Alevism

there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers

Flavius Josephus, first century CE Roman Jewish historian

Alevis Hebrew: HaLevi, meaning “ the Levite”) are all Levites and have Kohanim, known as Alevi Dedes (Turkish: Alevi Dede), meaning ‘Levite Davidians’. Like rabbinically Jewish kohanim are Alevi kohanim prohibited from marrying divorcees or visiting funerals. Alevi kohanim maintain the ancient Israelite function of blessing the people, a version of the Birkat haKohanim (the priestly blessing) during which the Alevis prostrate in front of the Alevi kohen. Just as each Rabbinic Jew is supposed to have a personal rabbi is each Alevi expected to have a personal Alevi Dede. Similar to the story of Samson and Delilah are the beards of Alevi kohanim considered sacred and must not be touched by others. The religious status of bat kohen (daughter of a kohen) also exist in Alevism. Alevi kohanim maintain genealogical scrolls. The non-Levites or ‘Israelites’, i.e. commoners are known as Bektashis and are a separate denomination.

A Sandek (the person who hold the boy in his lap during circumcision) is known as kirve (Hebrew: karov, meaning “close” such as a relative). Alevis have shofars (rams’s horn which are used as religous musical instruments) and had public Torah reading until the 19th century. Alevi religious culture is referred to as Töre (Hebrew: Torah). Alevis have leavened “matzah” bread known in Zazaki as maize xiziri. Alevis leave an empty plate and empty seat for the prophet Elijah during Hizir cemi in the late winter similar to during the Rabbinically Jewish Passover (pesach). The hair of first-born Alevi boys is not cut until the eight year of age similar to Upsherin ceremony of cutting the hair of Haredi (Ultra-Ortodox) boys at age three. The fact that this relates only to firstborn boys is similar to the pidyon haben ceremony in Rabbinic Judaism.

The matchmaking process is similar in Alevism and in Haredi Orthodox Judaism. An older woman function as an intermediary and carries strictly confidential messages that may only be shared with the immediate family. There was long a taboo on eating food cooked by non-Alevis. There is a wide range of blessings in Alevism similar to in Rabbinic Judaism. Kapparot (swinging of hens/roosters prior to sacrificing them) is common among Alevis. Alevis perform pilgrimage to sacred mountains where they sacrifice goats. During religious service (Cem, pronounced Djem) is a male Sheep often sacrificed. As in Rabbinic Judaism is traditionally the focus on orthopraxy, i.e. religious belief is considered as stemming from religious practice as in Rabbinic Judaism. Numerology exists in both Alevism and Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism has a lunar-solar calendar while Alevism has both a lunar and a solar calendar. Both consider women to be impure during menstruation and prohibit sexual intercourse during this period.

The first two honorary duties in the twelve services of Cem are reserved for kohanim similar to the first two Aliyot during Torah reading being reserved for a kohen and a levite. Shabbat is the day of rest for Alevis. King David is described in the Hebrew Bible as dancing in praying and dancing as prayer is prominent in Alevism. Alevis pray towards the sun at sunrise and sunset comparable to shacharit and ma’ariv in Rabbinic Judaism. Prayers are however personal with no set formula. Weekend prayers and daily prayers generally take place at home. Alevis kiss doorposts and place stones on and near graves. As in Haredi Judaism are the Ten Commandments the yardstick for exclusion from the community. Some Alevi men wear tallit katan with ritual fringes. Women also use ritual fringes on dresses for religious purposes during Cem. A ritual broom is used during Cem parallel to ritual house cleaning prior to Passover. Religious love lyrics are traditionally composed in both Alevism and Rabbinic Judaism and both traditions maintain religious humor, including jokes about God. Alevism have a hereditary hierarchy headed by a hereditary High Priest, Veliyettin Ulusoy

Alevi “Ashura” celebrates Motzei Yom Kippur, meaning the evening after Yom Kippur (Day of Reconcilation) when the fast of Yom Kippur is broken. This comes after ten (or sometimes twelve) days constituting the Fast of Muharram. There are Ten Days of Repentance known in Hebrew as Aseret Yemei Teshuva between Rosh Hashanah (the main New Year in Rabbinic Judaism) and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah was originally one day (which later became two days). The one original day of Rosh Hashanah, the one day of Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Repentance are in total 12 days. The Ten Days of Repentance are a period of semi-mourning devoted to repentance, prayer and charity in Rabbinic Judaism. As the use of leather shoes is prohibited for Rabbinic Jews during the fast of Yom Kippur so is it likewise prohibited for Alevis to wear leather shoes during the Fast of Muharram.

