Tag Archives: Judaism

The Kabbala and the mystical City of Safed

 

Safed -Kabbalist drawing

Safed -Kabbalist drawing

The “Kabbalah” is a familiar name, whose meaning is not always understood. It is a speculative tradition, dealing with the mysteries of God and Creation.

The Kabbalah is an interpretation of the five books of the Bible, (“Torah” in Hebrew), namely Law, or Teaching, and which make up the Pentateuch, in particular from the text of the “Vision of Ezechiel”.

It is a tradition of Judaism that appears from the time of the Second Temple. It it is based on the Revelation. A gift concerning the Nature of man, his origin and his future, this covenant is created by God and the people of Israel, chosen by Him.

Kabbalists associate word and alphabet. The 22 letters of the alphabet were engraved by and in the divine breath.

The city of Tsfat, also called Safed, is located on Mount Canaan at over 900 meters above sea level, and is the city of Kabbalah. It is one of the four Holy Cities of Israel, together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias.

In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella banned the practice of all religions other than Christianity, whereupon many Kabbalists and their followers fled to Safed.

It became a city renowned for its synagogues, with the names of Kabbalah scholars, some of whom lived in Safed. For example, Rabbi Isaac Louria, the Ari, who settled here in the 16th century. He developed a method how to study the Kabbalah, which is followed even today by all Kabbalists. His pupil Rabbi Joseph Karo wrote the book ” Choulhan Arouh ”, where the laws of Judaism are summarized by subject. Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz wrote the famous song with which the Shabbat begins: Leha Dodi.

To visit the Rabbi Abuhav’s Blue Synagogue is a delight. It is adorned with many symbols.

Inside a holy arch stands a sixteenth century Bible, which is taken out and read only on Yom Kippur, Shavuot and the Rosh Hashanah Holidays. The legend says, that if a person ignores this message, a misfortune will befall him within in the year.

The first letters of the three words: Kippur, Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah mean “Kasher” (kosher). It is also said, that in another holy arch, during the Ottoman period, the “Koran” was kept, a ploy that would have saved the synagogue from muslim attacks in times of tension ….

In this holy city, the mystical atmosphere is intertwined with many legends. Visitors enjoy the narrow passage in its alleys, surrounded by numerous colourful galleries of artists.

It is said that, when the Messiah will come from Meron, He will enter the Old City of Safed by “the path of the Messiah”, which has remained untouched until today.

Legend has it that the clean air of Safed allows a longevity of up to 120 years!

 

 

Safed - Abuhav street synagogue

Safed – Abuhav street synagogue

 

 

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Berenice – the ”Little Cleopatra”

Berenice was born in Rome to Agrippa and Cyprus before Agrippa became king in 36 C.E.  She bore the Roman name of Julia.

She was Herods’ great-great-granddaughter and only thirteen years of age at the time she married Marcus, the son of Alexander, Head of the Jewish Community in Alexandria, and nephew of Philo the philosopher.

With the death of Marcus in 44 C.E, Berenice became a widow at only sixteen. She then married Herod -her father’s oldest brother- and became Queen of Chalcis, a tiny principality in the Lebanon Mountains. She would retain this title even after her husband’s death.

Berenice had two sons by Herod: Hyrcanus and Berenicianus. She was widowed for a second time in 48 C.E, being only twenty years of age.

After Herod’s death, the Kingdom of Chalcis was given to Berenice’s older brother, Agrippa II. Together with his brother and sister, he moved into the new Kingdom’s Residence into close quarters.

Many sources indicate that Agrippa II and Berenice were often found together in official capacities. They would appear in public together, as when Agrippa gave his peace address to the people of Jerusalem just before the outbreak of the revolt against Rome.

The New Testament mentions Berenice’s presence with her brother at Paul’s trial, and in rabbinic literature, she is mentioned as the Queen alongside her brother, the King. In two sources this constant companionship is interpreted as incest.

Josephus claimed that rumors of the siblings’ inappropriate relationship led Berenice to seek a third match.She decided to marry Polemo, King of Cilicia, who had to be circumcised and undertake a Jewish lifestyle. However, this was not a successful marriage. She, later on, left Polemo and returned to her kingdom.

Berenice was present in Palestine during the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against the Romans between 66–70 C.E.  Josephus Flavius described her as a solitary peacemaker, using all her strength in that difficult period of the preliminaries of the revolt. She had made a vow to be in Jerusalem at that time.As required by the vow, her hair was shorn and she walked barefoot.

She made her way to the Roman governor’s palace to ask Gessius Florus and demanded to desist from the violent activities he had undertaken against the Jewish population of Jerusalem. But her efforts were to no avail.

