see also: Christian Kabbalah
Kabbalah and Modernity edited by Boaz. Huss, Marco Pasi, and C.K.M. von Stuckrad (Aries Book Series: Brill) The persistence of kabbalistic groups in the twentieth century has largely been ignored or underestimated by scholars of religion. Only recently have scholars began to turn their attention to the many-facetted roles that kabbalistic doctrines and schools have played in nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture. Often, and necessarily, this new interest and openness went along with a contextualization and revaluation of earlier scholarly approaches to kabbalah. This volume brings together leading representatives of this ongoing debate in order to break new ground for a better understanding and conceptualization of the role of kabbalah in modern religious, intellectual, and political discourse.
Boaz Huss is professor of Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He has published widely on the Zohar and its reception, the genealogies of Jewish mysticism and kabbalah studies, and on modern and postmodern kabbalah formations.
Marco Pasi is assistant professor of history of Hermetic philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. His research interests include the history of magic, the history of occultism, and the relationship between art and esotericism.
Kocku von Stuckrad is professor of religious studies at the University of Groningen. In his work he focuses particularly on esoteric discourses in Western culture, astrology, shamanism, and on topics related to religion, nature, and science.
At the end of a long process of development in which Kabbalism, paradoxical though it may sound, has influenced the course of Jewish history, it has become again what it was in the beginning: the esoteric wisdom of small groups of men out of touch with life and without any influence on it.'
Twenty years later, in his 1963 article 'Thoughts on the Possibility of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism', he was even more explicit: 'When all is said and done, it may be said that in our time, for the most part, there is no original mysticism, not in the nation of Israel and not among the nations of the world'.2 Although Scholem was aware of the fact that both in Europe and in Israel the twentieth century witnessed a renaissance of kabbalistic thinking, along with the establishment of new schools and the adaptation of traditional doctrine to new conditions and questions, he refused to acknowledge these currents as "real kabbalah". In what can be called an act of purgation he discriminated a high-standing mystical tradition that flourished in medieval and early modern times from a "fallen" kabbalah that was contaminated with the influences of "modernity".4 The impact of this act of purgation on academic research into modern kabbalah has been enormous. Only recently have scholars of religion began to turn their attention to the many-faceted roles that kabbalistic doctrines and schools have played in nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture. Often, and necessarily, this new interest and openness went along with a contextualization and revaluation of Gershom Scholem's approach to kabbalah.
The present volume is largely based on an international conference on `Kabbalah and Modernity', which was held at the University of Amsterdam in July 2007. This collection of essays brings together leading representatives of the ongoing debate on kabbalah and modernity, in order to break new ground for a better understanding and conceptualization of the role of kabbalah in modern religious, intellectual, and political discourse. The volume is divided into four thematic fields: a reappraisal of modern scholarship devoted to kabbalah; Romantic and esoteric readings of kabbalah; modern kabbalistic schools; and the relationship between kabbalah and politics in modern times. Although these fields intersect in many ways, each of them highlights a separate aspect of kabbalah vis-a-vis modernity.
Kabbalah Scholarship: A Reappraisal
With the rise of an academic study of Judaism in the nineteenth century, many scholars depicted kabbalah and Hasidism as a by-gone tradition of Jewish "superstition" that was contrasted with Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah) and emancipation. It was through the influence of Protestant scholars—particularly in the context of the influential Wissenschaft des Judentums-that kabbalah was introduced as a legitimate field of historical research, albeit with many biased, polemical assumptions. Negative evaluations stood side by side with Romantic images of Hasidic culture. Scholars such as H. Graetz, A. Jellinek, A. Franck, or E. Bischoff can be regarded as important precursors of subsequent research on kabbalah. G. Scholem doubtlessly is the major figure of the academic study of kabbalah in the first half of the twentieth century. His approach to Jewish mysticism is strongly informed by the conditions of German culture after World War I and the search for primordial, "pure" religion that was set against the predicaments of modernity.'
The first section of this volume contextualizes these early 'mappings' of kabbalah and addresses their implication for contemporary scholarship. Andreas B. Kilcher, in his chapter on philology and kabbalah, looks at the intertwinement of science and metaphysics, of secular philology as the historical science of texts, and of a re-theologized philology as an ultimately messianic project. Kilcher examines the pre-modernist model of kabbalistic philology of Knorr von Rosenroth's work on the book of Zohar and the kabbalistic philology of Johann Georg Hamann that takes an anti-modern stance against historicizing philology. He then focuses particularly on the kabbalistic philology of the young Gershom Scholem, which pushes the dialectics of the methods of historical criticism and theological rigor to their limits by viewing philology as the continuation of kabbalah.
Giulio Busi's chapter on the visual lore in kabbalah examines the failure of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars of kabbalah to appreciate the visual elements of Jewish mysticism. Busi explains that this failure should be seen in light of the German background of the study of kabbalah, which underestimated all elements that do not belong to the "higher" level of philosophy, an approach still marked by idealistic philosophy. Busi argues that reconstructing the development of kabbalistic thought without taking into account its visual features has impaired the effectiveness of the philological method, and he suggests that the study of the graphic dimension of kabbalistic works enables us to understand better otherwise obscure works and to rethink whole chapters in the history of Jewish mysticism.
