Much negative press has surrounded the pop star Madonna’s embrace of the Kabbalah, an esoteric Jewish mystical practice dating back to medieval Spain. Prominent scholars of Jewish mysticism claim that as a Christian she has no business studying the Kabbalah, which traditionally is reserved for married Orthodox Jewish men over 40 who have parented at least one male and one female child.
Except for being married and having parented a son and a daughter, Madonna meets none of the other criteria for becoming a Kabbalist. I suggest that it is less because she is a Christian than it is because she is a woman that Madonna’s Kabbalah is being pilloried.
Interestingly, all the scholars interviewed on the subject have been men. Rabbis, mostly. This is not to say that there aren’t any female scholars or rabbis who practice and teach the Kabbalah, but their opinions about this important spiritual phenomenon have been largely ignored by the media. Indeed, I suspect that this is part of a general religious backlash against the women’s movement, as evidenced most recently by the pope’s denunciation of feminism as a “heresy” and the reelection of a Christian fundamentalist to the US presidency.
Given the enormous surge of interest in women’s spirituality, one can hardly be surprised that male religious leaders are bristling at the scriptural interpretations of feminist theologians, not to mention more widely read pop culture icons like Dan Brown, whose bestselling novel, “The DaVinci Code,” has generated global fascination with an ancient form of goddess worship purportedly banished from mainstream Judaism and Christianity.
In this context, Madonna’s Kabbalah is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a widespread trend in the feminist revitalizing of Western religion.
Put another way, one could say that Madonna has injected an obscure, ailing form of patriarchal Jewish mysticism with a much needed dose of woman’s chutzpah. Why is this so threatening to the religious establishment? Could it be because Madonna celebrates her sexuality and the pleasure of her body so openly? Or that, like the prophetess Miriam and her band of Israelite women, Madonna worships so joyfully, with song and dance rather than with weeping? Or could it be that Madonna is challenging the Kabbalists’ patriarchal image of the ideal woman as chaste, humble, and modest?
Although Jewish mystics agree that the feminine “Shekhinah” provides the major entry to the experience of God, the Kabbalah has been closed to women for so long that many of today’s Jewish feminists are abandoning the teachings of their male forebears and adapting traditional mystical practices in radical new ways for women. Role-breaker Aviva Cantor, for example, resurrects the legendary Lilith, Adam’s first wife, banished by Yahweh from Eden for refusing to assume the missionary position in sex. Perhaps even more shocking than her demand for sexual equality, is the modern Lilith’s invasion of sacred spaces that for centuries have been closed to “unclean women.”
The practice of Kabbalah is especially problematic for men because it regards the Torah as the embodied “Shekhinah,” the female aspect of the male Yahweh, and Kabbalistic meditations are dedicated to uniting the divine couple. Reenacting the ancient sacred marriage of the goddess and her consort, male Kabbalists visualize the sacred Hebrew letters of the Torah in the form of a mating couple when making love to their wives. Yet, while human female partners are indispensable to this practice of “cleaving to God,” these meditations have never been open to women for fear they might reassert Lilith’s confident demand “to be on top.”
Clearly, Kabbalists like Madonna are changing all that.
By Perle Besserman
source : madonnanation/boston.com