She finally joint venture with her brother to still the Jewish insurrection.

It was during this time that Berenice met Titus and fell in love. He was eleven years her junior.

After the revolt, Titus returned to Rome to assist his father in the government, while Berenice stayed behind in Judea.They would be reunited after four years when she and Agrippa came to Rome in 75.

She lived with Titus at the palace and reportedly acted as his wife in every aspect. This was the time she was at the height of her power and quite influential during this period.

However, being under public pressure, Titus had to restore his reputation for his people and sent her away. When he became Emperor in 79, Berenice returned to Rome but she was not welcome anymore. Titus died two years later.

Berenice was to be remembered as a ”little Cleopatra” in her aspiration to become the Empress of Rome.

 

Berenice the ''Little Cleopatra''

Berenice the ”Little Cleopatra”

A Jewish Queen Helene of Adiabene

 

Sarcophagus of Helen of Adiabene - Israel Museum Jerusalem

Sarcophagus of Helen of Adiabene – Israel Museum Jerusalem

A few years ago, to my surprise, I was told that the sarcophagus of Queen Helen of Adiabene, which was in the Louvre Museum, would be lent for a few months by France to be exhibited at the Israel Museum.

She was the queen of a country called Adiabiene, which corresponds to the Kurdish territories of today. According to Flavius Joseph, Ananias converted her towards the year 30 AD before he became a high priest.

Known for her generosity and being a benefactress for the poor of Jerusalem, she brought constant support to the Jewish people of Judea and Galilee.

During a famine, she sent ships to Alexandria in order to bring wheat and cereals to the victims.

The Talmud tells us that she followed the Jewish laws rigorously and that she made numerous gifts to the Temple of Jerusalem, including a golden candlestick for its door.

Helen died in her territory of Adiabene in the year 56-58.

Her body was brought back to Jerusalem and buried in the pyramidal tomb she had built during her life time, north of Jerusalem.

During an excavation in 1863, the French archaeologist Félicien de Saulcy discovered a large limestone tomb near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. He was convinced that it was the tomb of the great kings of the Bible David and Solomon, which explains the name “Tomb of the Kings”,  but it turned out to be of Queen Helen.

This tomb was transferred to the Louvre in full agreement with the Ottoman archaeological authorities at the time.

This venerated Queen will remain forever engraved in the memory of the Jewish people.

 

Helene d'Adiabene Palace - Israel Museum Jerusalem

Helene d’Adiabene Palace – Israel Museum Jerusalem

 

The Chagall Stained Glass windows at Ein Karem

Naftali-Marc Chagall

Naftali – Marc Chagall

The Synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Center Hebrew University in West Jerusalem was inaugurated on February 6th, 1962.

It contains the twelve magnificent stained glass windows, created by Marc Chagall.

Marc Chagall donated those windows to the Hadassah Hospital. The only thing he requested was compensation for the cost of materials, the labor specialist Simon Atelier of Reims and expenses relating to the artwork.

When it was decided to request Marc Chagall to paint the stained glass windows, a delegation travelled from Jerusalem to Paris to meet with the famous Jewish French artist. The great violinist Isaac Stern was aboard the same plane and joined the delegation in its cause.

Asher - Marc Chagall

Asher – Marc Chagall

Levy - Marc Chagall

Levy – Marc Chagall

 

 

During the two hours of this remarkable visit, Mrs. Chagall revealed that her husband had always hoped to be approached by the Jewish People one day. The answer of the delegation was:                                                     

 “This is the opportunity to work for posterity and create an unbreakable bond between you and the Jewish people.”    

During the last thirty years of his life, Chagall’s artworks were mainly inspired by the Bible.

Marc chagall photo

Marc Chagall

“I felt while working, that my father and my mother were watching over my shoulder and behind them millions of Jewish people”. 

It took Chagall two years to design, develop and execute the twelve stained glass windows for the Synagogue. They symbolize the twelve sons of Jacob, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel originate.                                                   

Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Gad

                                               Judah, Zebulon, Issachar, Naftali,

                                                                                                              Levy, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin

Naphali, Joseph, Benjamin - Marc Chagall

Naphali, Joseph, Benjamin – Marc Chagall

How can one not be carried away by these vibrant colors of red, green, yellow and blue, and the animals, flowers and trees? As required by Jewish tradition, there is no human figure but only biblical symbols like :

                                                  The Torah              Star of David                    The Menorah

                                          Hebrew letters          The Horn of ram      The Protective Hands

Judah, Zebulon, Issachar - Marc Chagall

Judah, Zebulon, Issachar – Marc Chagall