Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Oy Vey Vulcan

"Live long and prosper."

I know this lady is who 94-years old, still living on her own, and she loves keeping up with current events. She worked on Capitol Hill in her youth, back when Congressmen had two staff members, or one. She has subscriptions to Village Voice and Rolling Stone and is probably their oldest subscriber. Recently she asked me if I would find a book she wanted to read called Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish by Abigail Pogrebin. The book is a series of 62 essay interviews with prominent Jewish-Americans who talk about how being Jewish fits into having a public life. The lady's rabbi was using this book for a series of study and teaching at her synagogue's adult education class. I flipped through the book to read some of the interviews before I passed it on to her and it was engrossing.

William Shatner is Jewish? Who knew? But so is Leonard Nim
oy, and it was his interview that fascinated me the most. Nimoy was born into an Jewish Orthodox family in Boston. When he went to Hollywood, his looks got him cast into parts where he would play the heavy: the bad Mexican, the bad Italian, but as he says, "I was very happy to get the work thank you very much." His parents were never impressed with his career, not even after he achieved success. To paraphrase Nimoy, his mother said, "So you're a Captain. You were always a Captain to me." At Star Trek conventions, he has been known to tell the story of the Vulcan hand greeting which is a raised hand with forked fingers--the index and middle fingers sandwiched together and the ring and pinky fingers similarly aligned. This, Nimoy says, evolved from his Jewish childhood.

"Y'varechecha Adonai!"

Nimoy says he invented the hand signal based on seeing the Boston rabbis do it when the priests would offer up a "theatrically done blessing." The men in his synagogue would cover their heads with prayer shawls, "...and they were shouters--they were old, Orthodox shouting guys," and about six of them would get up to face the congregation, chanting in a mystical way which started with humming. They would be swaying and chanting and humming and some old guy would shout out Y'varechecha Adonai!" Then the whole group would chorus it back, and little Leonard found it "spooky."

Leonard Nimoy photograph of Shekhina
with the Hebrew letter Shin

Nimoy says, "So the congregation was all standing, and my father said to me, "Don't look." And in fact, everybody's got their eyes covered with their hands or they've got their heads covered with their prayer shawl, the entire congregation, but I peeked, and I saw these guys doing this. To this day I'm not sure why my father said, "Don't look." Nimoy feels that it ties into the traditional belief that during the blessing the Shekhina--the feminine presence of God--enters the congregation to bless them, and you shouldn't see God, because the "light" could be fatal to a human, so you close your eyes to protect yourself. He said, "My father never said "Close your eyes because God is coming. He just said, "Don't look."

(I had a friend looking at the draft of this piece and it triggered a boyhood memory for him. He said when he was a little boy, his father would take him to the barber shop. There were nude calendars on the wall, and he would try very hard to not g
et caught looking at them. One day the barber complained that he was keeping his neck too stiff, so his father said, "It's all right. Go ahead and look.")

Later, after the Star Trek television series ended, Nimoy was trying to think of a way to incorporate photographing nude women with the symbolic hand (the Hebrew letter "shin") and the idea of Shekhina as invoking the feminine spiritual presence. He said, "I feel less judgmental of that presence than I would of a male presence. To the male God, I say, "What are you doing, where are you, what are you thinking? Why are you letting these things happen, looking the other way or saying, "Go ahead, work it out for yourself, guys." But this whole feminine thing. I don't have that expectation because for me it's not an all-powerful patriarchal figure, it's a maternal figure, it's a loving figure, it's even an erotic figure." Nimoy's books was published in 2002, and it is appropriately enough titled, Shekhina.

Judaism is a monotheistic religion which is strongly connected to the sense of a patriarchal God--Yahweh, but it may surprise many people to learn that from the conception of Judaism there has always been a goddess that continues to play an important part of the religion. The term is best known as Shekhina, which is a Talmudic term describing the manifestion of God's presence on earth. The word does not appear in the Bible, but Shekhina is bound to extremely ancient traditions which still manifest themselves into the present, including Shabbat Hamalka the Queen, the Bride of God, which is celebrated every Friday by Jews all over the world as they light their Sabbath candles, and by tradition, the candles must always be lit by women.

