The Archetype of the Wandering Jew
By Tony Woolfson, Ph.D.This is a photograph taken in 1938 in Cracow, Poland. Within two years at most the old man in the photograph was most likely dead, and most if not all his fellow Jews in Cracow would be living in conditions of near complete desperation, consequent to the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1 1939, the complete occupation of Poland soon thereafter, and the institution of policies designed more or less to annihilate both the Slavic Polish population and of course the more than two million Jewish people then living in Poland. Although the image looks as if it could have been taken straight from a newspaper of the time, so authentically papery and faded and grey does it look, it was in fact recently reproduced from a book of photographs of Jewish life in Eastern Europe taken just before the outbreak of WWII. The photographer, Roman Vishniac, was commissioned by an American Jewish agency to make a pictorial record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before it was too late, it being fairly obvious by 1938 that time was not on the side of Eastern European Jews. The lucky ones, like the archetypal figure of a modern-day Job in Joseph Roth’s legendary novel of the same name, had made it across the ocean to the “goldene Medina” (yes, Medina of Moslem fame), the U. S. of A. Six million of the rest were unable or unwilling to tear their lives up by the roots, again, and take to the road of the Wandering Jew. Click here to register for Jung and the World Religions So deeply embedded in the Jewish psyche is the reality of wandering that the very word has a deep symbolic significance. As he or she is alluded to in the Hexagram of The Wanderer in the I Ching, the wanderer really has no home, the wanderer is truly a rootless cosmopolitan. We might note that it seems that ever more people in our day have to live the life of a wanderer, fortunate indeed if they ever reach a welcoming shore and a home they can call their own. Jewish people have also learned how to find consolation and a much more fulfilling life in their next “home from home”. For example, had Biblical Joseph not been sold into slavery in Egypt, his family might have starved to death when they had to leave Canaan because of famine. Similarly, the horrific end to the rich Jewish life in the Iberian Peninsula had the unintended consequence of bringing many thousands of Jews to relative safety in Turkey, much closer to the Holy Land. The expulsion surely contributed to the extraordinary flourishing of Kabbalistic mythology in Safed, which we will be discussing on Saturday. In our photograph, then, all this symbolism should be readily apparent. It is a classic image, mystical in its depth and intensity, perhaps due to our, the viewers, knowledge of what awaits this old man and his people within two years from the photograph’s being taken. The old man, a rabbi, knows what we know, however, and the briefest glance at the dishevelled and dislocated architectural background, like a context to the photograph, only adds to the sense of desolation that so often is associated with eternal wandering. A Mediaeval legend that must have contributed significantly to the idea of the Jew as always leaving, never to be trusted, and generally a despised Other is the Legend of the Wandering Jew, deriving from the completely unfounded story of a Jewish inhabitant of Jerusalem’s making an archetypal refusal to give water to the suffering, exhausted, and thirsty Jesus as he proceeded up the Stations of the Cross to Calvary and his martyrdom. For his refusal, it is said that Jesus condemned the Jew to a life as an Eternal Wanderer, knowing no rest and with no place to call home. Roman Vishniac bethought himself to ask the old Rabbi in Cracow how long he had been wandering. “From the beginning,” he replied. For more from Dr. Tony Woolfson please register for the Jung and the World Religions 5 seminar course from the Asheville Jung Center.
By Tony Woolfson, Ph.D.Click here to Register for Jung and the World Religions Around two hundred years ago there lived a Hungarian Hasidic Rabbi called Rabbi Eizik. He lived in a place called Kallo and one evening just before the Sabbath two young Hasids happened to arrive in town and as was the custom they sought out the hospitality of Rabbi Eizik of Kallo about whom they had heard so much. Already tales were being told of his miracles throughout Hungary, and the visiting Hasidim greatly anticipated spending the Sabbath in his company. Soon everyone had gathered together to celebrate the Sabbath, and all waited in anticipation of the sign given by the Rabbi to bring in the Sabbath and welcome the Sabbath Queen, the Shekhinah. But the Rabbi did not stir. He sat perfectly still and although all eyes were upon him he was obviously in deep concentration. The visiting Hasidim were very surprised at this because no one ever delayed bringing in the Sabbath past eighteen minutes exactly before sundown, and all knew of the rush at the end to prepare a table fit for the Sabbath Queen! All at once there was a knock at the door, and a young couple entered. The young man was dressed in white, as was worn in Safed where it is told that the Holy Ari, Isaac Luria, and his disciples donned white robes before going out into the fields to greet the Sabbath. The young woman, also dressed in white, was quite beautiful, comely with very dark eyes, her head covered with a white scarf. The Rabbi rose, at the same time signalling for the Sabbath to begin. The Hasidim began singing the traditional song of welcome to the Sabbath bride. The Rabbi welcomed his guests and treated them with every respect and kindness, paying just as much attention to the woman as to the man. This was already too much for the rather traditional Hasidim, but they were guests and could neither do nor say anything. After the meal the rabbi of Kallo rose and said: “This couple has come here to be wed this day. And I have agreed to marry them.” Now these words were shocking to the Hasidim because Jewish religious law forbids marrying on the Sabbath. And so the young Hasidim began reading Psalms to themselves, to protect them from the proposed desecration of the Sabbath. At that moment the rabbi turned to the Hasidim and said, “Of course, the consent of everyone present is necessary, if the wedding is to be performed. Please tell us if we have your consent.” And there was almost a pleading tone in his voice. Now it is one thing to witness a desecration of the law, but another thing to agree to it. As the young Hasidim did not dare refuse the rabbi to his face, they instead looked down and continued reciting Psalms, and a great fear was in their hearts. At last, when they raised their eyes, they saw that the couple were gone. The Rabbi of Kallo was slumped in his chair. After a long silence the Rabbi said: “Do you know who they were?” The young Hasidim shook their heads. And the Rabbi said: “He was the Messiah, she was the Shekhinah, the Sabbath Queen. Throughout many long years of exile they have sought each other, and at last they were together, and they wanted to be wed. As everyone knows, on the day of their wedding our exile will come to an end. But that is only possible if everyone consents. Unfortunately, it seems you could not, and the wedding did not take place.” A lot of Jewish tradition and Jewish mystical tradition can be found in this story. Another story concerns a man called Carl Jung who early in the year 1944 had a wondrous vision of the Shekhinah, or Malkhuth as she is known in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Sefirotic Tree. The Tree of Life is a symbol that we pray will always live for us, despite human efforts to cut and burn, to despoil, to profiteer from this sacred symbol of life and death. As you view these images which show the Tree of Life in various shapes and sizes, you might wonder why it is of such major symbolic importance to both the Jewish Mystical Tradition and C. G. Jung. To learn more about the influence that the Jewish Mystical Tradition had on Carl Jung from presenter Dr. Tony Woolfson please register for the Asheville Jung Center’s 5 seminar series on Jung and the World Religions.