In his contribution, Eric Jacobson examines the clandestine affinity of kabbalah with modernity. He argues that kabbalah and modernity share a commonality when narratives of the former unexpectedly rise to the surface of intellectual and cultural life in the fin de siècle of the twentieth century. According to Jacobson, the dislocation of modernity parallels the religious anarchism of kabbalah, and for this reason the study of kabbalah harbors not only historical or descriptive narratives, but also normative impulses. Its normative value, he claims, lies in the fact that it is part of a greater movement within modernity which is engaged with dislocation and relocation; in particular, the dislocation of the canon and the introduction of the margins into the center.
Romantic and Esoteric Readings of Kabbalah
More or less outside traditional Judaism, various Romantic movements embraced kabbalistic notions and incorporated them into philosophical, literary, and artistic discourses. While many aspects of these influences have been the subject of recent research,6 the large field of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century esotericism, and its adaptations of kabbalah, have largely been ignored by historians of religion. This is astonishing insofar as kabbalah has figured prominently in the works of Eliphas Levi, French occultism, the Theosophical Society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (S.L. MacGregor Mathers), Aleister Crowley, Vladimir Soloviev, traditionalism, and other representatives or currents of modern Western esotericism. The second section of this volume offers five studies that shed further light on this marginalized area. It traces the multi-leveled influences of Romanticism and esotericism on the modern formations of kabbalah.
In his contribution, Konstantin Burmistrov focuses on the reception of kabbalah in Russian masonic and Rosicrucian groups since the eighteenth century until the early twentieth century. Burmistrov shows how the history of this reception is closely related to political and social factors. Whenever not affected by condemnations and persecutions these groups proliferated and contributed significantly to introduce kabbalistic works and ideas in Russia, often with erudite studies and translations. Even if much of this material remains still unexplored and unpublished today, its variety and richness deserves close attention, also because it seems to be dependent only in part on western European sources. Burmistrov also argues that the attitude towards kabbalah in Russian esoteric circles changed over time, going from hopes of using it as a tool towards social regeneration in the eighteenth century, to a more circumscribed application to magical practices in the early twentieth.
Wouter J. Hanegraaff compares in his chapter two different, but closely related, readings of kabbalah in nineteenth-century France, that of one of the pioneers in the scholarly study of kabbalah, Adolphe Franck, and that of the founder of modern occultism, Eliphas Levi. Hanegraaff highlights the fact that, despite their differences, both readings were based on the idea of a "universal kabbalah", where the Jewish element plays an important, but not exclusive role, and significant emphasis is given to Zoroaster as ultimate source for this esoteric tradition. This concept of universal kabbalah would be later polemically rejected by modern scholars such as Gershom Scholem, who would insist on the intrinsic Jewish identity of kabbalah.
Jean-Pierre Brach's contribution focuses on another important, but relatively neglected, figure in the history of kabbalah studies in France: the erudite Paul Vulliaud. Vulliaud represents an original figure in the cultural landscape of early nineteenth-century France because, while being a Catholic and not a member of any specific occultist movement, he developed a personal esoteric interpretation of kabbalah. His vision of kabbalah as true esoteric tradition anticipates some of the features of Guénonian traditionalism, and particularly the tension between the disdain for purely philological and historical arguments and the desire to prove claims about the validity of tradition through a critical, erudite reading of the texts.
Subsequently, Marco Pasi focuses on the attitude of the early Theosophical Society towards kabbalah, particularly as exemplified by the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, in order to question the definition of "Western esotericism" that has become standard in current research in the field. Pasi discusses the shifting place of kabbalah in the context of modern esotericism, in relation to the changing attitude towards its "Western" as opposed to "Eastern" identity. For both nineteenth-century occultists and twentieth-century scholars kabbalah often ends up being in a sort of borderland between the two identities.
Boaz Huss in his contribution also focuses on an example taken from the early history of the Theosophical Society, more particularly Abraham David Ezekiel, a Baghdadi Jew from Poona, India, who joined the Society in 1882. His interest in kabbalah was revived by his encounter with the theosophical teachings. He created a small press in Poona and translated into Arabic, among other things, the part of the Zohar known as the Idra Zuta, which caused some controversy and was condemned by Sephardic rabbinic authorities. Despite Blavatsky's ambivalent attitude towards kabbalah and Judaism, the Theosophical Society appears to have been instrumental in bringing several Jewish personalities to develop an interest for kabbalah.
Modern Kabbalistic Schools
The volume's third section addresses some of
modern kabbalistic schools and investigates their influence on contemporary, "postmodern" kabbalah. Although kabbalah was marginalized in Jewish culture of the modern period, due to the after-effects of the Sabbatian movement and the rise of the Jewish Enlightenment, various kabbalistic schools continued to exist in traditional Jewish circles, in eastern Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. In the early twentieth century, Jerusalem became an important center of kabbalistic activity. Alongside the activity of the old kabbalistic center Beth-El, new centers of kabbalah studies were established by immigrants from Poland, Syria, and Iraq. While some kabbalists in this period preserved old forms of kabbalistic teaching and practice and rejected modernism, others have embraced modernity and integrated kabbalistic teaching with modern ideas. Most important of these were R. Abraham Kook, who integrated modern nationalism and kabbalah, and R. Yehuda Ashlag, who developed an innovative kabbalistic-Communist system. Many of the contemporary kabbalistic schools, who have been gaining much popularity and influence in recent years, are based on the teaching of these early twentieth-centuries kabbalists, and have also reached new geographical regions, such as the United States, where they have particularly thrived.'
