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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


From Sephardic Jew to Hindu Guru

How a Proselytized Secular Jew Became a Hindu Spiritual Leader

By Shelomo Alfassa (a distant relative)

September 2006


Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973), later known to some of her followers as "The Mother" is considered a Hindu spiritual leader by a large group of followers in India. In this essay, I will explain the history of this distant relative of mine. I will explain that she was a Jew, a lost Jew.


Mirra was born in Paris on Thursday, February 21, 1878 at about 1015 in the morning. Mirra was the third child of her parents, Maurice Alfassa, born 1843 at Adrianople [modern Edirne] and Mathilde Ismaloun, born 1857 at Alexandria, Egypt, both locations that were then part of the Ottoman Empire. At some point Maurice traveled from Adrianople to Egypt. There he met his wife and in 1876 they had a son named Matteo at Alexandria. During the period, it as not uncommon for Sephardic Jews to holiday in Alexandria which was an Egyptian gem. The relationship between Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire and France lends itself to the educational institution known as the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) which brought the modern French educational system to Jewish children throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. After many of the families learned French, it was not uncommon for some to migrate to France and other French speaking locations.

The family emigrated to France in 1877 and Mirra was born the following year. She was reported to be born on the, "boulevard Haussmann near the Opera" located in the heart of Paris. Purportedly, Mirra once stated that when she and her brother were children, her mother:


Spent her time dinning into our hearts that one is not on earth to have a good time, that it is constant hell, but one has to put up with it, and the only satisfaction to be got out of life is in doing one's duty…I had a father who loved the circus, and he came and told me, 'Come with me, I am going to the circus on Sunday.' I said, No, I am doing something much more interesting than going to the circus!

In 1888 Alfassa joined an "exclusive school for the rich," a formal academic education. "I never went to a public school," she said , "because my mother considered it unfitting for a girl to be in a public school." "She was not interested in learning for the sake of 'having a knowing air'. She wanted to understand all that she did and it was understanding that brought her great joy." "… all my studies were like that, the whole time. I enjoyed myself-enjoyed, enjoyed, enjoyed... it was all enjoyable." Mirra once wrote that between eleven and thirteen, she said, a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to her the existence of God and man's possibility of uniting with Him. In 1893 she traveled to Italy with her mother. While at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice she recalled a scene from a past life where she was strangled and thrown out into the canal.


At age 16 in 1894 Mirra Alfassa joined the Ecole des Beaux Arts where she acquired the nickname, "the Sphinx". There she studied drawing as a student of the French painter Gustave Moreau and was said to have exhibited at the Paris Salon. During her career as a painter, she was said to associate with Rodin, Monet and other (now) famous artists.

At age 19 she married Henri Morisset, the couple had a child in 1898, Andre (of which nothing else is known except that in 1945 he visited India to see her). She dabbled in the occult and eastern religions, and traveled to North African to more formally investigate these interests. Between 1905 and 1906 she studied in Tlemcen, Algeria with an Ashkenazi Jew calling himself "Max Theon" whose Arab name was Aia Aziz, a man who once said his father was Rabbi Judes L. Bimstein of Warsaw. Max, an interesting character, was a man whose long hair never once touched a pair of scissors. It was from Louis M. Themanlys (a Jew), Matteo's college friend, that Mirra first heard about Max and his Cosmic Philosophy.

Development of a Guru

Max was said to have given "rational explanation of the spontaneous experiences she had had since her childhood." He introduced Mirra to a man born in India, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) whose cult-like leadership captured both of their imaginations. Max studied and lead a program called Cosmic Philosophy which according to Mirra (and others) was based on Jewish practices of kabbalah. Aurobindo liked Jews. He once pointed out that "the contribution of the Jews towards the world's progress in every branch is remarkable."

Indeed the Jewish race has produced not only prophets like Elijah or philosophers like Spinoza, but also the greatest of our modern scientists, Albert Einstein, born one year after Mirra. Besides, my acquaintances of that race are all people of refinement.

