What is it about?

How can Jewish mysticism shed light on how to respond to a pandemic through ritual and sensory experience? A Jewish mystical legend describes how Rabbi Aha, a sage living in Palestine in the 4th century CE, initiates a ritual containing a study of the Talmud on incense, after which a village is healed from an epidemic. The legend implies an understanding that incense has healing capacities. Jewish mysticism believes that the mere study of incense and its meaning alone provides its healing qualities. This article argues that the legend and its implied theological understandings have implications for our modern understanding of ritual and prayer in a time of a global pandemic.

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Why is it important?

This article is a response to the ongoing pandemic from a liturgical perspective. It engages with Christian and Jewish understandings of prayer. From a scholarly perspective, it contributes to a new field of study on integrating ritual understandings from different religious traditions. It provides us the opportunity to rethink how we understand God and our human-divine relationship. It also provides new insights into how we understand liturgical recitation. Reading a text liturgically can mean more than just reading it. It can mean that reading a text somehow realizes its content.


Writing this article was very insightful in terms of rethinking liturgical recitation. If I read a prayer I don't necessarily know that it has an effect. But the content of this article gave me renewed hope that, somehow, my devotions may have an impact beyond my own understanding.

Domenik Ackermann
Boston College

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The offering of incense. Jewish mystical perspectives on disease and healing*, Dialog, June 2022, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/dial.12730.
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