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A case of Jewish Spiritualists


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Spiritualism is well documented in Europe and North America, but very little information is available on Jewish participation. Cora Wilburn (1824-1906) was a writer whose fiction included Spiritualism. Her novel, Cosel­la Wayne, pro­vides descrip­tions of Jew­ish life and rit­u­als as well as the ear­ly days of Spir­i­tu­al­ism, including abo­li­tion­ism and women’s rights. Matilda L. Levy and Regina M. Block were leaders at Jewish Spiritualism centers in New York and London.

One informative document is R. Aaron Mendel Hakohen’s Haneshamah vehakadish written in 1921. His treatise on the soul and the afterlife was written to convince the scientific community that the soul survives death. It includes the story of two Jewish women whom he referred to as “sisters.” The two remained unnamed and were part of the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Cairo. Ashkenazi Jews are an ancient order which began to settle in Egypt from Russia and Romania in the late nineteenth century. They spoke Yiddish and worked as artisans and peddlers. The “sisters” were married to prominent and wealthy members of the Cairo community.

According to Samuel Glauber-Zimra, this unusual account was told to Hakohen directly by the women. He was more concerned with the facts of the events, not the women’s reasons for having the seances or their thoughts about them. The sisters used automatic writing as their means of communication. Instead of holding a pencil in hand, they used a planchette with a pencil attached. “They would sit in silence as they focused their minds and gazed at the table until it (planchette) began to move automatically across the paper, leading the women’s hands in whichever direction it desired.”

They set aside a room and time every day to hold their seances. At first, the contacts were sporadic, but eventually they were helped by a non-Jewish spirit guide. The guide helped bring forward the spirits of the deceased and other famous individuals. “If they questioned the spirits about future events, they would reply that they did not know the answer….” The spirits were open for questions about business affairs and the afterlife, but Jewish spirits would only communicate within a year of their passing. After that it was believed that they “ascended on high.”

The spirits also participated in healing. One day when a husband came home not feeling well, a spirit doctor informed them that the husband was gravely ill and prescribed a medication. The women did not believe the spirit at first and called a living doctor to the house. He confirmed the diagnosis and prescribed the same medication.

The women first saved their collection of writings which occurred in various scripts and languages, but they eventually burned them all. Even though Hakohen used the women’s seances as an argument to support the existence of the soul after death, he disapproved of Jews practicing Spiritualism. When one of the women’s daughters died, the spirts were blamed and Hakohen chastised the women for their “sinful behavior.”

Additional Reading:

Glauber-Zimra, Samuel (2021) “Summoning Spirits in Eqypt: Jewish Women and Spiritualism in Early Twentieth-Century Cairo.” In Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, Spring 2021, no 38, pp 25-45. Indiana University Press.

https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/pb-daily/on-the-trail-of-cora-wilburn

 

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Hi Andres! Indeed, the kabbalah covers some of the spiritualists ideas.

Not that I know a lot about it, but one of my coworkers is Jewish, and in a few occasions I talked about spirits, the afterlife, etc... and he replied that he knew about all of that because it is taught in the kabbalah.

As you know, about a half of Christianity is actually Judaism, and their religion was very interesting.

For example, I found that they have some interesting concepts about Abortion, as I've discovered when I made a research for a paper on the subject I begun writing (but never finished). 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Fernando Luis Cacciola Carballal said:

Hi Andres! Indeed, the kabbalah covers some of the spiritualists ideas.

Not that I know a lot about it, but one of my coworkers is Jewish, and in a few occasions I talked about spirits, the afterlife, etc... and he replied that he knew about all of that because it is taught in the kabbalah.

As you know, about a half of Christianity is actually Judaism, and their religion was very interesting.

For example, I found that they have some interesting concepts about Abortion, as I've discovered when I made a research for a paper on the subject I begun writing (but never finished). 

 

 

Hello Fernando,

this is very interesting! I didn't know that abortion basically was accepted in the Jewish tradition. Likely it is the same like with Christianity when at a certain point abstraction and orthodox interpretation came into power. The Jewish kabbalah is so amazing because it comprises the most detailed descriptions about the origin of the creation and it also provides a path for spiritual learning.

May be embarrassing, but my interest for the kabbalah and Jewish tradition came from watching the movie "Indiana Jones and the raiders of the lost ark". After that movie I started to read books about the Ark of the Covenant, I read "The Golem" from Gustav Meyrink and "The Tomb of God" from Andrews & Schellenberger.

I also learned that the kabbalah is not a pure Jewish work. The holy priests who wrote it were pretty open minded and adopted some spiritual concepts from the ancient Greeks as well. In fact it was a collaborative work. One day when I have more time and leisure I want to read some books about the kabbalah as I feel it is somehow near to me even I did not grow up in the Jewish tradition.

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Right. The Jewish have a very rational support for abortion: they consider that the soul attaches to the body at the moment of birth. Hence, abortion has only biological consequences and is not the termination of a life.

I believe that the soul is effectively and persistently attached at around 8 weeks. I also believe that every incarnation is not just a last minute thing but is preceded with a careful planning. That planning might, of course, include the imminent abortion, but it might also include the hope that the life won't be terminated. My ideal case would include bringing the specific soul into the equation, which is not yet possible. So, I view the general case of abortion as the early termination of a planned life, with all the implications of that. I emphasized "general case" because I also believe that this matter can only be fairly decided on a case by case basis.

Which belief is correct? I wouldn't know, and I respect the fact that in Jewish religion the issue is very carefully considered and there is a logical argument behind the policy. 

It's very funny what you said about how you got interested on it. I got interested after discussing spiritual stuff with my Jewish coworker.

I didn't know that the Kabbalah was open like that. But it makes sense, because it is quite significant.

This is off topic but I've also learned very interesting and really good things about Islam when doing the research on abortion.  It's actually really sad because Islam itself is full of wisdom. In some areas, in fact, far better than Christianity for example. Yet, Islamic fanatics spoiled and distorted the essence of the religion to the point that for most people, Islam is a bad thing. It does have its weak, well, very weak point, all related to its view on "non-islamic things", which is the entry door for fanatism, but most everything else is quite sound.

 

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Many of the Islamic faith do not understand the extreme fanaticism.  I spent a railroad trip of five hours with a woman who was of the Islamic faith and she was dressed no different to myself. 

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