Monday, March 17, 2008

Kabbalah Curse or Divine Discipline: What is a Pulsa de-Nura?

[A page from Sefer ha-Razim, found at www.fathom.com/course/72810016/s2_6_z01_sm.jpg]

In 1994, in the weeks leading up to the assassination of PM Yitzkhak Rabin, a group of Haredi men gathered publicly and performed a ritual directed against the PM. The news reported that the ceremony was that of the pulsa de-nura, "lashes of fire," a curse.
The idea of this supposedly ancient curse captured the public imagination, and I still have people ask me about it. However, trying to pin down the exact nature or provenience of the pulse de-nura ritual has proven difficult. That itself should not be surprising given the hundreds of little magical segulot, seferim, and kamiyot (manuals, books, and amulets) in circulation. However, what is striking is how the term actually is used in central Jewish texts - not the way we expect, given what happened in 1994.

The Talmud relates how the angel Metatron was subjected to 60 pulsei de-nura for impertinence:

Of him [Elisha ben Abuya, a mystic turned heretic] Scripture says: Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt. What does it refer to? – He [Elisha, while on an ecstatic journey through the heavenly palaces] saw that permission was granted to Metatron to sit and write down the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high there is no sitting and no emulation, and no back, and no weariness. Perhaps, – God forfend! – there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they [the angels of discipline] led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes, saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? (Hagigah 15a)
Clearly these lashes were a supernal punishment on a spirit, not a curse directed at a human. The Sefer Zohar also links the phenomenon to Metatron, for it describes pulsei de-nura as a harsh yet generative and protective attribute of the Shekhinah,

A single Youth ["Youth" = Metatron - see my entry, "Metatron: Anomalous Angel of the Countenance"], extending from one end of the world to the other, emerges from between her legs with sixty strokes of fire, decked in colors [the rainbow, a visible sign of the Shekhinah?]. This one is empowered over those below in Her four directions. [I:223b]

It has been taught: Radiance of those sixty surrounding her is etched on the Youth, and we call these 'sixty lashes of fire,' in which he is clothed in the aspect of the Shekhinah, blazing judgment, as it is written, ...sixty warriors surrounding her (Song of Songs, 3:7) (Zohar II:66b-67a).

The one time we see the lashes appear on Asiyah, on the plane of human action, is in Zohar II:51b, also associated with the Shekhinah:

As for this: The Angel of Elohim [who was going before the camp of Israel]...on one side she [Shekhinah, the pillar of cloud] was arrayed in crowns of Hesed [love]...On the second side, she was arrayed in lances of Gevurah [power], in sixty lashes of fire...[1]

So evidently pulsa de-nura is a celestial-angelic force/process/attribute related to Metatron, one that births, protects, and maintains discipline among the supernal denizens. In some readings it seems to be akin to the concept of yesurim shel ahavah [divine chastisements of love] and may even flow down to the human domain in the form of strict justice - but it is not presented as a curse.

Having done more extensive search than I, The Israeli scholar, Zion Zohar, concludes that a "ritual of pulsa de-nur" actually has no foundation in the main body of Jewish mysticism. Rather, the curse(s)* performed against the PM has roots, not in Kabbalah, but in Hebrew magical texts of antiquity, such as Sefer ha-Razim [2]

It may be that because magical texts do not enjoy the same standing in the Jewish community as does Kabbalah, the men who participated in this curse welded their magical efforts to a medieval ritual of herem [communal ostracization - but also not a curse] and then put a fig-leaf to their bizarre innovation by telling reporters it was found in Sefer Zohar [the Haredi community does not much value the novel, and the secular authorities don't appreciate incitements to violence]. Because of Dr. Zohar's research and other works of de-bunking conducted within the Haredi community itself, it is now understood that the "Lashes of Fire" curse is a modern contrivance dressed up as 'ancient' mystical tradition.

To learn about the history of curses in Judaism, consult the the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

*Dr. Zohar discovered there were several differing reports about the nature and content of the ritual.

[1] Pritzker Zohar, vols. III, IV

[2] Zohar, Z., "Pulsa De-Nura: The Innovation of Modern Magic and Ritual" retrieved online from the MUSE Project.


Blogger Aharonium said...

Thank you so much for this background information. Unfortunately, the Pulsa deNura curse has become a predictable facet of Israeli politics. Ariel Sharon was cursed with the Pulsa DeNura as was Olmert two years ago. For some it might seem very odd that something as beautiful as Jewish mysticism be used for something so horrible, but this is just another example of the unholy alliance that often crops up between romanticism and nationalism. Ten years ago Moshe Idel told me that the study of kabbalah was politically relevant since voters in some Israeli communities were pledging votes in return for "magic" amulets. The interface of politics and mysticism remains an important area of study where religion is used to validate strikingly, frighteningly fascistic agendas.

3:51 PM  

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