Jonatan Meir examines the conventional image of the decline and decay of kabbalah in the early twentieth century and offers a correction to it. Meir argues that contrary to this image, Jerusalem kabbalists of the early twentieth century, especially those of Yeshivat Sha'ar Ha-Shamayim, did not lack innovation. What is more, based upon their belief that we are entering a new age of revelation, they tried to spread kabbalah within the yeshiva and among the traditional public beyond its walls. Meir shows that Sha'ar ha-Shamayim yeshiva was part of a significant change of attitude toward the spread of kabbalah and that it played a central role in the flourishing of kabbalah among the traditional public.
In his contribution, Elliott R. Wolfson focuses on the apocalyptic messianism of Menahem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Habad-Lubavitch Hasidism. Residing in New York for a large part of his life, Schneerson was convinced that the United States offered a favorable environment for the promotion of Judaism and the international spreading of Hasidism. In this respect, he placed himself in continuity with the previous Rebbe, Yosef Yitzhaq Schneersohn, but carried his reflections further, by postulating an inherent affinity between America and traditional Jewish laws. In the context of his messianic vision, he felt that the American Jews had a special role to play in the apocalyptic times that were about to come, by spreading the traditional teachings of Hasidism beyond Jewish milieus, in order to include also Gentiles. The traditional boundaries between Jew and non-Jew were therefore challenged and redefined in ways that Wolfson shows as being more complex than previously understood.
Jody Myers examines the teachings on marriage and sexuality of the Kabbalah Centre, the movement created in 1970 by Philip Berg in the United States. One of the avowed aims of the Centre is to make traditional kabbalistic wisdom (as interpreted by Berg and the other teachers of the Centre) broadly available for Jews and non-Jews alike, while the organization has often attracted the attention of the media because of the interest shown by some popular celebrities towards its teachings. Myers shows how the Centre in its teachings about sexuality uses a rhetorical strategy that can be found often enough in New Age groups. On the one hand traditional religious arguments are avoided, and even explicitly rejected; on the other hand there is an emphasis on the scientific nature of kabbalistic teachings. Eventually, the Centre's views on sexuality and gender roles appear relatively conservative, with the partial exception of homosexuality, about which the Centre has a tolerant attitude that distances itself from traditional kabbalistic teachings, without necessarily denying its premises.
In his chapter Kocku von Stuckrad discusses the traditional Jewish concept of the Shekhinah and the way in which it has been reinterpreted in the twentieth century in the context of widespread changing attitudes towards sexuality and gender models. In this period the Shekhinah has become one of the several aspects of the feminine divine as presented in modern goddess spirituality. In the rest of the chapter von Stuckrad focuses more particularly on Madonna, whose engagement with kabbalah (through the teachings of Berg's Kabbalah Centre) has drawn attention in the media recently. Von Stuckrad shows how Madonna represents a new way of organizing gender differences, while playing at the same time with stereotypes that have a long genealogy in Western culture.
Finally, Sara Møldrup Thejls discusses the ideas of the Danish occultist Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff, and his use of traditional kabbalistic concepts (such as the sefirot) in his own teachings. Thejls sees a continuity between Neutzsky-Wulff and earlier forms of occultist kabbalah, that had began developing in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, Neutzsky-Wulff uses kabbalah in the context of the neurological explanations he offers for his occult theories (for instance, for him the sefirot correspond to certain centers located in the brain). By doing so, he is not only carrying further the premises of occultist kabbalah, but is also close to the emphasis on scientific discourse that can be found in Berg's Kabbalah Centre.
Kabbalah and Politics
The fourth section addresses and sheds new light on the political aspects of modern kabbalah. Since early modern times, kabbalistic interpretations of salvation history have repeatedly played an important role on the interface of religion and politics. Particularly the Lurianic notion of tikkun ("restoration") of the perfect primordial state of creation triggered the inspiration of Jewish and Christian authors. In the Sabbatian movement, and subsequently in nineteenth-century Hasidism, tikkun was a key concept in messianic and salvific expectations. The rise of political Zionism had its influence on these interpretations, as well. In centers such as Prague, Zionist ideas merged with messianic concepts, as in the students' organization Bar Kochba, founded under the leadership of Samuel Hugo Bergman, before World War I. After the Shoah, questions of salvation history and theodicy formed a critical element of intellectual culture. Although messianic expectations in the beginning were more or less separated from political Zionism, the founding of the State of Israel (1948) and particularly the "miraculous" victory of the Six Days War (1967) led to a fusion of messianic expectations and Zionist programs. The emergence of Gush Emunim ("Bloc of the Faithful") from the writings of R. Abraham Isaac Kook and his son, R. Zvi Yehuda, stands out as an example of this new blending of mystical concepts with political programs-Israel's wars were read as signs of tikkun.
In his chapter, Steven M. Wasserstrom examines Ernst Jünger's political mythology, political theosophy, and political mysteries. Wasserstrom describes Jünger's Leviathan myth, the Jewish esoteric traditions he associated with that myth, and his application of it in an anti-Jewish politico-theosophical program. Wasserstrom argues that these features of what he calls "Cabala of Enmity" constituted a weaponry of esoterica and engaged political reality.
Shaul Magid examines the Jewish Renewal movement as a form of American pragmatism. Magid shows that Jewish Renewal's new religiosity is dependent on American metaphysical religion in general and American pragmatism in particular, and argues that Jewish Renewal comprises a novel and unexamined indigenous form of American spirituality.
Finally, Gideon Aran deals with the status of kabbalah in contemporary Israel, based on its connection with Palestinian suicide terrorists. Aran examines the way in which a particular religious group-Zaka (an abbreviation for Zihuy Korbanot Ason, literally: Disaster Victim Identification)---handles the tragic consequences of the phenomenon of terrorism, and argues that Zaka's "terror religiosity" has a clear mystical aspect.