Khal Gagane (from Hebrew chagiganu meaning we celebrated) is the Alevi equivalent of the Jewish masquerade festival of Purim. In Khal Gagane celebrations are there usually two men dressed up as for masquerade. One of the men is dressed as a woman and the other is dressed as a man with a fake beard. They often enter homes of Alevi neighbors and the man with the fake beard symbolically and humorously beats up neighbors with a stick. This is a very joyous occasion reminiscent of how the defeat of Haman is celebrated during Purim. This Alevi symbolic beating is known as Malkot in Rabbinic Judaism which includes 39 symbolic beatings. Also Khal Gagane, as famously Purim involves quite generous and festive alcohol consumption.

There is an Alevi New Moon prayer parallel in Rabbinic Judaism to the Rosh Chodesh (Hebrew for “head of month”) prayer insertion and the Kiddush Levanah (“moon sanctification”) prayer. 

Alevi Erusin (ritual betrothal in Judaism) including ritual consumption of wine (as in Rabbinic Erusin), butter & honey (symbolizing the land of milk and honey, a metaphor for Israel) as well as bread which is indeed otherwise ritually consumed in Rabbinic Judaism. There is exchange of coins and rings as in Rabbinic Judaism. A ceramic vessel is crushed and is subsequently stepped upon by the fiancé. During both Alevi weddings and rabbinically Jewish weddings, a glass vessel is crushed by the groom. Erusin is today performed as part of the wedding in Rabbinic Judaism while it is still a separate ceremony in both time and space in Alevism.

As comparable to the particularly famous apple-eating in the biblical Book of Genesis (Hebrew Bereshit, meaning “Beginning”) – during Zaza Alevi weddings in the Dersim (Tunceli) region the bride and the groom each consumes their half of one for this purpose bisected apple.

As in Rabbinic Judaism two wedding witnesses are required for performing a wedding in Alevism. Alevi wedding couples drink a sugar-flavored drink and the officiating Dede declares the two married. Something sweet is then eaten. Subsequently as in Rabbinic Judaism grape juice is ritually consumed by the married two, although in Rabbinic Judaism grape juice usually takes the shape of grape wine. 

As with the Shabbat and other holiday Kiddush blessing over wine in Rabbinic Judaism; it is in Alevism the grape juice that is religiously required and not the alcohol per se. The Alevi wedding consumption of apple, sweets and grape juice is comparable to rabbinically Jewish consumption of apple, honey, wine and pomegranate during Rosh Hashanah (literally “First of the Year”), the rabbinically Jewish New Year. Alevis light candles on Friday night, some do it instead on Thursday night but it is still referred to as “Friday night”. Alevis also drink Kiddush grape juice on Thursday nights. The Shabbat, from dusk on Friday til dusk on Saturday is the Alevi day of rest.

Cem is the main religious service in Alevi-Bektashi Judaism. Cem simply means “day” as derived from the Hebrew Yom, meaning day. A Jewish holiday is referred to in Hebrew as Yom Tov, a good day or as a Chag. Historically, Cem is an Alevi-Bektashi Haggadah with the recitation and singing of a long text, the length of a short book coupled with various ceremonies, including a ritual meal.

Cem contains a number of main elements. The Semah (Hebrew Sameach meaning Happy) dance, the Dem (Hebrew Dam meaning blood referring to ritual consumption of red wine corresponding to Kiddush and Havdalah in Rabbinic Judaism), ritual reconciliation (similar to during the autumn holidays in Rabbinic Judaism) and Animal sacrifice of a Sheep. There is also ritual consumption of bread with salt as in Rabbinic Judaism. The 12 services (corresponding to the Passover Seder) offer various ritual honorary tasks, indeed 12 honorary tasks as in the Shabbat Saturday forenoon Torah reading in Synagogue. Historically was Alevi Cem celebrated at night and even outdoors in nature; both precautions so as to elude persecution by the Ottoman authorities. As in synagogue, prayer in Cemevi takes place both sitting and standing. The word Cemevi has the exact same meaning as Beit Knesset the Hebrew word for for synagogue – as both words literally mean house of assembly. There are four internal pillars inside some Cemevis as comparable to the four-corned Chuppah (wedding canopy) that is used in both Rabbinic Judaism and Alevism. The four internal pillars also not coincidentally exist in some synagogues as well. The fact that many Alevi Dedes in modern times adopted Haredi-style dress despite this not being traditional in pre-modern Turkey and still dress so is a strong indication that the full knowledge of Israeli ancestry has been esoterically passed down through the generations between leading Alevi Dedes for 27 centuries.

There are also other cems, the Müsahiplik Cemi where Spiritual Brotherhood (Müsahiplik the Alevi equivalent of Chavruta) is formally entered into, the Koldan Kopla Cemi which is the Cem that formally officiates excommunication and İrşat Cemi which prepares and educates for Ikrar Cemi (the Cem of Reading from Hebrew Kriyat HaTorah, literally calling out the Torah, meaning public Torah reading), the Alevi Bar Mitzvah coming-of-age ceremony. It should be kept in mind that public Torah reading by Alevi Dedes existed as late as the 19th century CE.