Throughout The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown extols the importance of the Zohar, the classic book of Kabbalah, as an incredible source of knowledge from which modern science can draw. As one scientist explains to another in the beginning of novel, “Human beings are poised on the threshold of a new age when they will begin turning their eyes back to nature and to the old ways……back to the ideas in books like the Zohar and other ancient texts from around the world.” Shafir Lobb, rabbi of Congregation Ner Tamid in Tucson, Arizona, a teacher of Kabbalah and member of the Order of the Eastern Star, the auxiliary women’s group of Freemasons, discusses the use of the Zohar in The Lost Symbol.
In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown suggests that all knowledge can be found in books on ancient teachings, and that science is just trying to catch up. Have you found that in your study of the Zohar?
The Zohar would certainly say that. Moshe de Leon, the Zohar’s redactor, would argue that there is nothing else and that the Zohar contains everything.
What is an example of the Zohar’s value to modem scientific thought?
Dan Brown didn’t have to go far in the Zohar to find something scientific. The Zohar states: “Deep within the spark gushed a flow, imbuing colors below, concealed within the the mystery of the Infinite. The flow broke through and did not break through its aura. It was not known at all until, under the impact of their breaking through, one high and hidden point shone. Beyond that point, nothing is known. So it is called the Beginning.” It struck Brown that this sounds like String Theory.
Is this the first time such scientific thought has been connected back to ancient thought?
No, indeed one of the things that Einstein said helped him formulate his thoughts on the universe was to think about the Creation story.
Are there other overt Jewish references in Dan Brown’s book?
The evil character is named “Malach,” which in Hebrew means angel. I see this as a Christian concept that the Devil is a fallen angel. Brown may be exploring the role of an angel of God. W hen is an angel doing good and when is it a Malach Hamavet [an angel of death]?
How do Freemasons react to your being a rabbi?
The Masonic community is not surprised at all, since a good part of the Masonic community cuts across Jewish lines. If you were a macher or “big-shot” in the Jewish community in Arizona and wanted to be part of a service organization you would look to be part of something like the Masons. And on the altar in the Masonic lodge there is a Christian scripture, a Koran and a Tanakh. The one at our local lodge is an Orthodox Birnbaum Tanakh. I actually teach a Kabbalah class that takes place at a Masonic temple and a few Masons come to the class. All the members of the Masonic group are very interested in my jewishness.
What is the Order of the Eastern Star?
It is an independent body made up of females who have a connection to a Mason. It can be a father, a brother or even a more tenuous connection. Eastern Star draws on the Biblical stories of Jephtah’s daughter, Ruth, and Esther, as well as Christian stories, such as the story of Martha. It uses them as a way of teaching traits to which one should aspire—like Esther’s bravery and Ruth’s fidelity.
What does your congregation think about the fact that you are a member of a Masonic group?
It’s not an issue. In our congregation we have two widows of Masons and a woman who is in the Eastern Star.
How does Judaism inform your choice to be in the Eastern Star? And how does being a member of the Eastern Star inform your Judaism? Do they share anything?
Masonic organizations are very involved in charity or tzedakah. Masons run hospitals and help take care of families who are ill. All traditions care about some of the same things. I wear the ring with the 5-pointed star from Eastern Star that my mother-in-law gave to me, and on my other hand I wear the six-pointed Star of David. —Sarah Breger