It is to be hoped that the essays in this volume will offer the reader a comprehensive look at the ways in which modernity and kabbalah have interacted during the last two centuries by introducing new concepts that were absent in more traditional forms of Jewish mysticism, or simply by adapting and revitalizing old ones. It is the editors' conviction that kabbalah and modernity' are not mutually exclusive terms; rather, it is the transformation of the kabbalistic field under conditions of modernity that is at stake. This volume makes important revaluations of modernity as kabbalah.
Messianic Mysticism: Moses Hayim Luzzatto and the Padua School by Isaiah Tishby (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization: Oxford University Press) Kabbalists and Messiahs in Eighteenth-Century Italy
Moses Hayim Luzzatto (1707-46) was undoubtedly one of the most important thinkers and fascinating personalities of eighteenth-century Italian Jewry. The scion of an influential Jewish family in Padua, Luzzatto’s life and literary legacy project a distinctly contradictory set of images. At once a poet, playwright, moralist, kabbalist, self-fashioned leader of a messianic group, radical prophet, and exiled accused heretic, Luzzatto nonetheless came to be celebrated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, as well as secular Jews of later generations. His works, especially Mesilat Yesharim and Derekh ha-Shem, have been copiously reprinted in many editions and remain popular to this day. Isaiah Tishby’s contribution to the study of Luzzatto, both in terms of manuscript work as well as critical analysis, is of seminal importance, and the translations of his Hebrew studies of Luzzatto that appear in this volume are an invaluable asset to English readership.
The ten chapters of this book, along with an introduction by Joseph Dan and a detailed index, cover a wide range of interesting aspects of Luzzatto’s life and work. Many of the compositions by Luzzatto that Tishby addresses in this volume would be quite surprising to one familiar with Luzzatto’s more popular writing. Included here are a number of previously unknown works that Tishby discovered in MS Oxford 2593, as well as poetry (reproduced in both Hebrew and English), and several prayers that Luzzatto composed for a variety of occasions, including a confessional prayer that he wrote for his group of kabbalists in Padua. Tishby also gives attention to the works of Moses David Valle (a significant member of Luzzato’s kabbalistic group), reproducing his mystical diary, rife with messianic overtones, and he explores the question of the spread of Luzzatto’s works in Eastern Europe, and their influence on Hasidic schools of thought.
One of the most striking compositions discussed in this collection of studies is the kabbalistic commentary that Luzzatto wrote to his own marriage contract when he married Zipporah, the daughter of Rabbi David Finzi of Mantua, in 1731. This remarkable text, as noted in Dan’s introduction, sheds important light on Luzzatto’s messianic posture. Luzzatto came to be regarded with suspicion when he began claiming as early as 1727 that he was receiving revelations of a maggid or heavenly voice, enabling him to compose prophetic pronouncements, and even a “new Zohar,” which it seems he shared with the group of kabbalists that he led in Padua. Added to this was the accusation leveled by Moses Hagiz before the rabbis of Venice that he intercepted a letter by a member of Luzzatto’s group containing evidence that Luzzatto was a follower of Shabbtai Zvi. Luzzatto’s teacher and champion, Isaiah Bassan, convinced him that he could quell at least some of the controversy if he would agree to marry, since remaining single into one’s mid-twenties was itself understood to be unseemly. The discovery of Luzzatto’s kabbalistic commentary to his own marriage contract reveals that while his decision to marry was in part a concession intended to placate his critics, the marriage was also understood by Luzzatto as a union of divine dimensions, literally heralding the messianic era. Situating this document within the broader context of Luzzatto’s messianic doctrine, Tishby concludes that Luzzatto regarded himself as serving the role of Moses, whose task is to guide the actions of the Messiah son of Joseph and the Messiah son of David. Evidence indicates, according to Tishby, that Luzzatto understood Valle to be the Messiah son of David, while none other than Zvi was regarded as the Messiah son of Joseph. Luzzatto’s orientation to Sabbatianism is complex, and Tishby devotes an entire study (chapter 5 of this volume) to exploring this question. Another of Luzzatto’s group, Jekutiel of Vilna, was believed to serve as Seraiah of the tribe of Dan, the general of the forces of the messianic army. Luzzatto’s commentary to his marriage contract is reproduced in full English translation in the volume, along with Tishby’s illuminating notes. Taken together with Valle’s diary, these texts provide important source material for an underappreciated moment of messianic ferment.
A tantalizing question that Tishby’s work on Luzzatto raises is the relationship between the esoteric and messianic discourse that these works contain, and the broader intellectual and cultural context in which they took shape. We know that Luzzatto received an education in non-Jewish areas of knowledge, and he even defended his colleague Jekutiel from detractors who took issue with his study of “Gentile wisdom,” since he came to Padua originally to study medicine. How are we to understand these otherwise “worldly” men in their turn toward Jewish esoteric discourse as the source for all true knowledge? As Luzzatto remarks in a text addressing Jeremiah 9:22, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” found in MS Oxford 2593, “the whole science of truth [kabbalah] rests solely on this question, the question of the holiness of Israel: how the Holy One, blessed be He, adheres to them in His holiness and how Israel must adhere, through their desire and their worship, to His holiness, blessed be He; and how all the affairs of the world and of the all creation have rested upon this basis ever since they came into existence and [will do so] to all eternity” (p. 47). There remains work to be done in better situating Luzzatto and his colleagues within the eighteenth-century Italian intellectual context. The English rendering of Tishby’s discoveries will hopefully prove fruitful in this respect.