Mirra once said that in 1904 at age 26 she met during a dream, a dark Asiatic figure whom she called Krishna. She said that Krishna guided her in her inner journey. She came to have total implicit faith in Krishna, and was hoping to meet him one day in real life. She returned to France where she expanded her study on various Hindu practices and soon would give over her life to the study. She is quoted as saying about Judaism, that God is basically "depicted as the Judge of mankind, and not its Lover as in Hinduism." Perhaps it was also against this sense of severity that Christ rebelled?" From these thoughts, we can get a glimpse of Mirra's thoughts, we can see that they were inconsistent with Judaism.

In 1906 she founded a group of spiritual seekers in Paris which was named l'Idée Nouvelle. This group met at her home on Wednesday evenings, first at Rue Lemercier and then at rue des Lévis. In 1908 she divorced Henri and abandoned her sons to his sisters, marrying a lawyer and former Christian pastor, Paul Richard of Lille, France. Paul and Mirra lived at Rue du Val de Grace, in a small house at the back of a garden or courtyard. Andre, then around twelve, was a regular visitor who came around to see his mother. Paul had an interest in Hinduism and went to India in search of meeting a Hindu leader. He met a man named Aurobindo who had just been released from prison for revolutionary activities against the British. Aurobindo had just given up on politics and entered the Hindu spiritual world. After Paul returned from India, he introduced his wife to the teachings of Aurobindo.

On 7 March 1914, Mirra and Paul embarked for India aboard the steamer Kaga Maru, reaching Pondicherry on the 29th. There, Paul founded a Hindu publication called Arya. Paul eventually went back to serve in the French Army during WWI. Mirra left because of the war, but returned in 1920. Sometime during this decade they had moved to Japan where they stayed for four years. Eventually they went back to Pondicherry, where Mira would stay until her death in 1973. Her marriage would fall apart, and Mira became close to Aurobindo who then called her Mirra Devi (goddess Mirra). She eventually was put in charge of the community and followers became numerous.

Having left two ex-husbands and a young son in Paris, Mirra Alfassa settled permanently in India in 1921 and was soon declared a Hindu goddess. Renamed "the Mother", she spent the next 50 years as a spiritual leader (a guru). In 1926 Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa founded the location of their spiritual base, an ashram in Pondicherry, India. As the ashram grew, many departments sprang up including an office, library, dining room, press, workshops, playground, art gallery, dispensary, farms, dairies, flower gardens, guest houses, legal department. In the 1920s the daughter of Woodrow Wilson, the US President, came to the ashram and chose to remain there for the rest of her life. In later years Mirra met with other individuals, including the king of Nepal. She had a significant meeting with the Dalai Lama who had recently escaped from Chinese occupation of Tibet. In 1950 Aurobindo died and in the next decade Mirra and her followers would dedicate Auroville (i.e. town of Sri Aurobindo) in his name. Indira Gandhi and Mirra had a close relationship; Indira Gandhi was a devotee of Mirra and often sought her counsel on various issues.

In 1951 Mirra founded the Sri Aurobindo International University to modernize and expand the scope of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Today in 2005, the Center's subjects include English, French, Sanskrit, Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Applied Sciences, Computer Science, History, Geography, Indian languages, foreign languages, Music, Dance, Drawing, Painting and Handwork.


Some of the people who "follow" Mirra have been in denial that she was Jewish, some of her followers have taken the time to invent a story and circulate it that she was "A Parisian of Egyptian descent" when in fact she was solely Jewish.

Her followers write of her:

"Immediately after her birth, she was Christened by her father as Mirra Alfassa. And the nurse in the maternity clinic wrote at the corner of the cloth, M.A. Her nick name became 'Ma' which was liked by her father. Ma means mother in many languages. So she became mother right from her birth."

