The entire 2012 — This year of my mother’s ‘passing’ I haven’t written a word here, as you can see. But we have met each month, and that has been a blessing. Our Study Group is soon to celebrate its 18th year: חי —a magical year, signifying life. May it be so. There’s been way too much of passing. We studied Freud. Moses and Monotheism. I found it terribly 19th century. The others were much more charitable. We went back to Zohar, all too briefly. Ovid suggested Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus Trilogy—but I’m not ready. And then we studied Pesach, with various haggadot. The Study Group spent a session going over my new script for the film I’m working on for the Birth of God Project. Very helpful, indeed! Later, we explored Eviatar Zerubavel’s The Seven Day Circle, on the invention of the week, and how it neither follows nor respects natural cycles. And we are closing the year with a contemplation of shabbat, each of us engaging with quite different sources. We have not yet gotten back to Rosemary Zumwalt’s folklore of Sephardi women, but I can’t wait. I’ll say it again: maybe in the springtime…
January, 2012 — The plan is to return to fundamentals, with Joshua Trachtenberg’s Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion. Turns out I have two copies of this one, if anyone wants to join us. Originally published in 1939, it’s been reprinted a number of times. Looks impressive—from Jewish sorcery to abracadabra, amulets, spirits of the dead, medicine, divination, dreams, the works— Which makes me think, the place to head after that is Rosemary Zumwalt’s wonderful volume on Sephardi women’s magic and folk medicine. Maybe in the springtime…
December, 2011 — Return to the life of the Rebbe, and his shockingly secular aspirations. Engineering, no less! Something as Malkhutian and Pshat as that! And yet, by the time he left Germany and entered university in France in order to be able to study science and engineering, he was already a rabbi. Already married. And married to the Rebbe’s ‘willful’ daughter, and it sounds like it was a brilliant match. Thus it is with Divine will and Cosmic laughter. The would-be engineer transformed Chabad, engineered it, I suppose, into a worldwide network of Chassidut. The more I read about the Rebbe, the more impressed I become. He reminds me so much of my own father that a longing sets in. He just had wider pockets. With more people in them.
November, 2011 — Seems we’re hooked on Reb Schneerson. Ovid introduced the premise of the Schneerson biography, The Rebbe, and it’s exactly the opposite of Wolfson’s book. We’ll focus on this more in December. Instead, we got sidetracked onto Chabad. Easy to do. And on whether Chabad may be becoming a religion of its own. Shocking thought, and curious direction to take. Or, on the other hand, is Chabad really effective at all? Is Chabad creating Chabadniks or it it ‘merely’ opening its doors to those who get lonely on shabbes? Do those who even go to study at Chabad take it seriously in terms of becoming Chabad? Or do they just need a little kabbalah to spark up their lives?
October, 2011 — We had our October gathering in Ovid’s family sukkah, which was formidable. After our lulav and etrog ritual, we got to work on Elliot Wolfson’s new book, Open Secret: Post-Messianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Oh my, oh my. This is a book worth taking along next time you’re stranded someplace really terrible. It will just pluck you up into the ether and you’ll just float away beyond the realm of the physical world. Wolfson enters Schneerson’s kabbalistic cosmology (and takes us there) at the same time as he analyzes what on (or off) earth is going on. We decided that Wolfson is worth another month of study and plan to revisit his latest at our next meeting, which will be in December, given all the conferences and holidays in November. Next meeting, we’ll also be considering other recent books on the Rebbe’s life, influence, and philosophy, as well as examining sections of the Chabad siddur.
September, 2011 — As the high holidays approach, we’ve found the need to look at local options: What kind of experience do we each need for our Rosh HaShanah and our Yom Kippur? And so, before we embark into Wolfson’s Schneerson in October, we spent September looking at the diversity of approaches our region has for community and prayer. The range — from Mizrachi/Sephardi Orthodoxy to Queer to Renewal to Chabad —and everything inbetween— makes the Bay Area both a place of ritual riches, as well as (perhaps) a community of both too many and too few choices. The boys have chosen their ritual places of worship. I, on the other hand, can’t bring myself to choose a congregation. And not for want of trying. Because what I want most of all is Beit Malkhut: a place to study and not a place to pray. Although who is to say that study is not the finest form of prayer itself?
