An exploration of Jewish theology, ritual and observance from a magickal point of view, Seeking Starlight makes Jewitchery and its concepts (ancient and modern) relatable to a Neo-Pagan audience.

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Building Fences

Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors.” In Judaism, the Rabbis have spent centuries building solid fences: around people, around communities, but mostly, around the Law (Halakkah). When Jews talk about “fencing the law,” we are speaking about a set of stringencies that are applied to Jewish observance, in order to ensure that obedience to Halakkah is maintained. So, where the Torah says “do not eat a kid boiled in its mother’s milk,” the Rabbis say “mix no meat and milk together.” By building the fence wider than necessary (ANY meat with ANY milk) they ensure that the command itself (a young goat’s meat in its mothers milk) is not inadvertently violated. “What on earth does this have to do with ME?” asks my dear Pagan reader. It relate to you because I’d like to use this initial article not only to introduce you to Seeking Starlight, but also to build a couple of fences.

These fences will lay out the parameters of what *I* mean when I talk about Jewitchery. Like nearly every strain of both modern Paganism *and* Judaism, there will be those whose own philosophies vary somewhat from mine. That’s totally fine. Neither religious community claims to have answers, and both pride themselves on being full of questions. I look forward to a lively conversation within the comments section of each post. I can only speak to what Jewitchery is for me; and that is what I hope to do with each of the “fences” I’ll be building within this post. It is my hope that by laying out the parameters of what this column is (and is not) about, we can establish the common boundaries that will help us learn and grow together, as good neighbors.

Fence #1: Jewitchery is not Paganism.

Yes, I realize that the name of this site is “Witches and Pagans.” And yes, I realize that there are many people of Jewish ethnicity and/or upbringing who now identify as Pagan. But  Jewitchery, as a distinct magickal practice, is NOT a Pagan tradition. Jewitches are practicing Jews who bring the rituals of the ancient Hebrews, the cosmology of medieval Jews, and into their observance of modern Judaism. Jewitches are (to one degree or another) observant Jews- we kindle Shabbos candles, keep kosher, and dress with tznius (modesty) in mind. And the touchstone of Jewish observance is the understanding that “Adonai echad”- G-d is One. Jewitches are monotheistic….albeit it in a form that can look a lot like panentheism. We may work with varying names and aspects of G-d, but we never confuse names with numbers. Jewitches do not invoke Pagan deities in our work, and with rare exceptions, we will not mix traditions- writing a spell that uses Babylonian symbolism and Hebrew verbiage, for example. Jewitchery can be considered lower-case pagan, in that we share some practices (spellwork) and theological concepts (the male and female nature of deity) that are common throughout the magickal community; but we are not, and cannot be, Pagan.

Fence #2: Jewitchery is not a solitary practice

Everything about Jewish ritual observance (and by extension Jewitch practice) is focused around communal practice. Certain prayers, such as the Mourner’s Kaddish for example, cannot be recited outside the presence of a minyan (a group of ten other Jews). The same is true for chanting Torah- it can only occur in a communal setting. At home, where most holidays and rituals (both Jew-ish and Jew-itch) are celebrated, the festivities occur at mealtimes in the presence of friends and family. From the most basic Yarhzeit candle to the most elaborate Passover seder, the family table has been called “the little altar” by Rabbis for hundreds of years.  Unlike Wicca, the Solitary practitioner is an anomaly in Jewitchery and the idea of practicing in isolation from ones community is a foreign concept that should only occur in the absence of any other option.  Taking this notion of community a step further, Jewitch practice, like Jewish prayer, is never focused on the needs of just one person. Jewitchery acts in the plural. Prayers are recited “for myself and for all Your people Israel.” Rituals are conducted in such a way as to recognize that whatever the individual Jewitch may be in need of (healing, strength, financial security), there are always others in the world who share our deficit…and we act and pray accordingly.

