Book Review: Marc Gafni – The Mystery of Love

Marc Gafni is a contemporary Jewish teacher who seeks (I think) to reclaim eros and its power for the spiritual life. His thinking is outlined in his book The Mystery of Love.

The central claim of the book is that the two cherubim in the Holy of Holies in the Hebrew temple were meurim zeh b’zeh, locked in a sexual embrace, as one embraced with his lover. This, says Gafni, is the meaning of face-to-face in Exodus 25:20. Gafni depicts the temple as a joyful celebration of human sexuality, decorated with the image of coupling cherubs.

Npw, there is absolutely no evidence for this in the bible. Exodus 25:20 says that the cherubs were paniym ‘iysh ‘ach, their faces one to another. They are at either end of the mercy seat (Exodus 25:19) and there is a space between them: I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim (Exodus 25:22).

The cherubs do touch, but at tips of their inner wings (2 Chronicles 3:12) – a most beautiful and moving image (the outer wings touched the walls of the Holy of Holies – cherubs have 4 wings). Chronicles seems a more reliable source than Kings, the latter being written by the deuteronomist (who suppressed the cherubs).

An article in the Jewish encyclopedia has some more information. Josephus says that no one knows or can even guess what form they had, whilst Philo said they represented Elohim and Yahweh. Among the many polarities listed by Philo as attributed to this pair are father and mother.

The article quotes from the Yoma – part of the Mishnah:

It is recorded as a miracle that when Israel was worshiping the Lord, the cherubim lovingly turned their faces toward each other (B. B. l.c.), [some say their faces were normally turned downwards towards the ark] and even embraced like a loving couple. On these occasions the curtain was raised so that the Jews who had come on pilgrimage might convince themselves how much God loved them (Yoma 54a). At the destruction of the Temple the heathen found the cherubim in this posture; and they mocked the Jews because of their obscene worship, thinking the cherubim to be the objects of it (Yoma 54b). This conception of the cherubim, as representing the union of Israel with God, has been further developed by the Cabala, the cherubim being taken to represent the mysterious union of the earthly with the heavenly… There were no cherubim in the Temple of Herod; but according to some authorities, its walls were painted with figures of cherubim


Here then is one source for the claim that the cherubs were meurim zeh b’zeh. An article with some more references can be found at the Biblical Research Institute.

Now what are we to make of the cherubim being intertwined? Naturally this is celebrating human sexuality, but being placed in the Holy of Holies it acquires symbolic value as well. It represents the marriage of heaven and earth.

Returning to the text: like any feeling human being, I am delighted to read someone celebrating human sexuality as a gift from God. The opening chapter is joyful and I especially liked Gafni’s point that if we remove eros from everyday life, we will remove it from sex as well. However there are problems, too. Gafni celebrates sex rather than love-making, and morality is dismissed as being anti-eros. This was a huge disappointment to me. Surely ball-busting love-making with someone you love can be a supremely moral act? In the words of one reviewer on amazon, Gafni leads you down a provocative and sensational path, but he is unable to distinguish between feeling the power of eros and loving everyone sexually. His world-view promotes the Bacchus/Don Juan archetype, sincerely making love to a different woman each night. It’s not surprising to read that Gafni’s personal life has been marked with similar controversy, with numerous affairs through his three failed marriages.

The sections of the kabbalah and the teaching stories that Gafni quotes are delightful. However, Gafni seems confused about the nature of eros, and unable to distinguish it clearly from sex and from love. Eros is morally neutral, and is to be placed at the service of the spiritual life. Let’s be clear: no-one enjoys a ripe peach more than the devil. He is an example of a being perfectly in touch with his eros, and Gafni just doesn’t get this at all.

This is an interesting book, in some ways an important book; but it is also wordy, incomplete, confused and, above all, immature.


~ by scalambra on January 9, 2011.

2 Responses to “Book Review: Marc Gafni – The Mystery of Love”

  1. V. informative review of an interesting book. It looks worth looking for and reading.

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