Sunday, April 5, 2009

Asael II

Introduction, Prologue, I

The two of them walked through the still dark library. Exiting the library, they made their way toward the monastery’s kenasia.[1] Asael glanced around as other monks came, exiting their dwellings, and making their way toward them. The monks nodded toward Kuphdin, ignoring Asael. Asael was used to this and it suited him fine. If there was one advantage in the pre-prayer silence it was that he only had to deal with the looks people gave him and not their comments.

Upon entering the kenasia, Asael took a seat beside Kuphdin. Asael glanced around the room. The entire monastery was there except the sick and the two monks who did mishmar[2] duty, staying up all night in prayer, a practice founded in a passage in the Shith:[3] “if the army has sentries on duty through the night then should not the priesthood?” The day’s reader, Abednago, trudged to the lectern in front and opened the volume in front of him. Abednago was a man in his seventies and spoke in a voice that sounded as if it had been greased with chalk. “Rabi Ze'ira sat at the feet of Abba Mari wearing black shoes. When members of the house of the Resha Mesivta[4] saw this, they asked him why he was wearing shoes of a kofar.[5] He responded that was wearing black because he was from Marava[6]. Hearing this they imprisoned him as a heretic. Only when he entered into a discussion of the Oraitha[7] with them, proving that he was a scholar, did he secure his release.”

Abednago paused from reading, looked out at his audience. “The heretical group in question used to wear black shoes as a symbol of their beliefs so the Rabanan[8] banned this particular garment. Rabi Ze’ira was from the lands of Marava and the Rabanan there never had to confront this particular group so they never made such a ban. These shoes were therefore permitted to Rabi Ze’ira." Abednago paused and raised his voice to emphasis his words as if leading up to the main point. “The Rabanan of the Shith, in whose ways we are guided, understood the value of the Oraitha. They did not ask Rabi Ze'ira about Chochmai HaNachrin[9] such as Natural Philosophy or Experimental Theology. It was enough that he was filled with the words of the Oraitha whose ‘branches are peace’ and ‘whose ways are a shelter against the slings and arrows of the terrors of the night.”

Asael drummed his feet against the bench in front of him causing Kuphdin to glare at him disapprovingly. "This is an absolute of violation of dinah Oraitha,[10]" Asael said to himself. "A bai dinah[11] is forbidden to listen to one side’s argument without the presence of the other."

Despite himself, Asael managed to make it through the forty something minutes of the tzaphra[12] service without serious incident. He made his way through the devotional word by word, though mostly by rote, took his final three steps back and headed for the door. In the shuffle to exit he lost sight of Kuphdin.

As Asael dashed off to the main hall for breakfast he noticed that several of the monks were whispering excitedly. He could not hear what they were saying besides “Saebethia” as they looked over in his direction. As was his usual practice when being subjected to mild unwanted attention, he turned to them and grinned before moving on to the main hall. If it had been serious unwanted attention he might have laughed. That usually was a guarantee to unnerve people.

Once in the main hall Asael grabbed some bread and cheese. This was the sort of bread and cheese that simply went by the names “bread” and “cheese,” without deserving further adjectives or explanations beyond the fact that one could usually count on them not being moldy or poisonous. Asael then proceeded to look once more for Kuphdin. He finally saw him across the hall in middle of a crowd of chattering monks. “Certainly not a usual day.” Asael said under his breath as he sat down by himself. He ate quickly before heading off to the library. Judging from the crowd around him, Kuphdin was likely going to be late. Whatever the matter was it would likely be of interest but not nearly as interesting as Kuphdin late to work at his own library.

Upon entering the library Asael busied himself sorting through the latest acquisitions. Asael was glad to see that many of them were destined for the Purgatory section, his favorite. Years ago Kuphdin had posted a sign over the Purgatory section saying: “Vile Heresy. Do Not Enter or Read Anything Here at the Risk of Your Immortal Soul.” This had pleased certain of the more conservative members at the top of the Order who saw this as a mark of a proper monk librarian of the Order and the allotted funds for the library had increased over the years. The Purgatory section was a particular beneficiary of this largess and under Kuphdin’s reign it had expanded far beyond its traditional back wall, making it the chief cause of Kuphdin’s repeated requests for an expansion of the library.

The Cheese, the Worm and the Fermentation of God by Acher Miller and Delusions of Divinity by Dick Hawkins, sounds promising.” Asael mused as he leafed through the volumes.

In the distance Asael could hear the town clock ring seven times. Kuphdin was officially late. Asael pulled out the library seal and began stamping the new members of the library, leaving aside one book for further examination.

[1] A religious sanctuary and place of prayer. It is similar to a synagogue or a church. While prayer plays a major role for the Ro’ai-Ana religion, particularly for those who have taken on holy orders, as we shall see, prayer is mostly connected to the study of sacred texts. As confusing as this may seem to those not familiar with the Ro’ai-Ana, the Ro’ai-Ana will often refer to actions that most of us would view as study as prayer. Furthermore, while the Ro’ai-Ana do engage in laudatory prayer there is almost no petitionary prayer. This is due to certain peculiar features of Ro’ai-Anian theology.
[2] Guard
[3] From the word for six, the Shith with its subsequent commentaries form the main body of Ro’ai-Anian legal thought.
[4] The Head of the Academy.
[5] Unbeliever. The Ro’ai-Ana possess a strong sense of separateness between themselves and outsiders, usually referred to as nocharin or kofarin. Nochri refers to members of other religions while kofar refers to a non believing Roi-Ana. For the Roi-Ana a kofar is something significantly worse.
[6] West.
[7] Lit. instruction. The Ro’ai-Ana scripture.
[8] Sages.
[9] Wisdom of Strangers i.e. gentile wisdom. Any branch of knowledge deemed to contradict the Ro’ai-Anian faith or to have been created by people of other nations and creeds and therefore irrelevant. The exact parameters of chachmai hanachorin is a somewhat contentious matter.
[10] Law of the Oraitha.
[11] Court of law.
[12] Morning. Also used to refer to morning prayer.

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