My Many Menorahs

Since the Jewish holiday Hanukkah begins at sundown tomorrow, I thought now would be a good time to spend a moment or two discussing the menorah. I love menorahs. I may be what theologians refer to as a “bad Jew”, but what I lack in knowledge and devotion I surely make up for in sheer volume of menorahs in my home. It started out as a burden, having loads of menorah around the apartment, but now I couldn’t imagine getting rid of any of them.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the menorah, let me bring you up to speed. Hanukkah is the celebration of the Maccabees liberating Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. After liberating the Temple of Jerusalem, the Maccabees wanted to light the perpetual light with seven branches, but it had been destroyed. They built a temporary candelabrum but they only had one flask of oil to fuel it. However, it kept the candles lit for eight days rather than one. Hanukkah, at its most basic, is the celebration of efficient fuels.

In modern times when Jews celebrate Hanukkah (meaning dedication) they light a menorah. The menorah is an eight branched candelabrum; with a ninth spot for the shamash, which is for the candle used to light the other candles. Each night a candle is lit to signify the days that the oil lasted. Hanukkah is actually a minor festival in the Jewish faith, but due to it’s proximity to Christmas it’s been kind of sucked up into a “Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas” vacuum of commercialism. Not that this lady is complaining. I may be a “bad Jew”, but I still get Hanukkah presents!

Anyway, I really do like menorahs. You can find them in all shapes and sizes. And when the candles are all lit, it is a very beautiful sight. I thought I would share mine with you.

To all of our Jewish readers, Happy Hanukkah!

Passover Fun!

It’s that Passover time of year again. Like most very bad Jews, I tend to celebrate with Cosmopolitans and questionably kosher cuisine. The important thing is that I gather with friends and family to share the story of the Jewish people. (Even more important is having fun.) For those of you who missed the animated film “The Prince of Egypt”, or find the phrase, we tell the story of Exodus confusing, let me drop a little knowledge on you.

And by knowledge I mean, quoting what the anonymous folks over at Wikipedia have to say. “Passover is a Jewish holy day and festival commemorating God sparing the Israelites when he killed the first born of Egypt, and is followed by the seven day Feast of the Unleavened Bread commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery.

In the story of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves, with the tenth plague being the killing of firstborn sons. However, the Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb, and upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term ‘Passover’.”

Not a holiday you would necessarily associate with fun, but my motley crew of quasi-Jews generally manages to pull it off. It’s rare to find quality Passover humor, but thanks to one of my favorite webcomics, “Least I Could Do” I have a little something to share.


© Blind Ferret Entertainment — Read More Least I Could Do At LICD.COM

By the way, for those of you who really had no clue what I meant when I referenced the movie “The Prince of Egypt”, check out the trailer below. Every year I suggest we just rent the movie and order a pizza, and every year I’m vetoed.

An Israeli President and Saudi Arabian King Eat Dinner

This past week saw a two day meeting at the United Nations promoting dialogue on religion and culture. This interfaith event was attended by seventeen heads of state and government, including Israel, the US, Britain, and several Arab countries. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia organized the conference. The big news was that Israeli President Peres Shimon and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia managed to eat dinner together in the same room.

Not the same table mind you, the same room. And hey, that IS big news. If you want the in depth reasons as to why, I happily direct you to “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict” by Mitchell Bard, Ph.D.. Hopefully you’ll have better luck wrapping your brain around it than I did. However, to sum up, in case you didn’t know, traditionally Arabs and Jews don’t get along.

There was criticism as to how legitimate this conference could be when it was put together by Abdullah, Saudi Arabia not being known for its tolerance of other faiths. Many organizations who I deeply respect spoke out about this, such as Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. That’s why it pains me to say this….shut up. I’ve spoken out against Saudi Arabia for its lack of what we here in America call First Amendment rights, but you know what? Israeli President Shimon and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ate in the same room. Anyone who really thinks that human rights will be protected by these guys NOT interacting raise your hand. If you’re hand is up, than to you I also say, shut up. If not for this event, I never would have had the joyful opportunity to read this:

When Mr. Peres took to the floor, he broke off from his prepared speech to address King Abdullah directly.

“Your Majesty, the king of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I was listening to your message. I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people. It’s right. It’s needed. It’s promising.

“The initiative’s portrayal of our region’s future provides hope to the people and inspires confidence in the nations.”

