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Cathedrals in Time

October 16, 2009

Class this week was pretty amazing, the subject for discussion was the Sabbath, something E and I in our own way have been attempting to honor. We light candles, we say Kiddush,  but we’re not shomer shabbas, and we don’t always get the candles lit by sundown. Still, you do what you can do. Readings included Abraham Joshua Herschel and Mordecai Kaplan (a lot more on these guys in upcoming posts).

The Herschel reading in particular with its envisioning of the Sabbath as a cathedral in time resonated with me. One of the things that distinguish Judaism from Catholicism is the portability of the religion, that celebration and observance are not dependent on the presence of a priest or of the building of a church. Ten Jews, some candles, and a torah and you’re good to go.

This portability definitely comes in part from oppression, from anti-Semitism and from having to hide. But Judaism is also a religion of abstraction, of ideas and history and words. Ritual is an important component, but few of those rituals depend on being within a specific place. Judaism is a religion you can take with you. Did the abstraction and heavy reliance intellectual thought that I associate with Judaism today develop because of oppression, or in addition to it? I have no idea, I’m no Jewish historian. At least not yet.

But the ability to take the religion with you and hold the ceremonies wherever one could resonated through this particular class, in part because of the abstract time based natures of the Sabbath, but also because of a Torah scroll the Rabbi brought to class. Little more than a foot and a half tall, it was the smallest Torah scroll I had ever seen. Rabbi’s cousin had bought it at a flea market in Japan of all places, and had spent thousands having it restored. It was a pretty special thing. From analyzing the way the scribe had formed the letters, they had been able to discern that the Torah had originated somewhere in Eastern Europe about a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago, and that the scribe was either from, or had been trained by someone who was from, Czechoslovakia. Yeah, apparently they can track it down to that level of detail. Amazing. It was a beautiful object and an important thing, I felt honored to be able to be so close to it.

As I stood there in class, staring at this Torah Scroll and trying to imagine the journey it had taken from East Europe to Japan, I was moved by this religions ability to migrate and protect and create little cathedrals in time all over the world.

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