Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Can Hermit Day be Celebrated in a Group?

October 29th is celebrated as Hermit Day, lauding those who prefer to spend time by themselves rather than socializing with others. However, some point to Hermit Day not as a lifestyle, but as a tempting once a year respite from the rat race.

Does Judaism celebrate or condone living as a hermit?

The Nazarite may be the most obvious Biblical concept associated with the hermit. Nazarites, who accept ascetic practices upon themselves, abstain from cutting their hair, do not drink grape products and avoid coming in contact with the dead, all signs of social interaction. Interestingly, upon completion of the term of the Nazarite oath, the Nazir brings a sin offering. While some suggest that the “sin” was ending the Nazarite term, most of the commentaries suggest that the transgression was becoming a Nazarite to begin with, opting to shun all forms of socialization, and refusing to engage in pleasures of life that are permitted in Jewish law!

However, there are elements of asceticism that are considered productive.

Maimonides describes some of these elements when listing the attributes needed to receive Divine prophecy (Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, chapter 7). In addition to be fully conversant in all facets of the Torah, and behaving in a saintly and exemplary way, Maimonides writes that all prophets (with the exception of Moses) must prepare themselves for prophecy. In addition to intense concentration, and being in a state of joy, Maimonides writes that in order to attain the spirit of prophecy, one must be in “undisturbed solitude,” mit’bodedim.

There are ancient Jewish sources that advocate for a practice known as “hitbodedut,” which means self- seclusion. Although rabbis such as Avraham the son of Maimonides, Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the AriZal, and his student Rabbi Chaim Vital, all encouraged this practice, it is Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who is most identified with the exercise. The Breslover method has the individual communicating with God in an informal and intimate way, in a private or isolated setting. Rabbi Nachman favored natural settings such as fields and forests. He also preferred hitbodedut in the middle of the night, when less activity was taking place around him. The individual experiencing hitbodedut speaks to God as they would speak to another person, or more accurately, like a therapist, describing in the vernacular all of their issues. It is also meant to be a form of introspection.

So, enjoy the annual Hermit Day. Now you know how Judaism relates to various forms of asceticism.

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