St George’s guest house is a beautiful old stone building next to the Cathedral, with long cloister-like entrance areas used for the dining tables. I have wi-fi access in my room, hurray! Getting here from the airport was easy because the mini-bus shuttle service takes you direct to your destination.

The main bit of the journey here was fine too, the five hour flight was actually less tedious than the airport wait because I was sitting next to a very interesting Australian guy who is coming the Jerusalem to study Anthropology for six months. It was also fun to see all the Orthodox Jews on the flight: I hadn’t realised that even the women wear all-black (or close to black, some greys and sludgy greens seem allowed too). Halfway through the flight the men all congregated in the toilet areas to pray. The pilot had to announce that only ten people at a time should pray, so they did it in about three batches.

It is interesting to spot which Rabbi they follow: this is indicated by a slight difference in their black velvet hats, perhaps the brim is slightly raised, or a bow added. I also saw a man near to me praying with a small black box on his head and two black boxes with gold lettering, which were on his fold-down table. I can’t remember what the boxes are called, we did it in RE years back…

Anyway, my Australian friend told me some history of the state of Israel, and various Jewish populations around the world (he is a quarter Jewish), including the intriguing fact that Berlin and Melbourne have the two largest populations of Jews outside of Israel. We also discussed how Israel’s courts have recently sided on the Palestine side of a land dispute when some Palestinians were evicted from their property, and because of this the Israeli government is trying to reduce the power of the courts.

I also learnt the origin of the long curly locks that Orthodox Jewish men grow. It goes back to a Jewish myth set in the garden of Eden, that says Eve was actually Adam’s second wife. His first wife, called Lilleth, was made out of mud, like Adam. But she hadn’t wanted to ‘submit’ to him and had left the garden. Then Eve was made out of Adam’s ribs and was a more biddable wife. Lilleth then became some sort of evil child-snatcher who lurks the Earth taking male sons, so Jewish women let their sons’ hair grow long to make them look like girls! It reminded me of the evil eye traditions in Muslim cultures. I’m sure Keith with his RE background knows all about this so he can correct any mis-telling of the story in the comments section – thanks Keith.




About sophiehebden

Science writer and editor, I mostly write about space and fundamental questions in physics.
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One Response to Arrived

  1. Keith Hebden says:

    It’s a fascinating story although I wouldn’t know which came first: the legend of Lilleth or the interpretation of Leviticus 19: 27-28 which is the usual reason I’ve heard for the lovely locks!

    The story of Lilleth reminds me of another Jewish tradition, probably later and I think originating among European Jews (where, I don’t know) and it’s where Tolkein got his “Gollem” from. It’s the myth that if one creates a clay figure and then places a rolled up scroll of hebrew text (don’t know which, I’m afraid) it will come a live – and they’re called “gollems”.

    The word for “rib” and “side” are the same in ancient Hebrew and the word is only used at one other time in the bible to mean the “side” of the temple. The choice of interpretation of “rib” which seems far less important than the entire side of the original “Ha Adam” or “the clay creature” to make a gendered couple is far more egalitarian but of course it’s MEN who translate the scriptures!

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