Traditional Jews "do" a deliberately watered-down, domesticated version of these rituals, within boundaries circumscribed by Halacha. Even if Judaism does have pre-monotheistic roots, is getting back to those roots still "Jewish"? Or is it getting back to exactly what we were supposed to get away from?
For Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, a controversial, charismatic rabbi with two best-selling books and an Israeli television program, it all depends on how paganism is put into context. For Gafni, paganism was the essence of biblical Jewish practice. But, he said, "we need to distinguish between 'level one' paganism and this new, 'level three' paganism. Level one is the idea in its raw form, and it was rejected by level two, which is the religion of the prophets. The prophets saw that level one paganism was all about eros, with its power and passion. There was no ethics. The prophets rejected that. They said, 'God's primary demand is ethical behavior.' And the prophets are right. But level three both transcends and includes level two. We don't get rid of prophetic ethics, but we move from that place to eros. We reclaim eros, the energy of Shechinah, the energy of the goddess, and unite it with ethics."
Ezrahi, who recently co-authored a book with Gafni on the myth of Lilith, told a similar story. "The Talmud is full of sages talking to rivers, trees, birds. But in [Tractate] Sanhedrin it says, we don't want to be pulled to idolatry, and we are willing to 'pay the price' of prophecy to avoid it. "
Since then, Ezrahi added, the pagan parts of the Talmud were minimized and marginalized by rationalistic rabbis. "We thought that we became smart. We are scientific people, and we know these things don't happen. Actually, we became blind, deaf and arrogant."
As a result, Gafni said, our culture has gotten so devoid of spirit that paganism is needed to rescue ethics itself. "All ethical failure comes from a lack of eros. When you're moved to act unethically, what is happening? You're responding to a primal insecurity. In order to be ethical, we have to be in eros. Bonfires, chanting, ecstatic dance, embodied ritual — all recapture divine energy," Gafni said.