Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jewish Knowledge (13)

Topic: Mourning, Mysticism

Amongst the Jews mourning has always been a specific rite, the ceremonies according to the orthodox ritual being traditional interpretations of incidents related in the Bible in connection with the death of Sarah; the mourning for the supposed loss of Joseph, and Joseph's mourning seven days for his father, Jacob. From the latter came the custom of mourning seven days; from the description of Abraham's mourning, the serving by his friends of the "bread of affliction," dry bread and hard-boiled eggs. The "rending of garments" is also of biblical origin. Many of the customs, sitting on the floor and permitting the hair to grow, are of Oriental origin. Mourning is further divided into the week of mourning, for close relatives, and the observance of general mourning for parents and children for 11 months; 30 days mourning for relatives, in which social amusements are forbidden and other variations.

National mourning was and is to an extent still customary among orthodox Jews. The first eight days of the month of Ab are days of half mourning--when no meat is eaten and no wine drunk. The Ninth of Ab is a day of maximum mourning, being a complete 24 hours fast and formerly worshippers sat in sackcloth on ashes. Other fasts partook of this mourning character. The wearing of black or widow's weeds, the sending of flowers to funerals are not originally Jewish customs. Visiting mourners and offering them consolation, the relief of the poor during "Shiva," and the recital of prayers are ancient Jewish customs.

The ritual of burial and mourning follows a prescribed course still closely adhered to by most Jews and has made its Hebrew terminology probably more familiar than most words. Thus "aron," is the coffin; "avel," the mourner; "I'waya" (literally, procession), funeral: "beth olam" (eternal house) and "beth hayim" (house of life) cemetery; "kavar" (grave); "mes" (corpse). The seven days of mourning "shiva," are ushered in by the offering by friends of "Sudas Havro-oth" (meal of consolation) in conformity with the meal eaten by Abraham after the burial of Sarah. The seven days of mourning involve complete abstinence from labor, but the "Sh'loshim," "thirty" days following the funeral involve certain restrictions upon close relatives, but permit labor, etc. The year of mourning for next of kin calls for the recital of Kaddish, abstinence from amusement, etc. M.A.

Transcendalism amongst Jews has in modern times taken only two forms, the Cabala and Hasidism, but an equally great expression of spiritual illumination was the rise of the Pseudo-Messiah, some of whom were impelled to their way of thinking by study of the Cabala, while others can be more correctly associated with independent mystical attitudes springing from the study of Ezekiel and Daniel. Independent of all these concepts there have been others which have swayed Jews for a time, or have influenced large groups of Jews. Amongst the oldest is the idea of the existence of the River Sambation, impassable six days and gentle on the Sabbath, next perhaps chronological was the Bath Kol, or Daugher of the Voice, the intermediary between the Divine Will, and the human ear. Next comes the efficacy prayer when uttered by saintly persons, then the power granted such miracle workers as Meir Baal ha-Ness and Simeon B. Yohai, though this group is not large, and borders more on the superstitious than on any intellectual mode of thought. Lastly there are those who have faith in the existence of the Lamed Waw saints. Many splendid ideas as to the relations of man to God, and as to the burden of life run through Jewish mysticism, such as, the death of the righteous, when the soul returns to God, is a kiss; suffering is a token of God's love; and the sublimity of life is attained when the soul drinks of the cup of love of God.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge In One Volume, Edited by Jacob De Haas; in collaboration with more than 150 scholars and specialists. Behrman's Jewish Book House New York, 1934.

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