Taken together, the texts and studies contained in this volume provide a rich resource for considering the at times ironic and often secret role that mystical and messianic discourse plays in Jewish religious, intellectual, and cultural history. While Littman’s handsome edition could benefit from the inclusion of a brief biographical introduction for readers otherwise unfamiliar with Luzzatto’s biography, and an updated bibliography listing more recent scholarship, Messianic Mysticism is at present the largest single resource for the study of Luzzatto in English. from H-Net Reviews
Renaissance and Rebirth: Reincarnation in Early Modern Italian Kabbalah by Brian Ogren (Studies in Jewish History and Culture: Brill Academic) Metempsychosis was a prominent element in Renaissance conceptualizations of the human being, the universe, and the place of the human person in the universe. A variety concepts emerged in debates about metempsychosis: human to human reincarnation, human to vegetal, human to animal, and human to angelic transmigration. As a complex and changing doctrine, metempsychosis gives us a well-placed window for viewing the complex and dynamic contours of Jewish thought in late fifteenth century Italy; as such, it enables us to evaluate Jewish thought in relation to non-Jewish Italian developments. This book addresses the problematic question of the roles and achievements of Jews who lived in Italy in the development of Renaissance culture in its Jewish and its Christian dimensions.
Excerpt: All of the kabbalists reckon that the world was created and that it will cease in motion, but that from the beginning the souls were created together, and they continuously change bodies until the end of motion.'
Ideas of change and motion played a significant role in fifteenth century perceptions of the soul in both Christian and Jewish forms of discourse, which often times overlapped and increasingly found a shared borrowing of ideas. This is the case not only with Jewish thinkers borrowing from the dominant Christian culture, but with Christians borrowing from and being shaped by Jewish forms of thought as well. Indeed, with the above quoted passage, the highly influential Italian Renaissance Christian Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino remarkably alludes to a specifically Jewish understanding of soul migrations.2 As one of the most important fifteenth century Christian philosophers who dealt extensively with matters of the soul, Ficino's invocation of "the kabbalists" concerning the origin of souls and their relation to cosmic processes is certainly noteworthy. Ficino goes on in the same passage to state that "the world has already lasted for 5240 years."' This rather unique matter of Hebrew dating by a Christian humanist who otherwise does not much rely upon the Hebrew kabbalists undoubtedly places Ficino's ruminations concerning the subject within an uncharacteristically Jewish context. It also allows us to note that according to the secular reckoning, Ficino was already having these thoughts, within their kabbalistic framework, in late 1479 or in early 1480. This early date is quite significant, considering the fact that Ficino's younger contemporary Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who is rightly considered to be one of the original innovators of Christian kabbalah, only seems to have begun learning Hebrew in 1486,4 and mentions kabbalah for the very first time in his works of that same year.
Ficino's early mention of the idea of metempsychosis within a Jewish kabbalistic context provides an indication of the concept's heightened importance in regard to matters of the human soul and its relation to the cosmos. Moreover, the overlap of kabbalah and Renaissance humanism, which in the above example involves direct reference to kabbalists by a preeminent humanist, denotes an important point of departure for research into Renaissance Jewish and Christian trends of thought. Namely, it indicates that shared concepts between kabbalists and humanists, such as metempsychosis, can act as ideal devices for the gauging and the analysis of intellectual interaction and reaction, of possible mutual influence, and of particular, contextualized developments in thought. Such is the purpose of this present study. The concept of metempsychosis, mainly within its Jewish contexts, will act as an axis around which to study and to analyze developments in Renaissance intellectual history.
Indeed, metempsychosis stood as a salient element in the Renaissance conceptualization of the human being, the universe, and the former's place in regard to the latter. Under the rubric of this doctrine, which is known in variant forms with diverse subtleties of meaning by the English terms palingenesis, the transmigration of souls, rebirth, and reincarnation, and which is associated with the Hebrew locutions gilgul neshamot, ha'atakah, 'ibbur, din b'nei halof, and sod ha-shelach, stand concepts and theories as diverse as its names. These include ideas such as human to human reincarnation, human to vegetal, animal, or angelic entities and vice versa, the cohabitation of more than one soul in one body, and the transmigration of souls between various spheres of existence, including between the divine and the human realms. Some versions of this doctrine maintain that individuals who have not completed their tasks here on earth but who have the potential to do so can be 'reborn' after death in order to be given the chance to fulfill that unrealized potential, while other versions maintain that individuals undergo bodily change as a form of punishment or reward. Some models posit a three or four-time limit for the return of the soul to life, while others allow up to a thousand times, or even an open-ended number.
Common to all of these theories of metempsychosis is the idea that a separate entity or entities within the individual, called the "soul" in western parlance, has some type of existence distinct from the body and that upon physical death, the souls of certain individuals live on and pass into new physical or spiritual bodies or realms of existence. From there, the idea is that they then can possibly pass on to other spheres or bodies, or even return in a circular pattern to their 'original' sphere. As Moshe Idel proposes, "More than assuming that survival of the soul involves the occasion for a final account, transmigration involves a much more open type of worldview."5 Indeed, in opposition to absolute notions of finality as related to classical notions of final judgment, paradise, and hell, in all of their alternative forms of conception, and even of purgatory as a set, intermediate stage to finality, metempsychosis presupposes change and dynamism, both in relation to the individual and in relation to the workings of the cosmos.