Did you see that? They listened to each other. No, there won’t suddenly be peace and all the religious freedom a gal could want in the middle east, but moments like this remind us all, that all governments, religious movements, and organizations are at their heart comprised of individuals. And that lurking inside every individual is the capacity for love, forgiveness, and respect. Except for me, I’m a bitch.

But to prove that even I am capable of forgiveness and respect, I present to you our President.

“Today, the United States is carrying on that noble tradition by making religious liberty a central element of our foreign policy. We’ve established a Commission on the International Religious Freedom to monitor the state of religious liberty worldwide. We strongly encourage nations to understand that religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. We’re not afraid to stand with religious dissidents and believers who practice their faith, even where it is unwelcome.”

Amen George, Amen.

Which Religion has the Best Cell Phone?

In the land of “bling” (as the kids say), you see all kinds of stuff getting the “bling” treatment.  Diamond encrusted jewelry, tricked out cars, and super snazzy cell phones are all items to denote wealth and status.  Which is why I was intrigued to see Computerworld.com’s headline, “Which religion has the best cell phone?”  The column by Mike Elgan is an entertaining look at the ins and outs of cell phones for the faithful.
 
Like Elgan, I was shocked to learn that there may be no Christian cell phones.  There are accessories galore for the cell phone savvy Christian to get their phone on, but no 100 percent Christian phones.  He was also unable to find Hindu or Sikh cell phones, which is a bummer because I might give up my crappy pay as you go phone if I could get a cool looking cell with Kali on it.
 
So who were the big three?  Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.
 
In third place was the Jewish cell phone.  This essentially is a phone about denial to help Orthodox Jews be good boys and girls.  In second was the Muslim cell phone.  This is genius because if you’re Muslim stuck in a foreign city, how do you know exactly when to pray and which direction Mecca is in?  Well, with the phones listed in the article they will remind you to pray, help you locate a mosque, and will point you towards Mecca!  I have to admit, despite not being Muslim I wouldn’t mind having a phone that would point towards Mecca…that’s just cool!  With the way things are going these days, I’m guessing it would come with a government listening device already installed for everyone’s convenience!
 
Finally, Elgan gave first place to the Buddhist cell phone.  I’m not sure what Buddha would think of it, but if this gold-plated, jade accented bad boy was available in the U.S. you would see it in every hip hop video on MTV.  To get a good look at this Nokia, check out this Trendhunter.com article.

Profile: Bnei Baruch

Bnei Baruch is a group of Kabbalists in Israel, sharing the wisdom of Kabbalah with the entire world. Study materials in over 20 languages are based on authentic Kabbalah texts that were passed down from generation to generation.

History and Origin
In 1991, following the passing of his teacher, Rabbi Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag (The Rabash) Rav Michael Laitman, Professor of Ontology and the Theory of Knowledge, PhD in Philosophy and Kabbalah, and MSc in Medical Bio-Cybernetics, established a Kabbalah study group called “Bnei Baruch.” He called it Bnei Baruch ( “Sons of Baruch”) to commemorate the memory of his mentor, whose side he never left in the final twelve years of his life, from 1979 to 1991. Rav Laitman had been Ashlag’s prime student and personal assistant, and is recognized as the successor to Rabash’s teaching method.

The Rabash was the firstborn son and successor of Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag, the greatest Kabbalist of the 20th century. Rabbi Ashlag authored the most authoritative and comprehensive commentary on The Book of Zohar, titled The Sulam Commentary (The Ladder Commentary). He was the first to reveal the complete method for spiritual ascent, and thus was known as Baal HaSulam (“Owner of the Ladder”).

Today, Bnei Baruch bases its entire study method on the path paved by these two great spiritual leaders.

The Study Method
The unique study method developed by Baal HaSulam and his son, the Rabash, is taught and applied on a daily basis by Bnei Baruch. This method relies on authentic Kabbalah sources such as The Book of Zohar, by Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, The Tree of Life, by the Holy Ari, and The Study of the Ten Sefirot, by Baal HaSulam.

While the study relies on authentic Kabbalah sources, it is carried out in simple language and uses a scientific, contemporary approach. Developing this approach has made Bnei Baruch an internationally respected organization, both in Israel and in the world at large.

The unique combination of an academic study method and personal experiences broadens the students’ perspective and awards them a new perception of the reality they live in. Those on the spiritual path are thus given the necessary tools to research themselves and their surrounding reality.

