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Meru Foundation eTORUS(tm) Newsletter
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 Stan Tenen:
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 .

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 mouth movements."

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 its 'feet.'"

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 same feelings.

Bowers' complete article in Science News is available on their website at http://www.sciencenews.org/20040207/fob2.asp .

For those interested in keeping up with the latest developments in the sciences, written in (reasonably) plain English, Stan and I recommend two publications.

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.


The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown
Review by Cynthia Tenen

Like most best-sellers, The DaVinci Code, 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 years.

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,  and true 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 invention.

I am personally troubled by the effects of entertaining but sensationalist books like The DaVinci Code -- 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", without 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 opportunity to speak with you personally.

If you have comments or questions, please send an email to Cynthia Tenen at meru@meru.org with your phone number and a good time to call -- or, please call us at 781-784-8902 (Boston area). 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.
Past issues of eTORUS(tm) are archived online on the Meru Foundation website at

You may duplicate and pass along this newsletter, in its entirety, as long as you include this copyright notice and the contact information below. Please send comments and questions to <meru@meru.org>.

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