Aug 4, 2008

Coffee with Your Torah?

While scanning pages I'd noted while attempting (and failing) to read Constatine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History, I came across an interesting passage that I just felt like sharing because it makes me smile. For those of you unaware, I started reading this book many moons ago and have renewed it repeatedly. The 175 pages remaining never got read, and I essentially threw up my hands in protest at the behemoth size of the text and its almost unreadability because of the way the book is -- the entire book (text, notes, index, etc.) is nearly 800 pages, all in one big hardcover binding. It's just inconceivable to read unless you're planning on sitting down at a table consistently becuase it's such a clunker. At any rate, enough kvetching. Essentially I had dozens of pages noted with various comments, and wanted to keep those in case I pick it up again, hence the scanning.

In a chapter (37) on the religious response of Jews to the implementation of the Roman ghetto, the author, James Carroll, speaks about the lively religious community within the ghetto walls. Carroll says, "If the Christian world had cut them off, the Jews would turn their separation into a religious value" (387). The passage goes on to talk about what Jews did in order to sort of religiously rebel against the forces keeping them down, and it is the following that gives me a grin:

If Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto at night, then night would become not only the time for study and prayer, but an image of G-d's own darkness. (Jews in the ghetto, in the seventeenth century, drank newly imported coffee as a way of staying awake.). 
The item in parens is footnoted to a text by Kenneth R. Stow, "Sanctity and the Construction of Space: The Roman Ghetto as Sacred Space," in which, in reference to coffee, he says, "First, one stimulated his body with this miraculous new beverage, and then he stimulated his soul by ritual devotion."

Isn't that outstanding? Maybe I'm easily amused, or maybe I'm just an academic, but it's morsels like this that fascinate me.

(Of course, it's completely unrelated, but two pages later the author mentions Shabbetai Zvi and the Baal Shem Tov essentially in the same breath, which is valid discussion for an entirely different blog post. Needless to say, I had a written note with this aformentioned paragraph that read: "places Shabbetai Zvi in same breath as Baal Shem Tov -- implying falseness??")


Anonymous said...

That book is a behemoth! I have started it several times too and not finished it. I pride myself on finishing books I start too. I'll finish it someday.

That is a great tidbit which I clearly missed or never got to when reading it. I know I have a lot more kavanah when davening after having coffee.

Rachel said...

Hm, I didn't realize it was an act of rebellion. I actually read that they stayed up at night in the ghettos because of how the newly widespread study of Kabbalah lead many Jews to begin reciting Tikkut Khatzot.

But I also found the whole coffee bit funny when I first came across it. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi there - I've been dipping in and out of your blog and was reading only yesterday about your fun with the physical size of it - and that was severla months ago!

On the coffee front, I love the anecdote. There are a lot of things recently where my partner has said to me that this just proves that I was always meant to be Jewish!!!!! Coffee drinking is one of them.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Rachel No. 1: I didn't mean to imply that it was a rebellion against the church or the state, more, it was sort of a quiet rebellion of "So this is how it is going to be? Well then we shall thrive." If that makes sense.

Gavriel: Me, too! Someday, yes someday I'll pick it back up and start where I left off and hopefully my notes will offer me a bit of memory on the text.

Rachel No. 2: Ha! I have blogged about that darn book several times. I, too, am big on the coffee drinking. I feel connected with those before me as I hunch over my Torah or literature to study, a warm cup of coffee to my right :)

Anonymous said...

It is widely known amongst edJEWcated Torah observant Jews (Orthodox) that studying Torah at night is more effective then during the day. This is something which has been practiced since the days of Har Sinai. Many Orthodox Hasidos will rise at midnight and lament over the loss of the Temple. "I will rise up at midnight to give thanks to You for Your righteous judgments." Tehillim 119

On a side note there is an interesting minhag which separates the sephardi from ashkenazi. On nittel nacht Ashekenazi do NOT study Torah until after midnight (JST not GOYISH SOLAR) because there was so much evil that came into the world when yuske was born. The sesphardim believe the opposite, that because such evil was born and a residue remains in the world that during the evening they should study even more fervently. Here is a link to ashkenazi yeshiva on nittel nacht, you will see the kinderlachen pass time with playing chess instead of Torah.

For future you may want to pickup books written by gedolim and poskim rather then secular/reform yidden who arent as edjewcated. True many reform are more educate secularly but the Rabbonim have dedicated their lives to studying Torah and history of yiddishkeit. I dont think reform understand that Orthodox yidden study literally every waking second, many dont eat for days because eating is only a distraction. Going to kollel you study 12-15 hours a day NO EXCEPTIONS... I could give you some recommendations if interested. And if I come/came across condescending it wasnt my intention. Just factual and direct was my approach.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Torah Jew: Thanks for the comments! You didn't come across as condescending at all, no worries. I guess I probably don't fall into edJEWcated folks at the moment, but I do find that my best studying and paper-writing has always happened at night :)

I'm in the know about Nitl Nacht, and I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about it back in December 2006, but it turns out I just had an interesting conversation via chat with another Jew about it. I regret not blogging about it and can't figure out why I didn't. It's such an interesting thing, though. However, I thought it was just Chasidim who abstain from study on Nitl Nacht?

Of course, any reading suggestions you want to offer, please do. I'm always looking to broaden my horizons.

Daniel Saunders said...

"places Shabbetai Zvi in same breath as Baal Shem Tov -- implying falseness??"

I don't know the context, but it doesn't seem to necessarily imply falseness to me. I have heard it suggested that the factors that helped early Chassidism thrive also helped Shabbetai Tzvi find support: a large number of poor and oppressed Jews longing for some mystical component to their lives that would help them cope with misery and despair.

