Ask: Incense for Home Ritual

I received an email asking me about the use of incense for  Rosh Chodesh.  Normally, I would just reply to the email but the woman must have mis-entered her address when she filled out the contact form.   I figured if I post this to the site there was a chance she might see it.

Question:

I am looking for information on incense or smudging as part of early Jewish home or tribal life. Want to make it a part of Rosh Chodesh meetup but some might be skeptical.

~ D.

Answer:
Incense was definitely part of early Judaism.  The only records we have are what’s in the Torah as part of the Temple practice, but that does not relate to home use of incense.   Judaism has a long history of using aromatic spices in ritual.  If you look at the Havdalah ritual with spices, honestly — who is to say they weren’t burned at some point.
It stands to reason that incense was used in homes, at least for its scent. And there are also many herbal practices that are documented in ancient Judaism. More commonly documented was anointing, which certainly provides a foundation for tinctures.   In Jeremiah, he rails against women offering cakes to the Queen of Heaven and burning offerings to her, which means that women were probably doing this as common practice. The question is whether or not you wish to reclaim this as a practice, or if Jeremiah’s denouncing of it turns you away.

I have found some interesting resources to hopefully give you some guidance, but in the end – it’s really giong to be up to you if you find it “legit.” Even if some are skeptical, you may be able to introduce it. You may want to avoid using Hindu or Buddhist incense, as it it usually dedicated to a specific deity, and could be particularly objectionable to some.

This seemed to be the most useful thing I dug up, and it’s from a source I really respect:

When we start asking questions like this, we discover that the shofar can be powerful medicine. “At times, the horn of a ram, or shofar, is employed for the healing ceremony, sometimes as a conduit for directing herbal smoke as in smudging (Midrash Thilim 22:14.), and sometimes as a way of shifting the breath, as with other shamanic traditions where the shaman blows healing breath into the patient. The shofar is believed to wield the power of shattering any factors of resistance to healing that might be present

This quote was from: http://www.hearingshofar.com/Book3.htm, and the author is someone I greatly respect.

Other resources:

Hope this helps!

2 Replies to “Ask: Incense for Home Ritual”

  1. I am reminded of a midrash written in 1982 by Penina Adelman, "Keturah: The Story of Incense" and published in Miriam's Well.

Comments are closed.