Summer, 2011 — We’ve been focused on Sabbatai Sevi and the Donme movement, using Gershom Sholem’s biography of the proclaimed messiah, as well as chapters out of Sholem’s book on Messianism and messianic movements in Judaism. What struck us the most was Sholem’s claim that Sabbatai Sevi was a precursor to the Enlightenment. The notion that you could (not his words) step out of paradigm from a religious tradition and innovate wildly, according to Sholem, allowed the possibility of heretical and even secular constructions of knowledge. I’m fairly sure that in the Fall we will continue looking at messianism in Judaism, perhaps focusing on more modern movements. There are a number of good articles and new reads on Reb Schneerson, and I’m hoping that’s where we go. One of these that I’d like to propose focusing on is Elliot Wolfson’s Open Secret: Post Messianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Reb Schneerson. See you in September.
April, 2011 — We’re meeting in April instead of March because we’ll all be out of town for conferences and the like in March. A couple of us promised to meet in New York, since we’ll overlap. Time for a pilgrimage to those great bookstores together. So. The other reason to give ourselves more time, is that (finally) we’ll be looking at Shabbatei Sevi — reading Gershom Scholem’s tome. Scholem’s book is just the opposite of February’s Rabow book. Scholem, after all, is a real scholar, whose gone into the archives and has pieced together an authoritative history of the messianic figure who, when faced with the hard choices converted to Islam. A good solid rational decision, in my opinion. And his followers and detractors both had to decide exactly what that might mean. So. April. We’re looking forward to it…
February, 2011 — Exploring 50 Jewish Messiahs: The Untold Life Stories of 50 Jewish Messiahs since Jesus and how they changed Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Worlds — by Jerry Rabow. Ovid came upon this one by accident, but it looks like it will be great fun connecting the dots, so to speak. With any luck, this book will continue the theme that we covered in January: common influences on Jewish and non-Jewish approaches to spirituality. (I’m ordering my book tonight). Okay— we all recommend this book. It’s downright hysterical in a very very tragic sort of way. Read this one not just for the examples you’re familiar with and the ones that you’re not, but also for the patterns and themes that run through each proclamation of the arrival of the mashiah. The waves of desperation that bring about waves of messianism that — and here’s the point — that backfires each and every time, with tragic consequences to the entirety of the Jewish community. Rabow walks a fine line between the storytelling of these fantastic tales, and hitting us hard with why it all matters. As the night wore on we began to consider what maybe could be called the ‘secular’ messiahs, Karl Marx for example — and compelling arguments were given for his inclusion in the pantheon. We decided to continue on the messianic path for next time.
January, 2011 — Ovid will be introducing Idel’s article (which he is translating from the Romanian) on the relationship between kabbalah and Balkan shamanism. If anyone else were writing about this, I’d be less than excited. Although, truth be told, Gershon Winkler did a fine job in Magic of the Ordinary. Idel’s forthcoming book will be on this topic as well. The argument Idel makes is that Turkik shamanic practices in Moldova influenced both the Ba’al Shem Tov and Velicikovski within ten years of each other in the region of the monastery at Neamtz. This in turn influenced Hassidism and Hesychasism, emphasizing the role of prayer and invocation over study and law in both Judaism and Christianity. We’re greatly looking forward to Idel’s book on the topic, although it appears that it may well be another couple years before the research is complete. Curiously, we still have not covered Idel’s Kabbalah and Eros — and worse still, my autographed copy (that the tzaddik got for me when I couldn’t make Idel’s talk on the book because I was teaching that particular night) disappeared the night of our last meeting and two months searching has not uncovered it. Very curious indeed.
December, 2010 — we will be considering Moshe Idel’s Kabbalah and Eros. Well, that was the idea — but we’ve all been overwhelmed with end of the semester/year overload. We’ll be postponing Kabbalah and Eros for the moment until the secular New Year has settled down. which is a good thing, since my book has completely run off somewhere. Todd insists I put it back in the kabbalah bookcase last time we gathered together, but no, it’s not there. I’m pretty sure that it’s run off with another Idel lover. I’ve looked all over Beit Malkhut, and it’s nowhere to be found.
November, 2010 — we focused on the Kaddish — the resulting summary post on Mira’s blog, and this part is true — alternate teachings and letters from beit malkhut — led to the creation of this site and our kaddish in two-part harmony project.
Previous Topics and Schedule — You will not be at all surprised if I choose not to post the topics that we’ve covered over the past fifteen years. Ovid has kept a lot of this on his website — so please check http://mishkan.com/kblgp.html. In addition, see also about beit malkhut for our approach and philosophy — and I promise to get around to including a lot more on pedagogy in that section.