Friday, 14 January 2011

Bake it like a mystic

So far the most practical of books in the Merkavah genre that I have read as part of the Project: Understanding the Merkavah User Manual in 2000 pages or less is the book by Rebecca Macy Lesses titled: Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism.

In Chapter 3 the author describes Ascetic Preparations for Hekhalot Adjurations. The sub-headings of the chapter give you a bit of insight in to what these preparations involve:
  1. Introduction pp.117
  2. Avoidance of Seminal Emissions and Sexual Activity pp. 119
  3. Avoidance of Women pp.134
  4. Food Restrictions pp. 144
  5. Immersions pp.155
  6. Length of Time pp.156
  7. Conclusions pp.158
Here is an extract from pp.144-145:
“…Most of the Hekhalot adjurations require some kind o fasting prior to performing the adjuration. The requisite period of fasting ranges from one to eighty days. Generally speaking, the texts do not require complete abstinence from food (except for a one-day fast). Instead, the practice seems to be that the adept should eat nothing during the day, and only bread and water in the evening. The texts prohibit a number of specific foods, most commonly meat, wine, and “any kind of vegetable”. The instructions for the man who finds the “book of names” add several other forbidden foods: fish, strong drink (in addition to wine), onions, and garlic. The texts also call for the avoidance of “loathsome things” (food that is defiled in some unspecified way). The Sefer ha-Razim adjurations also prohibit wine and meat, as well as fish. Some Greco-Egyptian rituals insist upon abstention from meat and wine, but otherwise do not include the same food prohibitions as the Hekhalot adjurations. There is no restriction of food to bread and water in the Greco-Egyptian ritual texts, and no prohibition on vegetables…”
So as you can see, not a very fun diet being a mystic. From what I have read so far it appears that this abstention from certain foods and fasting was only done for a specific period rather than as a way of life. Nothing of what I’ve read so far indicates that the writers of the Hekhalot held Gnostic ideas of the evilness of the body that would promote a long term ascetic lifestyle.

Anyway, let’s look at another quote from the book and then I’ll share with you the results of my bread making mini-project. In the book Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism pp.115 in reference to the “The Book of Power Names” (345) it states:

“…This man must also accept various dietary restrictions, most notably avoiding food and drink prepared by a woman:
He should not eat bread (baked) by a woman. He should not drink water (poured) by a woman. Rather, he should knead (the dough) with his own hands, and should grind with his own hands, and he should bake one loaf each day and eat it. He should not eat meat, and he should not eat any kind of fish, and he should not drink wine or strong drink. He should not eat onions, garlic or garden vegetables…”
Reading all this information about making one’s own bread reminded me that I’d been taught at school when I was 14 or so to bake my own bread. Since then many, many years have passed and I’ve not made any bread until last week. Inspired by the material above I wanted to prove to myself that I could bake bread. Here is the results:

The recipe for making this bread is taken from “The Essential SEED Cook Book… Recipes from many kitchens” pp.192, recipe by Ayalla Grunfeld. Please note that I used only half the ingredients listed below.

1.5 kg of strong white flour
2 oz yeast
1Tbsp sugar plus 5.5oz
2Tbsp salt
5 fl oz oil
2 eggs (plus one beaten egg)
1 cup plus 18 oz warm water

Challah Recipe – Method:
Place the flour in a bowl and make a “well” in the centre.
Crush the yeast, place in the well, add I tbsp sugar onto yeast and pour 1 cup of lukewarm water on top, wait approximately 10 minutes for the yeast to bubble.
Mix lightly with a spoon.
Add eggs, oil, salt, rest of sugar and 18 oz warm water, briefly mix with spoon.
Add the rest of the warm water and knead very well, cover with a towel and leave to rise for 2 hours.
Take challah without a bracha.
Divide the dough into 4-5 portions and plait to make large challah – split in to 8 potions to make small challahs.
Paint with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.
Leave to ris for half an hour.
Bake on 180 degrees C till golden brown.