This is ridiculous! Her father was Jewish, and Jews don't get "christened." It was said about her parents that her father was a secular Jew, a banker and a first-rate mathematician, her mother was a disciple of Marx (a communist) until the age of eighty-eight. Another account states he knew German, English, Italian and Turkish, "He liked very much birds and circus. His career of banker was not fruitful."

They continue…

"At her birth she was named - seemingly an Indian name-Mirra Alfassa. Thus her initials were M.A., and all her clothes and belongings carried the initials MA. So she was called MA (Mother) even from her childhood!"

"Her mother, Mathilde Ismaloun was from Egypt and she was said to be descendent of the Egyptian pharaohs. The father, Maurice Alfassa, was from Turkey, dominated by the Islamic faith. Just a year before The Mother's birth the parents had shifted from Egypt to Paris - the heartcentre of Europe."

"grand-daughter of an Egyptian Prince"

"Mathilde was an Egyptian but her father Maurice was a Turk. Her parents migrated to France in 1877. Both her parents were down-to-earth and practical. They did not care for the existence of God."

Yes, Turkey was an Islamic country, but it had hundreds of thousands of Spanish Jews living there. Alfassa is a Sephardic Jewish surname, something they obviously do not realize or maybe do not want to admit. The idea that she is related to Egyptian pharaohs is preposterous and probably perpetuated as a way to make her ancestry more appealing to her cult followers. Research will show the investigator that the relation to "Egyptian pharaohs" comes from a story Mirra told her mother while on a trip to Italy at age 15 in 1893.

Alfassa means "one from Fes" (as in the city of Fes in modern Morocco) however it is obvious these people do not know this. Many Jews with the name Alfassa, DeFes or Alfasi lived in Turkey, specifically Adrianople. A common ancestor and one of the most important rabbis in Jewish history was Isak Alfassi (known as the RIF) came from Fes and moved to Spain in the 11th century. Alfassi/Alfassa surnames can be found in Spain since that time. With the bloody carnage thrust upon the Jews in Spain by members of the Catholic Church in the 14th and 15th century, thousands of Jews fled to Turkey, later, hundreds of thousands were forced out in 1492 and also went there.

Her father Maurice was said to have been, "born in Adrianople" which was in Turkey. This is logical, as there was a large group of Alfassas' living in Adrianople in the early 20th century. The story of having roots in both oriental and occidental countries is often exploited by her followers to make her sound more interesting. I guess they can't accept the account that she was born Jewish, with plain Jewish roots. Her followers continue with their propaganda saying she was born into a, "family of mixed race and religion and nationality." This is pure fabrication. Again, she was born a Jew to Jewish parents who were Ottoman citizens. Mirra Alfassa's grandparents were Mirra Pinto and Matteo Ismaloun who married in Ottoman Alexandria. Mirra Pinto (daughter of Saïd Pinto) was born in Ottoman Cairo. Pinto is a Sephardic name, a name Spanish & Portuguese Jews brought with them from Iberia in the 15th century to the Ottoman Empire. It is an old surname, from Castile. In the Sephardic Jewish tradition of naming children after the living, both Mirra and her brother have first names which were their grandparents.

Converted to Hinduism

Hindus believe in life after death and that for every action there is a reaction. Every action, even every thought produces a reaction. Hindus believe that every thought and every action is weighed on the scales of eternal justice. Hindus believe that the body alone dies, the soul never dies. The path the soul takes is decided upon by the past actions. Sound familiar--these concepts come straight out of Judaism. Even though these ideas are similar, there is much which is definitely foreign to Judaism and utterly opposed to it.

Her followers quote Mirra:

"The Jewish temples in Paris have such beautiful music. Oh, what beautiful music! It was in a temple that I had one of my first experiences. It was at a wedding. The music was wonderful. I was up in the balcony with my mother, and the music, I was later told, was music of Saint-Saens, with an organ (it was the second best organ in Paris - marvellous!) This music was being played, and I was up there (I was fourteen) and there were some leaded-glass windows - white windows, with no designs. I was gazing at one of them, feeling uplifted by the music, when suddenly through the window came a flash like a bolt of lightning. Just like lightning. It entered-my eyes were open-it entered like this (Mother strikes her chest forcefully), and then I... I had the feeling of becoming vast and all-powerful. And it lasted for days."

