Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm)
Number 20 – 12 March 2004
Copyright 2003 Meru Foundation
Edited by Cynthia Tenen
As mentioned in our last newsletter, each week we meet with our Sharon
Colloquium study group. Our discussions sometimes focus on recent
discoveries in the world of science that bear on Meru Foundation
research; we also take the time to review and suggest books to each
other that are helpful -- and to examine some that are not so helpful.
Below are two examples of this sort of discussion.
NEW POSTER by
SHAPE OF SHABBOS: King and Queen
In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath -- which starts at sundown each Friday
-- is welcomed as the "Sabbath Queen" in synagogue services held just
as the sun goes down. Referring to the Sabbath as a "Queen" or as a
"Bride" -- in other words, with feminine imagery -- is common in
traditional Jewish prayer services, and in most rabbinical writings.
However, Maimonides, the famous 12th century physician and philosopher
who wrote "The Guide to the Perplexed" (among many other works),
consistently refers to the Sabbath as a "King" -- in other words, with
masculine imagery. One of the weekly e-lists we subscribe to remarked
on this anomaly, which prompted us to look for an explanation.
Our new poster, "The Shape of Shabbos: King and Queen," graphically
relates this dual imagery used to describe Shabbos (feminine and
masculine) to a "6-around-1" geometric pattern, which differentiates
the 6 surrounding days of the week from Shabbos as the center-point.
This geometric imagery is also found in traditional Jewish writings.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, on page 164 of his translation of the Sefer
Yetzirah, notes the following:
". . . as explained by Rabbi Judah Liva (1525-1609),
the Maharal of Prague . . . states that the reason why the world was
created in six days is because a three-dimensional world has six
directions, as the Sefer Yetsirah states here. Each day was necessary
to complete one of these six directions. The Sabbath is then the center
point, which binds all together and supports them all. . . ."
You can see "The Shape of Shabbos: King and Queen", which unites all
these perspectives on the Sabbath, at http://www.meru.org/Posters/ShapeofShabbos.html
RESEARCH ON LANGUAGE
Meru Foundation first began to explore the Hebrew alphabet-gesture
system in the early 1990's, when the idea of the letters being derived
from hand-gestures was very much a conjecture on our part. Since then,
it has been very gratifying for us to see scientific research on
language, cognition, and movement, that tends to confirm these
conjectures. The relationship of gesture to cognition and language,
which is being increasingly confirmed in the scientific world,
strengthens our hypothesis that meaningful Hebrew-letter hand-gestures
are an effective way to "record" internal feeling-states, or "motions
in the mind", by writing them out in the letter-text of sacred texts.
(For a selection of articles on the relationship of gesture to
cognition, see http://www.meru.org/3220lecture/contents.html#gestlang
Recently, new research has been published on the way the brain
processes words that we read -- particularly action words. Quoting a
"newsnote" by Bruce Bower in the 7 February 2004 issue of "Science News"
"As volunteers read a verb referring to a face, arm, or leg
action -- such as lick, pick, or kick -- the motor cortex areas that
control the specified action exhibit high rates of blood flow, a sign
of intense neural activity, [says] neuroscientist Friedemann
Pulvermüller of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge,
England... For instance, reading the word lick triggers pronounced
blood flow in sites of the motor cortex associated with tongue and
And further on, Bower quotes an editorial in the Jan. 22 issue of
"Neuron" (which published Pulvermuller's article as saying that "Brain
areas that are used to perform an action are also needed to comprehend
words related to that action. Remarkably, just the reading of
feet-related action words such as dance makes [the motor cortex] move
Consider, then, the effect of reading Hebrew words and letters which
are derived from physical gestures. It is possible that simply reading
the words on the page, with proper concentration, can evoke the same
physical responses as making the gestures -- and cause us to have the
Bowers' complete article in Science News is available on their website
For those interested in keeping up with the latest developments in the
sciences, written in (reasonably) plain English, Stan and I recommend
1) "Science News," published weekly in the US by Science Service (a
non-profit foundation). They offer a free weekly e-newsletter, and some
Internet-only features, via their website at http://www.sciencenews.org
2) "New Scientist", published weekly from the UK. Their website, http://www.newscientist.com
is extensive and varied; they also offer a free weekly e-newsletter.
AND NOW FOR
The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown
Like most best-sellers, The DaVinci
, the recently popular "mystery-thriller" by Dan Brown, has
come and gone from the headlines. For those of you who didn't read it
-- this book, while predictable in structure, is a competently crafted
mystery, making use of some purported "underground history" about the
Catholic Church and secret societies that has been circulating in
"alternative information" circles (on the Internet and elsewhere) for
As an afternoon's entertainment, there is, of course, nothing wrong
with The DaVinci Code.
But problems arise when readers take the material in this work of
fiction as being actually, historically accurate -- as many readers of
this book apparently did, at least enough to ask us questions about it.
There is, of course, an obvious difference between novels written
purely for entertainment -- and to make money -- such as The DaVinci Code,
historical works such as James Carroll's Constantine's Sword
, which is a
_serious_ history of the development of the Catholic church in Europe.
(Also highly recommended -- I reviewed it in eTORUS #12, available on
the Meru eTORUS archives at http://www.meru.org/Newsletter/number12.html
.) There is even honest historical fiction that I can heartily
recommend, such as Herman Wouk's series on World War II (The Winds of War
and War and Remembrance
). Unlike Dan
Brown, Wouk was extremely careful to annotate the history in his
fictional work, and make very clear which characters and events in his
book were portrayals taken from reality, and which were his own
I am personally troubled by the effects of entertaining but
sensationalist books like The
-- as I am also by the proliferation of
non-information and pseudo-information on the Internet. When
pseudohistory, or pseudoscience, is presented without explanation as
"fact within fiction," and when that fiction is competently and even
slickly written, even well-intentioned people, who are not accustomed
to approaching their "entertainment reading" critically, can be
convinced sometimes without even realizing it. Our world needs more
educated and critical thinkers -- not fewer. In my opinion, even though
the author never said he was writing anything but a mystery story with
a conveniently "edgy" and trendy background, he does his readers -- and
people engaged in serious research -- no favors by releasing The DaVinci Code
including sources for the "history" he used to create his mystery -- or
a believable disclaimer that says in no uncertain terms, that he made
it all up.
I hope you enjoy this Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm) Newsletter.
We welcome your comments and suggestions, and would like the
to speak with you personally.
If you have comments or questions, please send an email to Cynthia
at firstname.lastname@example.org with your phone
and a good time to call -- or, please call us at 781-784-8902 (Boston
I would like to brainstorm with you.
Thank you for your interest in the work of the Meru Foundation.
The Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm) Newsletter is copyright
2004 Meru Foundation. All rights reserved.
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Secretary-Treasurer: Levanah (Cynthia) Tenen
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