Rachel said...

Ah, understood. But, as an aside, not all Jews necessarily viewed the ghetto with that attitude of "So this is how its going to be?" I do believe I read somewhere that various ghettos, such as that of Mantua, even celebrated the anniversary of the day they were enclosed in their respective ghettos.

Anonymous said...

Hey hoodia, great book, but a bohemoth to be sure. It's worth it when you finally finish. Echoing daniel saunders, could you elaborate on shabbatai zvi mentioned in same breah as ball shem tov implying falsness? I don't get the falseness implication.

Cheers thanks a lot,

Anonymous said...

Chaviva, thanks for bloggging.. To answer your question, most of the ashkenazi mishnagdim (orthodox non chassidus) also keep the same minhag as the chassidim concerning nittel nacht. There is a connection between Shabbetai Zvi and the Baal Shem Tov. While they taught different things the mishnagdim gedolim were NOT trusting and very fearful that the Baal Shem Tov was going to create another apikores movement leading Jews astray just as Zvi had. He didn’t of course and if you were to ask any Orthodox today they would tell you they accept Chassidus as a valid form of Torah Judaism. (unlike conservative,reform, reconstructionist,humanistic, renewal, misc… sorry) However, while considered a valid form of Torah Judaism it is still obvious mishnagdim reject the chassidus hashkafa. While there is disagreements in hashkafa there is trust and even respect for one another. Often many Orthodox on business trips with daven at a Chabad when there is no other Orthodox Shul in town. (See Summer Olympics for good example)

In the past there was a lot of distrust of the Chassidim by the mishnagim. This was due mainly to the condemnation of the Gedolim for not criticizing Sabbatai Zvi which caused so many yidden to be lost. Many Rabbis had doubts but they didn’t openly express them. I don’t know if we can fully appreciate the brevity of this but hundreds of thousands of Jews literally sold all their possessions to follow this false messiah only to become Muslims. Even after conversion there were loyal followers who interpreted Zvi’s conversion in a mystical sense. To this day there is a remnant of his followers in Turkey looking for his return. I believe they are called donmeh.

So with that bitter taste fresh in gedolim mouths and definitely on their hearts and minds, they were not about to let this happen again to the Jewish people. As a result some went overboard, not only banning Chassidim but going as far as to ban the study of Kabalah altogether. The Vilna Goan (Who I might add is ironically studied by many Chassidim today) banned the chassidim. A far more reasonable approach which was instituted and is followed by majority today is that studying Kabalah shouldn’t be done unless one is 40years old and with the supervision of a Rabbi. The great Kabalist Posek Rav Kaduri OBM whom died a few years past, living to 106 or 118 years of age(depending on sources), had several hundred thousand Jews at his funeral, and yet he never published any of his teachings because he believed it was too dangerous. As a result only a select few students even have access to his writings. So believe you me the Kablah that Madonna studies isn’t the correct Kabalah. It is about as real and authentic as kosher ham&cheese sandwich.

A good anecdote: There is a famous story in the Talmud where four Rabbis neshamahs leave their bodies and get a glimpse of Gan Eden. When they return one is dead, another goes insane, the third Rabbi starts an apikores movement, and the fourth (Rabbi Akiva) returns unchanged. What is the point to the story? Quite simply that one cannot comprehend the holiest secrets unless they have mastered a full understanding of the basics of the Torah. If one does attempt to learn these secrets too soon they will be lost in one of the three manners mentioned above. Personally I see all three forms thriving today in the world.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Rachel: I think I am still failing to be clear. I meant the "So this is how it's going to be?" as sort of a flippant, okay then! We're down! Indeed, many were happy with the ghetto lifestyle because it allowed all Jews to be near the things they needed -- shul, markets, rabbis, schools, etc. It was convenient, and it's the same reason people today still tend to cluster around their ethnic/cultural groups in neighborhoods. It isn't so much a bad thing either, self-segregation nowadays can be positive. For Orthodox Jews, it's necessary!

Sam, what's with the hoodia? I know you like to call me names, but ... I'll try to elaborate on this in a follow-up post. These comment boxes are so tiny!

Torah Jew: Thank you again for the comments. Your comments on the followers of Shabbetai Zvi are so accurate -- I think most people don't really get how that affected Judaism at the time. Basically anyone else who came forward even remotely "that" enlightened was pretty much seen as the second coming of SZ and thus destruction of what was Jewish.

Anonymous said...

Chavi, I'm not calling you names. "Hoodia" is a term of endearment in Tupi (indigenous language of Brazil, my mother is of Tupi descent). It means something like "comrade." Other derivations are "chudya" and "godya." It's nothing derogatory.


Anonymous said...

"And if I come/came across condescending it wasnt my intention."

Perhaps then you should refrain from comments such as these, which are both condescending and offensive:

"rather then secular/reform yidden who arent as edjewcated."


Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Anonymous. She'll learn the hard way the first time she makes those comments in real time to a real Jew. In the meantime, I find her Jewish minstrel itself to be offensive and cartoonish, but can't help look.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Sam: Thanks for clearing that up. I was thinking of cacti, and assuming you were implying I was prickly. With godya, I was thinking goat, which bothered me. I apologize for my assumption, and thanks for the explanation!

Anon/Amy: Eeep. Sorry Torah Jew got under your skin! But why do you assume Torah Jew is a she? Because you can't be talking about me ... I didn't say anything inflammatory!

David said...

Chavi: I guess great minds think alike (although, as usual, I'm at least a step behind you). I had no idea you'd posted about coffee until I got your comment. Promise!

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