Fence #3: Jewitchery assumes

an external locus of control

 

In the same way that all prayers and intercessions will end with “and for all Your people Israel,” they will begin with “Let it be according to Your will.” Within modern Paganism, there is a school of thought that believes that magick works by harnessing the power of the individual, and that the human will, properly directed, can manifest tangible changes in the world. Jewitchery has a slightly modified stance. Jewitches understand that everything within creation contains neshama- the spark of Divinity that G-d breathed into the world at creation. The neshama (which can be translated as both “soul” and “breath”) can be directed through the correct application of prayer and ritual practices. Jewish magick channels the neshama of the Jewitch to influence the divine energy that is present within all of creation, but we recognize that we are creations- not creators. Much in the same way that a musician plays a violin, we can bring forth a wondrous variety of energetic “melodies.” But our song can be changed, or even silenced, by the will of the orchestra conductor, G-d. Even as we end a prayer or ritual by affirming our belief that the work of one person can impact the lives of thousands…we start by acknowledging the inherent limitations of our humanity.

Fence #4: Jewitchery is not an inclusive practice

Let’s face it folks, cultural appropriation is alive and well within the Pagan community. This is a touchy subject, and one I was reluctant to write about at first; but ultimately I decided that it was best to rip the Band-Aid off quickly. Jewitchery is, first and foremost, a form of Judaism. To be sure, it’s an esoteric form. It may even be one that some Jews would reject. But those who identify as Jewitches (as opposed to simply “Witches”) do so because that first syllable is integral to their spiritual practice. They understand that at its core, Judaism is a tribal religion, and that tribal identity matters. This means that, much in the same way someone can’t just throw on a feathered headdress and declare themselves to be an Native American shaman, or a strand of beads and claim to be a priest of Santeria, one can’t simple put on a magen david (shield of David) necklace and identify as a Jewitch. Throughout this blog, you will learn a LOT about the practice of Jewitchery today. But unless (or until) you are a Jew (either by decent or consent)- it would be inappropriate to adopt these practices for yourself. Let me be clear: Jews do not evangelize, and we do not proselytize. My intention is NOT to try and “convert” you to a new religion. I am simply fencing in an important part of Jewitchery and asking you to honor what you’ll learn here enough to approach the information respectfully, without appropriation. If you find that what I write speaks to your soul, even though you were not born a Jew, then I would encourage you to learn more about traditional Judaism, and to do the work necessary to be welcomed as a member of the Jewish tribe BEFORE you take on the work of a Jewitch.

These are the fences I’m building- around this blog and around my own personal practice as a Jew and as a Witch. I have no doubt that over the coming months, additional fences (my own and those of my neighbors) as our learning dialogue unfolds. In the coming weeks I’ll begin discussing some of the basic concepts of Jewitchery; laying out some vocabulary and offering up my thoughts on the myriad simple rituals that are woven throughout Jewish life in order to make every day a journey of magickal awareness and divine reverence. And yes, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the upcoming Jewish horror movie and it’s the story it’s supposedly based on. I hope you’ll join me. I look forward to learning from and with you all.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Stefani Barner, author of the award winning book Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military, has been an active member of the Neo-Pagan community for nearly twenty years. A self-described “Jewitch,” she studied Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft and Santeria before returning to her home within the Reform Jewish community. Stefani is a military wife, mother of a transplant recipient, and crisis intervention specialist who spends each day trying to do her part in tikkun olam, the repair of the world.

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Comments

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Saturday, 28 July 2012

    Excellent introductory post. I am definitely looking forward to learning more about Jewitchery. :)

    So, one that note, a point of clarifiation: you state that Jewitches are monotheists, almost to the point of being panentheists. In the theology of Jewitches, does monotheism mean "rejects the existence of any Deity aside from G-d" or is it more like henotheism, meaning "acknowledges the existence (or potential existence) of other Deities, but we choose to honor only the ancestral, tribal G-d of the Jews"?

    Welcome to PaganSquare! :)

  • Stefani Barner
    Stefani Barner Sunday, 29 July 2012

    What a great question, Rebecca! Jewitchery, like ancient Judaism, would probably be most similar to henotheism. The Torah acknowledges the existence of other deities; it simply teaches that the G-d of the Hebrews is to be the only deity they worship. That said, there are modern liberal Jews (and Jewitches) who would make the argument that since G-d contains all that exists, then all other deities are, in some way, a part of "Adonai Echad."

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