If you study the Vulcan hand greeting, you can see the symbolic Hebrew letter shin represented by the placing of the fingers. Often this Hebrew letter is portrayed in flames as it is the Divine Revelation and the essence of change. Shin is continuously in a state of motion, much like fire. So...from the coal of the earth to the flame of spirituality from rocking chanting oldsters to gauzy goddesses to boldly go where no man has gone before. Highly logical.

"There will be no use of the Transporter on the Sabbath."


Blogger Smash said...

Yeah, there is something creepy about the combination of god and eroticism.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Remind me not to sit next to Leonard in church, with his whole "God is erotic" line of thinking.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

Actually, candles are lit on Friday night just as Shabbat (Sabbath) begins. All Jewish holidays start in the evening and run sunset to sunset. An Orthodox Jew would not strike a match on Shabbat.

4:37 PM  
Blogger always write said...

That was inspiring. I've never been comfortable with organized religious, yet I respect subscribers who take the initiative to look at tradition in a non-traditional light. Plus I think Leonard Nimoy is kinda sexy. Thanks for writing this!

4:38 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Thanks, Jamy. I was quoting from another source, and you can see as a Roman Catholic, I didn't catch it. Consider it corrected.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

Who knew William Shatner was Jewish? Apparently Adam Sandler:

"You dont need Deck the Halls or Jingle Bell Rock Cause you can spin the dreidl with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock--both Jewish!"

4:57 PM  
Blogger KOB said...

This is revelatory for me, and adds a certain poignancy to Spock’s “live long and prosper” sign. Was it a way for the actor to reach inside for an authentic expression? I wonder. As far as the erotic connection … I went to Catholic school and we hid copies of Playboy in a secret place to view at recess. So, I’m familiar with the spiritual aspects of this issue.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Shabbat is a pretty sexy holiday. You're supposed to make love, I'm sure you you know that already, Cube. It's a mitzvah. I also love the way we beckon the flame on the candles to warm us. We are welcoming the Goddess. At the end of Shabbat, we take a big snort of some sweet smell (I've used cardamom) to help us remember the earthy, sensual beauty of the holiday.

Shin is the first Hebrew letter I learned. SO KEWL that this was the inspiration for "live long and prosper." Awesome.

6:01 PM  
Blogger A Unique Alias said...

As an unabashed Star Trek nerd, I knew they were both Jewish. However, Shekhina is a total revelation to me. This is an excellent, excellent piece of writing, Cube. Thank you.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Smash: I think he just wanted to take nudie shots and put some fancy schmancy talk around it.

Phil: HA! ::nudging Phil in the arm with my elbow:::

Jamy: I knew that, didn't catch it and slipped up. Ask me ANYTHING about the veneration of saints, and I am so there. ;)

Always: I was raised in a very strict religious environment, so I am glad that I have matured into someone who can look at all religions with some flexibilty in terms of "what it all means."

Velvet: I had forgotten all about that. It didn't even connect. Obviously all my wires aren't hooked up this week.

KOB: I know all about parochial school. At one point I was educated within a convent, so you KNOW, as a Catholic, how rebellious you can become. Also, some day I will write about this book called Holy Anorexics that I have.

Reya: I almost made it through writing this piece without thinking about Charlotte in Sex and the City, but...I folded and thought about how mad she was at Harry when she made the perfect brisket and he just wanted to watch sports on tv re: the lighting of the candles. I was fascinated by this discovery of the Vulcan hand sign. I had never heard any of this before.

AUA: Thank you. Truly. I have no sense of how my silliness goes down. Oddly enough, as you are a Star Trek nerd, no one has yet to comment on the fact that I put a nice little Star of David yarmulke on the Enterprise.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

My husband's 97-year-old (Jewish) Aunt Zelda in Chicago needs someone like you to take an interest in her. Believe me, she would talk your arm off! This post was full of interesting tidbits.

