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October 31, 2002

"Die another day" is the new Madonna single

"DIE ANOTHER DAY" IS THE NEW MADONNA SINGLE attached to a forthcoming Bond film. The video may provoke controversy (Madonna? Say it ain't so.) as it features elements of her continuing interest in kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. A tattoo written in Hebrew sports her shoulder and Madonna wraps a leather band - or teffilin - around her arm echoing a practice of morning prayer. Is this mere posturing and self-indulgence? Is it appropriate to show religious practices in a music video? Or is Madonna expressing new spiritual insight in a popular context?

Kabbalah finds its main source in the Zohar, a text revealed to Moses de Leon in the thirteenth century based ostensibly on the writings of a second-century scholar Simeon bar Yochai. The Zohar parallels a tradition of commentary on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, but claims there are hidden meanings in the arrangement of and comparisons between letters and words in which these books are written. This form of interpretation becomes quite complicated when the numeric significance of each word (Hebrew letters are each associated with a number) is taken into account.

Kabbalah is interpreted in almost as many different ways are there are kabbalists. For some, the study of kabbalah is a primarily scholarly enterprise which informs other aspects of religous belief while for others it is an intense mystical practice.

Madonna began attending the Kabbalah Centre, an international school of kabbalah studies, in 1997 in an attempt to explore spiritual aspects of her life beyond her family or her success as a Material Girl. She was following in a long line of celebrities who, having become disatisfied with mere fame and fortune, turned to mysticism for new insight. The Beatles anticipated this spiritual turn and the seemingly inevitable irritation it provokes in many people. It can be difficult to empathize with the psychic dilemmas of fame and wealth or to credit spiritual depth where naked ambition had been so evident. Equally, pop star mystics attract accusations of cultural appropriation or the "dumbing down" of complex beliefs. Rick Ross, an American lecturer on "cults", suggests a more sinister aspect of Madonna's specific spritual path by providing links to numerous news articles calling the practices of the Kabbalah Centre, and its director Rav Berg, into question.

Anthropologists tend to favour the term "new religious movement" in order to avoid the negative value associated with the word "cult." Contemporary examples such as Tibetan Buddhism or Falun Gong are called cults as a means of discrediting them for the purposes of the government of the People's Republic of China. Others espouse beliefs which seem odd or quirky to majority opinion and attract ridicule as a result. It is important to remember all of the world's major religions were at one time small, new philosophies often at odds with conventional wisdom of the day. Many modern secular philosophies (psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, or anthropology for that matter) might pejoratively be described as cults. That said, the particular practices of any given group - such as the Kabbalah Centre - may or may not be considered exploitative or insincere.

What might the kabbalistic elements of "Die another day" mean if we assume Madonna's interest is sincere? The main question is the meaning of the tattoo which appears on Madonna's right shoulder: the letters "lamed", "alef" and "vav" (from right to left). Several intepretations present themselves.

A fan writing to Madonnapolis (the story is about half way down the news page) claims LAV is the Hebrew word for "not", a word which recurs in the the ten commandents in the form of "thou shalt not". The tatoo would then be a kind of "mark of Cain" representing the sins she needs to overcome. The fight between the White Madonna and Black Madonna of the video is concluded as the White Madonna wraps the tefillin around her arm thereby taking responsibility for the condition of her soul. I like this reading. The word "not", however, is spelled "lamed" "alef" (loh) and does not include the letter "vav" (I would be delighted to be corrected on this subject. Perhaps "vav" is added for grammatical purposes in particular sentence constructions.) I find a better fit in the word LAV, or heart, as this expresses the idea of a guide to understanding or full manifestation of consciousness. Unfortunately my theory fails the same test as LAV is spelled "lamed" "vav" and does not include the letter "alef".

The Kabbalarians, a group whose philosophy is inspired by kabbalah, claim the name Lav is associated with an "independent, practical, analytical nature with skillful business abilities." This describes Madonna but does not shed led either on the process by which the Kabbalarians came to their analysis or the "Die another day" video.

Sadly, a simpler explanation presents itself. "LAV" is only an approximation of the Hebrew pronounciation of the tattood word. "LAV" sounds like "LOVE".


For more on Madonna's tattoo in the "Die another day" video click here for links to my subsequent posts and a letter to the Flea from Rabbi Yehuda Berg. As the spiritual leader of the Kabbalah Centre which Madonna reportedly attends regularly his may be considered to be the official interpretation.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at October 31, 2002 01:33 PM


I just wanted to add, as an Israeli who's a native hebrew speaker, that indeed the word "no" in hebrew is usually spelled "Lamed" "Alef", but there's also the form of "LAV" as appeard in the video clip. it's not commanly used but I'm familiar with it.

Posted by: Netalie at August 21, 2003 01:44 PM

Judaism is beautiful.
The Torah is holy and beautiful.
If non-Jews wish to learn Judaism and
Torah they should be applauded and
accepted with open arms. "All the nations shall come to worship HaShem"

In the story of Dina and Shechem and Hamor. The brothers, Levi and Shimon
did horrible things in defense of their
Jacob was besides himself with grief.
An honest convert, that makes a great
sacrifice must be accept and respected.

In all Jews there is room for improvement.
In the convert also there
is room for improvement. Better study
better adherance to the mitzvot, better life.
Because the convert is not perfect she should not be disparaged.

Posted by: BEN ELIAHU at September 28, 2004 02:13 PM