This present study will focus upon eight significant fifteenth century thinkers who discussed the idea of metempsychosis from within Jewish and humanist contexts. The first two scholars to be treated, Rabbi Michael ha-Cohen Balbo and Rabbi Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, were Jewish communal leaders at the ends of two opposing philosophical camps in the community of Candia on the Venetian controlled island of Crete. In 1466, Balbo and Ashkenazi engaged in an unprecedented, detailed debate concerning the veracity of metempsychosis. Balbo argued in favor of the truth of the doctrine on kabbalistic and philosophical grounds, while Ashkenazi argued against the doctrine by criticizing kabbalah, by appealing to philosophy, and by invoking worldwide halachic opinion. The lengthy proceedings of the debate will be analyzed in the first chapter of this book, with an eye toward the unique interplay of philosophy and kabbalah in a struggle for intellectual hegemony and in the shaping of Renaissance modes of consciousness. The second chapter will discuss literature by the two interlocutors that is not in the notebooks of the debate itself but that further deals with philosophical, kabbalistic, and legalistic questions related to the belief in metempsychosis. This includes an epistolary exchange concerning metempsychosis between Balbo and one of his students, and a series of halachic responsa concerning the laws of levirate marriage and their relation to metempsychosis between Ashkenazi and the rabbinic authorities of Mestre and Jerusalem. Issues of national character and personal identity are raised within this extra-debatal literature, and the second chapter of this present book will seek to flesh these out and to examine the kabbalistic, philosophical, and halachic implications of identity formation through ideas such as metempsychosis, both on the personal and on the national levels.
Two next two thinkers to be treated in this study, Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel and Rabbi Judah Hayyat, were prominent Spanish Jewish thinkers who both made their way to Italy after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Though they both brought with them elements from their original Iberian environs, both Abarbanel and Hayyat wrote their respective treatises in which they deal with metempsychosis while upon Italian soil; Abarbanel wrote his philosophico-mystical masterwork Mira lot Elohim around 1500 while in Apulia and his commentary on the book of Leviticus while in Venice a few years later, and Hayyat wrote his kabbalistic opus Minhat Yehuda upon his arrival in Mantova after 1493. Abarbanel did not consider himself to be a kabbalist, but he positively viewed the philosophical possibility of the doctrine of metempsychosis and he categorically supported its truth value from a more mystical point of view. Chapter three will examine this dual character of philosophy and mysticism in Abarbanel's writings concerning metempsychosis. It will analyze his unique usage of Italian Renaissance Neoplatonic elements for Jewish exegetical purposes and his simultaneous preservation of and deference to Iberian kabbalistic ideas as shaped by his Spanish predecessor Nahmanides. In contrast to Abarbanel, Hayyat was a self-avowed kabbalist who blatantly rejected philosophical interpretations of kabbalistic lore and who held himself to be in line with the more mythical Spanish school of the ohar. Hayyat saw himself as a preserver of this endangered form of wisdom and as a fighter against its more philosophical expressions. Nevertheless, an analysis of his ideas on metempsychosis reveals elements of the more philosophical kabbalah of Italy that made their way into his writings. Chapter four examines this dialectic within Hayyat's thought and its rhetorical implications for the flow of knowledge and for the development of distinct forms of kabbalah.
The next two thinkers who will be examined, Rabbi Elia Hayyim ben Binyamin of Genazzano and Rabbi Yohanan Alemanno, were both born in Italy and were active in Tuscany. In contrast to Balbo and Ashkenazi who were active on Venetian controlled Crete, and as opposed to Abarbanel and Hayyat who were Iberian imports to Italy, 'both Genazzano and Alemanno were native Italian kabbalists who were deeply immersed in and involved with Italian humanist trends of thought. Both thinkers extensively incorporated philosophy into their writings, both set up hierarchies of wisdom, and both saw the need to assert the supremacy of the Jewish kabbalah as the most reliable and efficacious form of ancient wisdom. Genazzano may have been influenced by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola regarding metempsychosis, and seems to have possibly read Eusebius' Preparatio Evangelica, which was translated into Latin in 1448 by the humanist George of Trebizond. Notwithstanding these humanist influences, Genazzano ties the idea back to Moses and Abraham through the Midrash Ruth of the Zohar Hadash and through his Italian kabbalistic predecessor, Rabbi Menahem Recanati. Chapter five of this book traces these variant lines of development as perceived within the thought of Genazzano, who saw the idea of metempsychosis as originating with Abraham and developing in two separate trajectories, namely, that of the unperverted path of Torah and that of the true, albeit less reliable path of the pagan philosophers. Similar to Genazzano, Alemanno based himself on different paths and trajectories in relation to the idea of metempsychosis, yet in a manner almost opposite to that of Genazzano, Alemanno sought to create a convergence and a unity of variant streams of thought regarding the idea. Indeed, Alemanno synthesized older Jewish traditions regarding metempsychosis in a manner that may have been affected by and may have affected wider Renaissance thoughts of coincidentia oppositorum. Chapter six fleshes out this unique synthesis of Jewish sources and the philosophical neutralization of mythical elements within these sources by Alemanno, who was one of the most preeminent Italian kabbalists of his day and who was one of the direct teachers of Pico della Mirandola.