The Message
Bnei Baruch is a diverse movement of many thousands of students worldwide. Students can choose their own paths and the personal intensity of their studies, according to their unique conditions and abilities. The essence of the message disseminated by Bnei Baruch is universal: “unity of the people, unity of nations and love of man.”

For millennia, Kabbalists have been teaching that love of man should be the foundation of all human relations. This love prevailed in the days of Abraham, Moses, and the group of Kabbalists that they established. If we make room for these seasoned, yet contemporary values, we will discover that we possess the power to put differences aside and unite.

The wisdom of Kabbalah, hidden for millennia, has been waiting for the time when we would be sufficiently developed and ready to implement its message. Now, it is emerging as a solution that can unite diverse factions everywhere, better enabling us, as individuals and as a society, to meet today’s challenges.

Bnei Baruch’s Activities
Bnei Baruch was established on the premise that “only by expansion of the wisdom of Kabbalah to the public can we be awarded complete redemption” (Baal HaSulam).

Therefore, Bnei Baruch offers a variety of ways for people to explore and discover the purpose of their lives, providing careful guidance for the beginners and the advanced student alike.

Kabbalah Today
Kabbalah Today is a free monthly newspaper produced and disseminated by Bnei Baruch. It is apolitical, non-commercial, and written in a clear, contemporary style. Its purpose is to expose the vast body of knowledge hidden in the wisdom of Kabbalah at no cost and in a clear, engaging format and style for readers everywhere.

Kabbalah Today is distributed for free in every major U.S. city, as well as in Toronto, Canada, London, England, and Sydney, Australia. It is printed in English, Hebrew, and Russian, and is also available on the Internet, at www.kabtoday.com.

Additionally, a hard copy of the paper is sent to subscribers at delivery cost only.

Internet Website
Bnei Baruch’s homepage, www.kabbalah.info, presents the authentic wisdom of Kabbalah using essays, books, and original texts. The site also contains a unique, extensive library for readers to thoroughly explore the wisdom of Kabbalah. In addition, there is a media archive, www.kabbalahmedia.info, containing more than 5,000 media items, downloadable books, and a vast reservoir of texts, video and audio files in many languages. All of this material is available for free download.

Kabbalah Television
Bnei Baruch established a production company, ARI Films (www.arifilms.tv) specializing in the production of educational TV programs throughout the world, and in many languages.

In Israel, Bnei Baruch broadcasts are aired live through cable and satellite on Channel 98 Sunday through Friday. All broadcasts on these channels are free of charge. The programs are adapted specifically for beginners, and do not require prior knowledge of the material. This convenient learning process is complemented by programs featuring Rav Laitman’s meetings with publicly known figures in Israel and throughout the world.

Additionally, ARI Films produces educational series and documentaries on DVDs, as well as other visual teaching aids.

Kabbalah Books
Rav Laitman writes his books in a clear, contemporary style based on the key concepts of Baal HaSulam. These books serve as a vital link between today’s readers and the original texts. All of Rav Laitman’s books are available for sale, as well as for free download. Rav Laitman has thus far written thirty books, translated into ten languages.

Kabbalah Lessons
As Kabbalists have been doing for centuries, Rav Laitman gives a daily lesson at the Bnei Baruch center in Israel between 3:15-6:00 a.m. Israel time. The lessons are simultaneously translated into six languages: English, Russian, Spanish, German, Italian, and Turkish. In the near future, broadcasts will also be translated into French, Greek, Polish, and Portuguese. As with everything else, the live broadcast is provided gratis to thousands of students worldwide.

Funding
Bnei Baruch is a non-profit organization for teaching and sharing the wisdom of Kabbalah. To maintain its independence and purity of intentions, Bnei Baruch is not supported, funded, or otherwise tied to any government or political organization. Since the bulk of its activity is provided free of charge, the prime source of funding for the group’s activities is donations, tithing—contributed by students on a voluntary basis—and Rav Laitman’s books, which are sold at cost.

www.kabbalah.info

Talk to the Hand

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)

In thousands of cultures, in millions of different iterations, the protective charm exists. If you recall, we touched briefly on how the pentagram is one when it is turned into a Seal of Solomon. Like how I referenced a previous article? Yeah, I’m slick like that. This month we’re talking to the hand, the Hand of Fatima or Hamesh Hand that is.


