Monday, August 4, 2008

Coffee with Your Torah?

While scanning pages I'd noted while attempting (and failing) to read Constatine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History, I came across an interesting passage that I just felt like sharing because it makes me smile. For those of you unaware, I started reading this book many moons ago and have renewed it repeatedly. The 175 pages remaining never got read, and I essentially threw up my hands in protest at the behemoth size of the text and its almost unreadability because of the way the book is -- the entire book (text, notes, index, etc.) is nearly 800 pages, all in one big hardcover binding. It's just inconceivable to read unless you're planning on sitting down at a table consistently becuase it's such a clunker. At any rate, enough kvetching. Essentially I had dozens of pages noted with various comments, and wanted to keep those in case I pick it up again, hence the scanning.

In a chapter (37) on the religious response of Jews to the implementation of the Roman ghetto, the author, James Carroll, speaks about the lively religious community within the ghetto walls. Carroll says, "If the Christian world had cut them off, the Jews would turn their separation into a religious value" (387). The passage goes on to talk about what Jews did in order to sort of religiously rebel against the forces keeping them down, and it is the following that gives me a grin:
If Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto at night, then night would become not only the time for study and prayer, but an image of G-d's own darkness. (Jews in the ghetto, in the seventeenth century, drank newly imported coffee as a way of staying awake.). 
The item in parens is footnoted to a text by Kenneth R. Stow, "Sanctity and the Construction of Space: The Roman Ghetto as Sacred Space," in which, in reference to coffee, he says, "First, one stimulated his body with this miraculous new beverage, and then he stimulated his soul by ritual devotion."

Isn't that outstanding? Maybe I'm easily amused, or maybe I'm just an academic, but it's morsels like this that fascinate me.

(Of course, it's completely unrelated, but two pages later the author mentions Shabbetai Zvi and the Baal Shem Tov essentially in the same breath, which is valid discussion for an entirely different blog post. Needless to say, I had a written note with this aformentioned paragraph that read: "places Shabbetai Zvi in same breath as Baal Shem Tov -- implying falseness??")