Arts & Culture

When Mystery Transcends Mythology

The opening scene of The Golem, a silent German film, features a rabbi, wearing a conical wizard’s hat, looking through a telescope.  He sees a dangerous configuration of the stars and predicts bad times for the Jewish people.  Based on … Read More

By / September 11, 2008

The opening scene of The Golem, a silent German film, features a rabbi, wearing a conical wizard’s hat, looking through a telescope.  He sees a dangerous configuration of the stars and predicts bad times for the Jewish people.  Based on his astrological findings, he decides to go and create the Golem, a kind of robot similar to The Hulk who will protect the Jews.

As I watched this movie, it hit me that much of the mysticism and the mythology have been drained from modern Judaism.  This is the rich texture, the essence that keeps religions alive and deep with meaning.  Raised as a reform Jew, I still have no idea as to where this form of Judaism stands on an afterlife or what happens after you die.  Do you go to heaven?  My understanding is that heaven is a Christian concept.  Do you become a spirit, do you become a cat, does God welcome you?  I profess to be ignorant on all aspects of Jewish theology due to my upbringing in the reform movement.  Perhaps this is why the largest number of American Buddhists are Jews who are seeking a more metaphysical approach to life.

My attraction to the more mystical aspects of Judaism and in fact, all religions, emanates from my father, a Polish immigrant who as a kid in the 20s, read books on Christian Science, Buddhism, Hinduism, magic and Judaism.

When he came to this country, they branded him "Smith" and our history was erased.  With that he became an American Jew, frequenting the synagogue on high holiday days with family gatherings for Passover. 

Then one day, everything changed.  He discovered that he possessed extraordinary psychic powers and could talk to the dead and heal the sick.  Again, from my limited knowledge of Jewish theology, there are no guidelines or precedents for this.  The rabbi at our synagogue had no interest in my father’s new found powers.  My father began to cobble together a philosophical structure to support his strange abilities wherever he could find it.  In short order he became a pan-theologist creating a stew of various concepts from every religion.

It is without question that my father was working with unseen powers that he attributed to coming from God.  I don’t think he was wrong as I witnessed daily miraculous healings of people who had been given up for dead by the medical profession.  Over the years, he healed thousands of people from every conceivable type of ailment.  And yet, he could not find confirmation or guidance from any of the rabbis he approached.

Just like life itself, religion and human experience are much broader, more complicated and mysterious than what we hear from our sermons and what we read in our prayer books.  The inexplicable should not be shunned but embraced as it reminds us of our own miraculous being and our unlimited spiritual potential.

Philip Smith, author of Walking Through Walls, is guest blogging for Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.