 This is supposed to be a means for tricking the angels who operate the gates through which prayers enter heaven and who have the power to block the prayers of the pious. The angels only understand Hebrew and are baffled by the Aramaic verses; being somewhat dull-witted (presumably they are far less clever than the cabbalists) they open the gates, and at this moment all the prayers, including those in Hebrew, get through.
Or take another example: both before and after a meal, a pious Jew ritually washes his hands, uttering a special blessing. On one of these two occasions he is worshiping God, by promoting the divine union of Son and Daughter; but on the other he is worshiping Satan, who likes Jewish prayers and ritual acts so much that when he is offered a few of them it keeps him busy for a while and he forgets to pester the divine Daughter. Indeed, the cabbalists believe that some of the sacrifices burnt in the Temple were intended for Satan. For example, the seventy bullocks sacrificed during the seven days of the feast of Tabernacles9 were supposedly offered to Satan in his capacity as ruler of all the Gentiles,10 in order to keep him too busy to interfere on the eighth day, when sacrifice is made to God. Many other examples of the same kind can be given.
Several points should be made concerning this system and its importance for the proper understanding of Judaism, both in its classical period and in its present political involvement in Zionist practice.
First: whatever can be said about this cabbalistic system, it cannot be regarded as monotheistic, unless one is also prepared to regard Hinduism, the late Graeco-Roman religion, or even the religion of ancient Egypt, as ‘monotheistic’.
Secondly: the real nature of classical Judaism is illustrated by the ease with which this system was adopted. Faith and beliefs (except nationalistic beliefs) play an extremely small part in classical Judaism. What is of prime importance is the ritual act, rather than the significance which that act is supposed to have or the belief attached to it. Therefore in times when a minority of religious Jews refused to accept the cabbala (as is the case today), one could see some few Jews performing a given religious ritual believing it to be an act of worship of God, while others do exactly the same thing with the intention of propitiating Satan – but so long as the act is the same they would pray together and remain members of the same congregation, however much they might dislike each other. But if instead of the intention attached to the ritual washing of hands anyone would dare to introduce an innovation in the manner of washing,11 a real schism would certainly ensue.
The same can be said about all sacred formulas of Judaism. Provided the working is left intact, the meaning is at best a secondary matter. For example, perhaps the most sacred Jewish formula, ‘Hear 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’, recited several times each day by every pious Jew, can at the present time mean two contrary things. It can mean that the Lord is indeed ‘one’; but it can also mean that a certain stage in the union of the male and female deities has been reached or is being promoted by the proper recitation of this formula. However, when Jews of a Reformed congregation recite this formula in any language other than Hebrew, all Orthodox rabbis, whether they believe in unity or in the divine sexual union, are very angry indeed.
Finally, all this is of considerable importance in Israel (and in other Jewish centers) even at present. The enormous significance attached to mere formulas (such as the ‘Law of Jerusalem’); the ideas and motivations of Gush Emunim; the urgency behind the hate for non-Jews presently living in Palestine; the fatalistic attitude towards all peace attempts by Arab states – all these and many other traits of Zionist politics, which puzzle so many well-meaning people who have a false notion about classical Judaism, become more intelligible against this religious and mystical background. I must warn, however, against falling into the other extreme and trying to explain all Zionist politics in terms of this background. Obviously, the latter’s influences vary in extent. Ben-Gurion was adept at manipulating them in a controlled way for specific ends. Under Begin the past exerts a much greater influence upon the present. But what one should never do is to ignore the past and its influences, because only by knowing it can one transcend its blind power.
1 As in Chapter 2, I use the term ‘classical Judaism’ to refer to rabbinical Judaism in the period from about AD 800 up to the end of the 18th century. This period broadly coincides with the Jewish Middle Ages, since for most Jewish communities medieval conditions persisted much longer than for the west European nations, namely up to the period of the French Revolution. Thus what I call ‘classical Judaism’ can be regarded as medieval Judaism.
2 Exodus, 15:11.
3 Ibid., 20:3-6.
4 Jeremiah, 10; the same theme is echoed still later by the Second Isaiah, see Isaiah, 44.
5 The cabbala is of course an esoteric doctrine, and its detailed study was confined to scholars. In Europe, especially after about 1750, extreme measures were taken to keep it secret and forbid its study except by mature scholars and under strict supervision. The uneducated Jewish masses of eastern Europe had no real knowledge of cabbalistic doctrine; but the cabbala percolated to them in the form of superstition and magic practices.
6 Many contemporary Jewish mystics believe that the same end may be accomplished more quickly by war against the Arabs, by the expulsion of the Palestinians, or even by establishing many Jewish settlements on the West Bank. The growing movement for building the Third Temple is also based on such ideas.
7 The Hebrew word used here – yihud, meaning literally union-in-seclusion – is the same one employed in legal texts (dealing with marriage etc.) to refer to sexual intercourse.
8 The so-called Qedusbab Sblisbit (Third Holiness), inserted in the prayer Uva Letzion towards the end of the morning service.Numbers, 29. 9-10 The power of Satan, and his connection with non-Jews, is illustrated by a widespread custom, established under cabbalistic influence in many Jewish communities from the 17th century. A Jewish woman returning from her monthly ritual bath of purification (after which sexual intercourse with her husband is mandatory) must beware of meeting one of the four satanic creatures: Gentile, pig, dog or donkey. If she does meet any one of them she must take another bath. The custom was advocated (among others) by Shn’et Musar, a book on Jewish moral conduct first published in 1712, which was one of the most popular books among Jews in both eastern Europe and Islamic countries until early this century, and is still widely read in some Orthodox circles.
11 This is prescribed in minute detail. For example, the ritual hand washing must not be done under a tap; each hand must be washed singly, in water from a mug (of prescribed minimal size) held in the other hand. If one’s hands are really dirty, it is quite impossible to clean them in this way, but such pragmatic considerations are obviously irrelevant. Classical Judaism prescribes a great number of such detailed rituals, to which the cabbala attaches deep significance. There are, for example, many precise rules concerning behavior in a lavatory. A Jew relieving nature in an open space must not do so in a North-South direction, because North is associated with Satan.