10:15 PM  
Blogger mysterygirl! said...

Interesting! And it's totally cool that, while you were trying to help out this elderly woman, she ended up offering just as much to you.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Dave EE o said...

Shekinah feminine ? I don't know Cube, I tried reading the article at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=588&letter=S
but it's kinda dry... might be stretching it a bit... but Shekinah DOES rhyme with Vagina...

3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you've done it, Cube. Thai has always talked about marketing a yarmulke which looks like the Star Trek ship. Being a good boy, he was concerned about violating trademark or tradedress rights.

Now we'll all have Adam Sandler's Hannukah song on our minds!


10:29 AM  
Blogger trueborn said...

Where do you come up with this stuff?
It's brilliant, but tangental. Where do you get your fits of inspiration from, dear Cube?

12:01 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Barbara: I have already accepted certain responsibilities to people to watch over them in varying degrees. Interesting as she may be, I think I have to pass on Auntie Z.

Mystery: She's an interesting woman. A career woman back when women were only nurses, secretaries or teachers. She's always had this liberal, avant garde outlook on things, she keeps up with current events. What really makes me laugh is how pissed off she gets about Presidents she hates...like Bush. Here she is, 94 years old, and she's pissed off about political stuff. I think it keeps her active and young. She has incredible health, never seems to get sick. My biggest fear, and it's a justified one, is what is going to happen if one thing thing in balance in her life changes to the point she can't live alone in her home anymore. I think most certainly there would be an immediate decline and passing.

Dave: Sigh. Dry, stretching and vagina all in one sentence. God, you're wicked.

KGrince: I think Thai should market an Enterprise yarmulke for Jewish Trekkies. When I was looking for pictures of one to use in my Photoshop work, I saw one made like a stitched baseball.

Trueborn: I was dropped on my head as a baby? I smoke opium? I dunno, but thanks.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Fascinating. I never knew any of this (although I did know Shatner is Jewish). I absolutely love learning about different religions, so this was interesting to read.

(I'm usually too intimidated to write a comment on your blog because it is so intelligent, but I figured I'd come out of hiding anyhow.)

5:58 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Megan? :::shakeshakeshakeshakeshake:::

:::putting Megan down:::

Don't you ever hide again. I love hearing from people, and I'm a doofus, so don't worry.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I have to ask about the yarmulke made like a stitched baseball because our rabbi at Temple Micah is passionate about baseball (the Chicago White Sox to be precise). Can you send me the link to this site?

10:09 PM  
Blogger Siryn said...

Absolutely fascinating. Thanks, Cube, for this very insightful piece.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

What about Sophia, which is the feminine presence in the Christian faith (aka adaptation)? She gets around, too. Wisdom is typically feminine -- like Athena. Excellent post, Cube.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

Once again, brilliant post. What else can be said?

11:10 AM  
Blogger Stef said...

This is a great post. I've always been really fascinated by Judaism. I was raised liberal, northeast Catholic, but in my studies as a religion major in college I learned a lot about both ancient and modern Judaism and found that my own personal spiritual and social beliefs probably line up with Judaism a lot better than my own background. And to think that Spock has found a way to combine eroticism, photography, and Hebrew symbolism? I'm sold! :-)

12:40 PM  
Blogger Namaste said...


Really incredible post!

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Wrethcat said...

Well, they always say "God is love" so what's wrong with a little deviant alien lust these days?

Does the mating of a human and a Vulcan cause a Christmasty blood hue?

>^, ,^<

4:46 PM  
Blogger East-West Girl said...

Oh my, quite a good laugh. I read this to a male Jewish friend sitting next to me. He found it funny, but then, almost not surprisingly, he started explaining the ancient religious history of the hand symbol. And then the not-so-ancient but apparently just-as-interesting-to-him history of Star Trek... oy. Still made me laugh.

1:38 AM  

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