Mirra's lack of Judaism at home sent her searching for something. In 1899 at the age of 21 she was proselytized by a Hindu, "I met a man, an Indian... who told me about the Gita... He gave me the key... The man said, 'Read the Gita, and take Krishna as the symbol of the immanent Divine, the inner Divine.'" Like most sincere converts, she jumped into her newly found religion with full zeal. Her story is no different than other apostates who because of a lack of knowledge of their own religion became idol worshipers.

Her Brother

Matteo Mathieu Maurice Alfassa (her brother) was born 13 July 1876 at Alexandria, Egypt. He graduated polytechnic at Paris, and was said to have a library of some 2,000 books at home. There was a French politician with the same name, and it can be concluded this is the same person. Matteo Mathieu Maurice Alfassa (aka Governor General Alfassa) held the following posts through out French occupied lands:

· Governor of Middle Congo and Congo (Brazzaville)
o August 1919 - August 1922
§ (Part of French Equatorial Africa, now known as the People's Democratic Republic of Congo. Middle Congo existed until 1960).
· Governors-general Congo (Brazzaville)
o July 1924 - October 1924
§ (French Equatorial Africa)
· Governor of [French] Martinique
o 1934-1935
· Governor of [French] Mali (Sudanese Republic)
o November 1935 - November 1936

Today the Embassy of France in Brazzaville, Congo is situated on a street called "Rue Alfassa." The tourism ministry of Martinique is located on "Alfassa Boulevard" that skirts the edge of sea with greenery and flowered alleys and beautiful large royal palm trees.

Closing Thoughts

On May 20, 1973 Mirra was struck down with chronic illness and had to be visited by a physician each day for six months. In November she asked for help to try to walk, but she was too weak. On November 17 she went into cardiac arrest and although CPR was given to her, she died at the age of 95. Today, cultists from all over the world visit Pondicherry, in South India to worship this Jewish woman, a heretic to her religion, a woman deprived of the legacy of her heritage.

Today her teachings are worshiped in Auroville which is called an international city "dedicated to Human Unity." It is said to be a growing and vibrant community of about 1500-2000 persons from over 30 countries. In 1968 the center was moved to this location which is six miles north of Pondicherry. A publication of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization discussed the center in India:

The city was established on the principles set forth by Aurobindo and French artist and visionary Mira Alfassa, who worked in India for "a new creation, beginning with a model town and ending with a perfect world." According to its charter, Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole, it is a place of unending education and constant progress, it serves as a bridge between the past and the future, and it is a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. Today, 700 people from some 25 countries live in Auroville, which has been transformed from a bare wasteland into a thriving universal town characterized by forests and grasslands, educational and scientific research, community services, and cooperation among residents.

In 1999, a reporter for The New York Times recommended Auroville as a primary destination for tourists who go to India. Money has no role to play in Auroville. Cars are banned. No administration with authority over the lives of the members is created. No one is appointed as the head or leader whom all should obey. However, there is a temple where Mirra is worshiped called the Matrimandir. It is a 100 foot high imposing elliptical sphere. Inside the upper portion of the huge structure is the meditation chamber, a 12-sided room whose walls are lined with white Italian marble. At the center of the chamber is a sphere of pure crystal, illuminated by sun light channeled from an opening at the top of the chamber.


So what do I make of all of this, well, not that much. I had a great-great-aunt whom was sadly lost due to assimilation. She was proselytized and led off by new age Hindu thought which was popular in the early 20th century among some in the French intellectual circles. She had lost her ancestry, her religion, her culture and her roots. She marginalized herself from her family, and today has a following for she is still thought of in the Hindu world as a spiritual leader. Today this woman is worshipped by thousands in India. Imagine what a woman like this could have done if she directed her energies towards her own faith and culture.

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