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The Yitzhak Luria Heresy Experiment

This month (October 2005), Rabbi Rafael Cohen condemned Madonna for singing a song containing a reference to the name of 16th Century Kabbalah scholar Yitzhak Luria.

Rabbi Cohen proclaimed, “Jewish law forbids the use of the name of the holy rabbi for profit. Her act is just simply unacceptable and I can only sympathize for her because of the punishment that she is going to receive from the heavens.”

Of course, anybody has the right to tell anyone that she or he doesn’t LIKE what Madonna’s done, and I support that right. I also support the freedom of people to practice whatever religion they choose, so long as they don’t hurt anybody else in the practice of that religion. You want to believe the tale Rabbi Cohen’s spinning? Fine, go ahead. Do you expect me to buy his line? That’s a wholly different ball of wax.

The thing is, others’ freedom of religion doesn’t preclude my freedom of speech, which includes the right to call other people’s religious beliefs silly. Oh, don’t be shocked. Put away the offended face. Let’s admit it: beneath the veneer of loveyness, Sikhs think Christianity is silly, Christians think Hinduism is silly, Hindus think Islam is silly, and Muslims think followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are silly. That’s what most world religions are about: taking what you believe very seriously and regarding what others believe as silly. And yes, I think Rabbi Cohen has said a very silly thing. A person will receive punishment from the heavens for using someone’s name in pursuit of profit? Silly, silly, silly. Come now, Rabbi Cohen; we both know this claim’s a fiction, a fanciful bit of theater made up as part of a broader effort to make sense of things. Don’t we?

In our culture, calling someone’s religious fiction a religious fiction, calling it made up… well, them’s fighting words! Usually, this would devolve into a he-said, he-said battle: Silly! Not silly! Silly! Not silly! Oh, the offense! Oh, the drama! But what’s interesting to me in this case is that the silliness of Rabbi Cohen’s claim is empirically testable. If it’s true that a person will receive punishment from the heavens for using the name of Yitzhak Luria for profit, then one should be able to observe a person’s life falling apart as a result of the act.

I offer myself up as a test case. I’ve opened a shop on the web selling items with the name of Yitzhak Luria on it. I hereby declare that I intend to make a profit from selling them thar items.

There: I’ve satisfied the conditions. And now, I’m waiting for the heavenly punishment. Check back here regularly as I let you know how the retribution’s going. Lightning strikes? Meteorites through the roof? Lumbago acting up? Eczema? Check back here. I promise to keep you posted.

If I get that promised retribution, then I’ve got nothing to complain about; it’s all my fault.

If that retribution doesn’t come…

14 comments to The Yitzhak Luria Heresy Experiment

  • Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, was once asked, “How do you define mythology?”

    “Other people’s religion,” he answered.

  • This sort of experiment works just fine until god beams a message into the brain of one of his worshipers that it’s a good idea to kill blaspheming infidels.

    I may have to get one of those “I mocked Yitzhak” mini-buttons, though. You’ve already given me way more than $1.75 worth of enjoyment.

  • Mike

    Personally, I believe that, if there is a God, He has better things to do with His time than zap Madonna for using some long-dead Rabbi’s name in a song…although I find the idea of Madonna getting zapped with a lightning bolt a rather pleasant thought…

  • Jim

    6:36 pm. About 19 hours since I began the Yitzhak Luria heresy experiment. Had a bit of a headache at 5:30 pm, resolved with ibuprofen. Good night’s sleep. Daughter displays no diaper rash, and son did well in the swimming pool at the downtown Y. Contractor came out at 2:00 pm to evaluate cracks in the walls and ceilings of our house, and says that we don’t need to have any major work done on it right now, since the cracks appear to just be cosmetic in nature, typical for an old house.

    Daughter and son both ate all their food at dinner, 6:00 pm.

    No punishment from the heavens yet!

  • Junga

    Wait a minute. I think I’m coming down with pneumonia. Can I have the punishment of the heavens come down on me because of your sin? Like if the heavens’ sin tracking system is a bit off?

  • Sarge

    That Madonna, she really goes for it. Didn’t she get in trouble in Australia some ttime back over playing a didgerie doo (pardon spelling)? I think the aboriginies were somewhat exercised over the fact that it’s taboo for a woman to play one.

  • Jim

    10:08 AM. Nice night’s sleep last night. Neither of the kids woke up in the wee hours. Granola this morning was crisp, not stale. Just went upstairs to the departmental kitchen to pour a cup of coffee, and someone had just prepared a pot minutes before. I got the first cup of a fresh batch. Mmmmmmm.

    Oh, yes: I biked in 5 miles to work today in a nice cool (60 degree) mist that kept me from getting all sweaty, but that didn’t turn into a rain of any sort. Didn’t get hit by a car. Didn’t bust a tire.

    I don’t think today qualifies as punishment from the heavens. Still waiting for it!

  • HareTrinity

    Never seems to occur to the fundies that maybe we’re not seeing so much of the gods (of any religion) these days because they’ve decided we can work things out by ourselves, and this is the right direction they’re leaving us to.

    Personally, were I an omnipotent being, I would be pretty pissed off at how anything I say will get twisted around to mean something cruel (and to mean just about anything, but the cruel side tend to be louder).

  • Anonymous

    I happen to practice a religion that thinks no religions are silly except inasmuch as they think other religions are silly … have fun unpacking that one. From that persepective, you would have to check in with Luria himself to sense what “punishment’ might consist of for someone who is his avowed believer. Which you’re not. And are making way less $$$ than Madonna, no doubt. Anyway, it seems in his terms it would be an inside job. So forget the meteorites and excema. If Madonna is punished a la Luria, you’ll never know. She may not even know.

  • Jim

    Update: I’m still doin’ just fine…

  • [...] Hey, ho. Regular readers of Irregular Times will know that eleven days ago, I questioned the veracity of claims that those who use the semi-divine name of Yitzhak Luria for profit will receive punishment from the heavens. Questioned, nothing; I offered myself up as a test case, opening up a shop selling items with the name of Yitzhak Luria on it, then declaring that I intended to make a profit from selling those items. [...]

  • [...] Good afternoon, fellow travellers along Sacrilege Lane. If you were following the news two months ago, you’ll probably remember that a bunch of Kabbalah adherents rained condemnation down on Madonna for her latest song because she used the name Yitzhak Luria in it. According to these bold religious prognosticators, those who use the semi-divine name of Yitzhak Luria for profit will receive punishment from the heavens. They expressed sorrow that poor Madonna would be the recipient of Heavenly woe in retribution for her sin. [...]

  • [...] October of 2005, Rabbi Rafael Cohen condemned Madonna for singing a song containing a reference to the name of 16th Century Kabbalah scholar Yitzhak [...]

  • [...] years before that, in October of 2005, Rabbi Rafael Cohen condemned the pop singer Madonna for singing a song that contained the name “Yitzhak [...]

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