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THE COMPASSION OF THE AMIDAH IN SUBSTITUTING BLESSINGS FOR ANIMAL SACRIFICES TO GOD, THE ANCESTORS AND IN THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE

Michael Picardie

The Amidah is the "standing prayer". In historical terms the Amidah is the centre-piece of all the synagogue services, Liberal, Reform and Orthodox because it replaced the animal and other sacrifices that occurred at ancient holy altars like Shechem, in the desert Tabernacle, and in the Temples. Whereas the introductory psalms and hymns enable the worshipper to enter into a reverent mood, the Shma is a credo of faith in the one God. The Amidah, addresses God or as I would put it, ethical-Being rather than offering the living animal sacrifices that our ancient adoptive or symbolic or actual ancestors made. The animal sacrifices it replaced appeased God and the intermediary ancestors in ancient Israelite and other traditional tribal and imperial societies which rested on an originally tribal base. Thus the whole elaborate pantheon and the total mythology of the Greek gods belonged to all the city-states although tribal differences required local deities, much as in modern Catholicism countries like France, Spain and Italy will have in addition to the orthodox Trinity local shrines devoted to a particular appearance of the Virgin or a particular locally relevant saint. This phenomenon in its priestly or local ritualised form is not open to philosophical writing and thinking. Karl Jaspers the existentialist philosopher refers to modern thinking which reiterates the 'the axial age' of about 500 BCE and later when Greek, Israelite, Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese religions produced, evidently, a new educated class which could transform concrete ritual and institutionalised theology into metaphysics and ontology.Ritual became potentially transcendental - treating the human being as subject to scientific law or at least ethical adjuration which could be argued for 'a priori' (from before, or ontologically, as an aspect of eternal or infinite Being in a cosmic or material universe) rather than being 'subject' to 'God' or 'the gods' who exerted mythical or magical power. Does God or do the gods or ancestors require animal and human or even emotional and charitable sacrifice to appease them in their divine palaces or places in which they feel lonely, neglected and even hungry - in a truly conceptually divine realm? In tribal or local popular ritual yes. Hence the spirit of Diana, Princess of Wales, 'appreciates' flowers left at a local, popularly constructed site which becomes a shrine. So in the modern person's unconscious - also yes - a spiritual kinship projects a dead but living soul which in the sophisticated is only a precious memory. In a rabbinical or philosophical discourse or in modern prayer God and the ancestors are in a grey area between the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real as Lacan puts it. This frame of mind - local and in a sense 'superstitious' religion - may be ecstatic or part of a cognitively cool ritual practice and thought-system: the difference between Nietzsche's Dionysian and Apollonian religion which partakes of different moods and measures of the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic in Jacques Lacan.

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