10.12.2011 14.Kislev. 5772 Wajischlach
Could the Therapeutae, a Jewish monastic community, have been a Jewish utopia? Or is it just a story?
In the first century Philo wrote On the Contemplative Life, in which he describes a group of individuals called Therapeutae who devoted their lives to serving a divine being or to healing and curing. For years, my class and I read excerpts from this work that describe an amazing phenomenon: a Jewish monastic community located on the shores of a lake outside Alexandria. Its members were adherents of the allegorical school of scripture devoted to study and prayer and thus quite educated. Even more surprising is reading that this community was comprised of male and female members – “purged souls” – chaste by choice, all yearning for wisdom.
The women are described as “aged virgins” while the men appear to have left their family lives behind them. While men and women were secluded from one another on a daily basis, worship on Shabbat and festivals was communal. As Philo wrote: “The women regularly make part of the audience with the same ardor and with the same sense of their calling… the modesty becoming to the female sex is preserved… the feast is shared by women also… after supper they hold the sacred vigil… form themselves into two choirs… so filled with ecstasy both men and women that forming a single choir they sang hymns of thanksgiving to God their savior, the men led by the prophet Moses and the women by the prophetess Miriam."…