It goes by many names, Hamsa, Khamsa, Hand of Fatima, Eye of Fatima, Hamesh Hand, Protective Hand, or Hand of God. No matter what name it goes by its appearance is a very basic one. It’s a hand, either fingers up or down, in a stylized version, with three fingers up and a shorter finger on each end. In the center of the palm is an eye. Sometimes they’re very basic, just like I described, but often there is ornate etching embellishing the design.

The hand, when referred to as the Hand of Fatima or Eye of Fatima, is drawing on it’s Islamic origins. Fatima is the daughter of Muhammed. Many say the five fingers represent the Five Pillars of Islam. When the hand is called the Hamesh Hand, or Hand of Miriam, they’re referencing its Jewish origins. Miriam is the sister of Moses. Some say the five fingers represent the five books of the Torah. Oddly enough, each faith views the hand as exclusively theirs, never acknowledging the remarkable similarities.

No matter the origins, this hand protects against the evil eye. It can be found painted on homes, worn as an amulet, carved into plaques, used as a key chain, and in a myriad of other ways. This hand is your all purpose protection against evil.

Reform Jews Bless the Transgendered

Just like with most religions of a certain size and scope, Judaism has many different denominations.  All denominations within their religion are about how best to interpret the faith, and each denomination does so as they see fit.  The denominations in Judaism tend to form a sliding scale of conservativeness, or of traditionalism.  Sliding from Orthodox, considered to be the more traditional and conservative, to Reform, generally viewed as the most progressive or liberal of the denominations.  Obviously there are many denominations that fall in between those two and a few that are outside the sliding scale all together.
 
During the last few years I’ve been reading more and more about the Reform denomination, which is technically mine, and what they have been doing to fall more in line with the needs of the modern Jewish community.  From what I’ve been reading, large sections of the Jewish community are accepting gays and lesbians not only as active members of the community but as rabbis and cantors.  Many support same-sex commitment ceremonies.  When I told a friend, and Pagan activist, this he informed me that, “Sure, they say that, but we’ll see.”
 
For the record, at the beginning of August I attended a same-sex wedding in Massachusetts, where it’s legal by state law, and the ceremony was performed by an actual rabbi, making it legal by Jewish law.  So put that in your smudge pot and puff on it!
 
For all of these progressive moves on the part of Reform Judaism, the community had never taken a stance on the transgender community…until now.
 
On August 7, 2007 the Union for Reform Judaism released the second edition of “Kulanu”, the union’s 500-page resource manual for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusion.  One of the additions was blessings for transitioning genders.
 
“I believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews in our midst—our children, our relatives, and our friend—are in great need, as are we all of spiritual support,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the “Statement of Purpose” for the new edition.  The Union for Reform Judaism website states, “Among the items included in the guide are services for same-sex commitment and marriage ceremonies, a prayer for the transitioning of genders, and classroom lessons focusing on the spiritual needs of both GLBT members and the community.”
 
According to the Jerusalem Post, “The issue of transgender Jews was first addressed in 1978 when the Central Conference of American Rabbis deemed it permissible for one who had undergone a sex-change operation to be married according to Jewish tradition. In 1990, the CCAR allowed such individuals to be converted. And in 2003, the union retroactively applied its policy on gays and lesbians to the transgender and bisexual communities.”  When you consider that the ball started rolling in 1978, it seems like it has taken forever to get here.  Of course when you compare it to many faiths, and even other Jewish denominations, Reform Judaism is moving at lightning speeds.
 
Let me say that I agree with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, we are all in need of spiritual support.  Those faiths that would deny that support because of something as truly insignificant as person’s sexual orientation or desire to change gender, well, I highly doubt that is truly something their faith would agree with.

Product Profile: Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism

How are alchemy, astrology, magic, and numerology related to Jewish mysticism? The fabulous, miraculous, and mysterious are all explored in this comprehensive reference to Jewish esotericism-the first of its kind!

From amulets and angels to the zodiac and zombies, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism features over one thousand alphabetical entries. Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis offers a much-needed culmination of Jewish occult teachings that includes significant stories, mythical figures, practices, and ritual objects. Spanning the Bible, the Midrash, Kabbalah, and other mystical branches of Judaism, this well-researched text is meant to trigger insight, spark inspiration, and illuminate one of the oldest esoteric traditions still alive today.

This title releases from Llewellyn in January of 2007.  To see more of Llewellyn’s products or to place orders visit: www.llewellyn.com