The final two thinkers to be analyzed in this book were prominent Christian philosophers of the Italian Renaissance who fell under the influence of kabbalistic lore. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino were two of the most influential and important Italian humanist philosophers of the fifteenth century, and an analysis of their thought concerning metempsychosis will help us to moor the idea in the wider cultural and philosophical context of the Italian Renaissance. Indeed, both Pico and Ficino discussed the idea at some length within their writings, and both seem to have lent it a degree of support. Nevertheless, the idea was in opposition to the standard sentiments of the Church, and both thinkers veiled their support of the doctrine of metempsychosis in allegory. Interestingly, Pico, who is widely known for his familiarity with kabbalistic lore, completely omits kabbalistic reference to metempsychosis and relies most heavily upon Plotinus in the formulation of his own theories. In contradistinction, Ficino, who is not known for his reliance upon kabbalah, invokes the kabbalistic tradition in regard to metempsychosis, oftentimes at points that go beyond mere allegory and venture into questions of veridicality. Chapter seven examines Pico's non-kabbalistic, Plotinian understanding of metempsychosis as participated transmigration for the human soul. It attempts to make sense of discrepancies within Pico's writings concerning metempsychosis, including the lack of mention of kabbalah and a final reticence to show outright support for the idea. In contrast to Pico, Ficino seems to show definitive, albeit veiled support for the doctrine as applied to human-to-human transmigration specifically. In this regard, he not only invokes Plato and Plotinus, as does Pico, he also remarkably appeals to the Jewish kabbalistic tradition. Chapter eight analyzes Ficino's innovations in regard to metempsychosis, including his allegorical understanding of the doctrine in regard to human-to-animal transmigration and his more literal understanding of it in its human-to-human form within his later writings. Ficino's noteworthy references to Jewish mysticism and kabbalah, alongside Plato and Plotinus, bring full-circle the analysis of the meeting-point and development of Jewish thought and Renaissance humanism through the concept of metempsychosis.
As a complex doctrine involving change and dynamism, metempsychosis offers a unique and pertinent window through which to examine the complex and dynamic contours of Jewish thought in late fifteenth century Italy, and from which to evaluate that thought in relation to general Italian humanist currents. During this period in Italy, the `rebirth' of classical knowledge led to a renewed interest in thinkers such as Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus, who propounded strong doctrines of 'rebirth' itself within their respective psychological theories that supported positive assessments of the idea of transmigration. This renewed interest by Renaissance scholars in recovering various forms of a more `pristine' ancient theology, known as prisca theologia, involved a vigorous campaign of the renovated translation of and commentary upon classical sources on the one hand,' and an interest in the Jewish kabbalah, perceived to be the 'ancient theology' of the Jewish tradition, on the other.' Many of the thinkers either correctly or erroneously thought to be 'ancient', such as Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Hermes Trismegistus, and several kabbalistic sources, earnestly espoused separate doctrines of metempsychosis as integral parts of their respective psychological systems. As such, the new method of using ancient sources in order to understand contemporary philosophical and theological problems brought notions of transmigration to occupy a position of central importance in Renaissance reflections on the soul, both from the philosophical and from the mystical points of view. From the Jewish side, this led to a pronounced particularistic assertion of ascendancy on the one hand, as based on the view of kabbalistic lore as the most ancient, divinely revealed base of all pristine knowledge," and on the other hand it led to a straightforward confrontation between Jewish and non-Jewish sources, which sometimes led to reconciliation and oftentimes led to an integration by Jewish thinkers of non-Jewish philosophical elements related to kabbalistic ideas. In a complex twist, thinkers such as Plato and Hermes could be utilized as figures of authority, but this is only because, in the eyes of Jewish savants, they based themselves on the supreme authority of the kabbalah.
Previous scholarship has extensively probed developments in philosophical psychology as related to the dominant cultural trends of the Renaissance,' oftentimes concluding that a shift to a more individually conceived, anthropocentric philosophical psychology is detectable in the Italian Renaissance. This is based in large part on the theories of the famed Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, who is seen as the main inventor of the category of Western history known as "the Renaissance," and who, in 1860, devoted the entire second part of his seminal The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy to "The Development of the Individual." Within this section, Burckhardt claims that Renaissance Italy saw an all-around heightened impulse to self perfection. "When this impulse to the highest individual development was combined with a powerful and varied nature, which had mastered all the elements of the culture of the age," he writes, "then arose the 'all-sided man'—`l'uomo universale' who belonged to Italy alone."'" This idea of heightened "individual development" culminating in "l'uomo universale" has had a profound affect upon all areas of Renaissance studies, including analyses of the philosophical psychology of the era. This is an area that will be treated in this book through the concept of metempsychosis, with an eye toward the re-examination of influential Burckhardtian assumptions as they take form in subsequent scholarly assessments of Renaissance psychology.
Indeed, The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy devotes to the topic of philosophical psychology an entire section, which is composed of three chapters, one on the concept of psychology and its importance to Renaissance thought, one on the organic soul, i.e., the principle responsible for those life functions inextricably tied to the bodies of living beings and dependent on their organs, and finally, one on the intellective soul, the cognitive faculty within the individual." Within this section, as within several of its antecedent works on Renaissance psychology, the authors claim that questions regarding the continuity of the individual soul held great importance in the transformation from Medieval to Renaissance notions of man. Formerly, according to their theory, individual continuity had not played a major role within systematic philosophy. Paul Oskar Kristeller, the great historian of Renaissance philosophy, promoted a similar view and pointed out that Thomas Aquinas defended the incorruptibility and future beatitude of the rational soul, but did not attach any individual importance to the subject. In fact, according to Kristeller, Aquinas avoided the term "immortality" altogether in regard to the individual human being." Accordingly, Duns Scotus explicitly declared the traditional arguments for any form of postmortem continuity of the individual soul to be feeble and inconclusive, and added the postulate that belief in resurrection and eternal life should be based on faith alone." Only Averroes and his followers elevated a concept of eternality to a position of supreme philosophical importance, yet theirs was a formulation that accounted for the immortality of the universal intellect and thereby removed all bases for any type of individual continuity. As Ernst Cassirer, another eminent scholar who was influenced by the Burckhardtian model, notes, within the Averroist formulation, "the true subject of thought is not the individual, the 'self.' Rather, it is a non-personal, substantial being common to all thinking beings; one whose connection with the individual Ego is external and accidental."" By forcing the soul into the sphere of impersonal metaphysical forces, Averroism not only compromises individuality, a marked problem for religious thinkers of the Renaissance according to Cassirer, it also forsakes subjectivity for a principle of pure objectivity.
