A Contemporary Jewish Hermit

An excellent and fascinating site about Jewish asceticism and the eremitical life is found at http://jewishcontemplatives.blogspot.com.au/ It provides a vast range of material on this relatively little known Jewish tradition. Before converting to Judaism the hermit had been a Discalced Carmelite friar.
light in darkness
“A hermit is one who lives in the desert or wilderness (from the Greek for desert= eremo). I am a Jewish hermit but my “hermitage” is in neither. This is because the term hermit has a spiritual connotation as well as a geographical or topological one and can refer to one who has, in some sense, withdrawn or separated himself from society to live a life of simplicity, meditation, or prayer.

The term “Desert Spirituality” is a popular expression used most frequently in the Abrahamic traditions to describe an ascetic, stripped-down, and streamlined attitude towards the spiritual life. In Christianity there is both an ancient and a contemporary literature, often monastic or neo-monastic, which expounds the principles and practices of the genre. These in turn are derived from Scriptural desert stories.

The “Desert Spirituality” of Judaism comes from the Hebrew Bible and its rabbinical commentaries. In The Hebrew Bible, deserts and mountains in the wilderness are the most frequent “venue” for the Divine-human encounter…..in both personal and communal forms.

Perhaps the richest source for developing a specifically Jewish “Desert Spirituality” is the detailed Torah account of the “forty years” which Israel spent b’midbar (in the desert).”
“The eremitical life is as much an attitude of mind as it is a choice of environment or location, but it seems to me that hermits can be divided into two main types: the Wilderness hermit and the Urban hermit.

The “Urban hermits” are those whose eremiticism is lived out in areas of medium or high population, often deliberately sited in city centres. Often they view this as being an indication of their intention to try to bring some sort of “peace” or “blessing” to their immediate neighbours. Such persons frequently earn a living by home industry or by part time work in “normal” employment. Their life is fundamentally one of solitude and silence nonetheless. According to Avraham ben Maimon , the Biblical exemplars of (temporary) solitary lifestyles lived in houses or places of worship include Jacob, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Aharon and his sons.

The “Wilderness hermits” choose to seek out deep personal and environmental solitude and silence which they feel can assist the formation and development of the interior life. (Avraham ben Maimon cites Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses as exemplars.) In our times, more often than not, part of the impetus for such lifestyles is Nature or Ecology inspired…and may not be religious at all…. This type of hermit most often seems to aim for self-sustainability and often sees their lifestyle as being a political statement as much as a spiritual choice. Specifically “religious” hermits who choose the “real” wilderness most often take their inspiration from traditional desert associations with spiritual retreat and heightened awareness.”

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