Classical scholarship on Renaissance psychology maintains that it was precisely this impersonal, undifferentiated philosophy of salvation of Averroes, as well as the indifference of Aquinas and the extreme fideism of Scotus, to which the philosophers of the Italian Renaissance, such as Pietro Pomponazzi and Marsilio Ficino, were reacting and responding with their divergent yet symmetrically more subjective and individualized views. Indeed, in 1516, Pomponazzi published his highly controversial De immortalitate animae (On the Immortality of the Soul), in which he argues at length from a naturalist position that absolute immortality cannot be proven conclusively. Pomponazzi maintains that man partakes of immortality relatively, insofar as he comprehends and participates in the infinite bliss and wonder of the divinity within his personal, mortal life. Under this formulation, human immortality does not depend on an infinite extension of time, but is fully realized in the experience of the single, present moment. For Pomponazzi, who is considered by many to be one of the preeminent heralds of the Renaissance, man is "the most perfect of animals," because he is a mean between the material and the immaterial and thus participates in both during his finite life without truly being either.'' In 1474, Marsilio Ficino completed his magnum opus entitled Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animorum (Platonic Theology on The Immortality of Souls), which extended to eighteen books and has been described as a summa on immortality. In the preface to the work, addressed to Lorenzo da Medici, Ficino states that his double purpose in writing the work is to reinforce the worship of God and to bring about a new understanding of the nature of man. Deeply rooted in Neoplatonic philosophy, the work attacks the Averroen notion of the unity of the intellect,' and shows the ultimate purpose of the life of man to be the ascent through contemplation toward the direct vision of God, an activity through which immortality is attained. As with Pomponazzi, Ficino's ideas are thought to reflect an individualistic shift in relation to matters of the human soul, and his philosophy is still considered to be an exemplar of Renaissance sensibilities." Pomponazzi and Ficino on immortality, and the elevation of both as paradigms of Renaissance thought, provide but two examples of the perceived individual tenor in Renaissance psychology. The idea was that in the Renaissance, man became more centrally perceived, and with that anthropocentric shift, philosophers and theologians began to understand the importance of the individual human soul in a different light. This present study will examine the subject of philosophical psychology in the Renaissance from a different angle, namely, through the doctrine of metempsychosis. Through metempsychosis, this study will analyze questions of individuality, community and continuity, and it will consider the continually convincing assertions of Burckhardt, as well as his followers in the field of philosophical psychology.
Parallel to the advances made in understanding the philosophical psychology of the Renaissance and the allegedly more "subjective," "individualized" nature that sets it apart, scholars have made vigorous attempts to treat the complex historical phenomenon of the doctrine of metempsychosis as developed within Judaism and from Jewish sources.' This study will be moored within that complex history and will take into account the textual and historical traditions that the eight fifteenth century thinkers to be examined had at hand. Simultaneously, it will open up a new chapter in intellectual history by exploring hitherto unexamined Renaissance developments concerning the idea of metempsychosis. Indeed, in his writings on the subject of metempsychosis, Gershom Scholem, the great historian of Jewish mysticism, jumps from the Spanish kabbalah of the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries to the late sixteenth century kabbalah of Safed; in doing so, he omits the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Italian developments. It has become the routine in Jewish historiography since Scholem to place an outburst of popular interest in metempsychosis within mid to late sixteenth century Jewish culture, linking it to the Spanish expulsion as an expression of exile and restoration.'`' This thinking holds that perception of the soul migrating from one body to another in an attempt to correct itself and to raise itself to a higher plane reflects the migrations of the nation of Israel in its exile and migration from land to land. This outlook, though not completely without foundation, views the popular development of metempsychosis as an internal process that developed from the particular national tribulation of Jewish life. It ignores the unique encounter of ideas between thinkers, the porous nature of intellectual development, and the flow of ideas between groups, sub-groups and individuals, which most often characterizes the formation of ideas. This book seeks to fill in these gaps by focusing upon intellectual processes within the Italian Renaissance.
In order to understand such developments, it is important to outline a preliminary, brief history of the idea of metempsychosis as it took shape in Jewish thought. The origins of the doctrine of metempsychosis within Jewish literature are somewhat veiled in mystery, as there is no explicit reference to the idea in pre-medieval strata of the Hebrew textual tradition. Nevertheless, an important Jewish Byzantine point of departure for the idea should be mentioned, which finds itself on the island of Crete, which from 395 was an integral part of the Byzantine Empire. According to the fifth century Byzantine historian Socrates, in the year 440, a pseudo-messiah in Crete convinced a portion of the Jews of that community that he was the reincarnation of the biblical Moses and that he could lead them dry-shod through the sea, back to the shores of the land of Israel. His followers jumped from the cliffs, and those who did not drown were rescued by their Christian neighbors; subsequently, most of the disenchanted survivors converted to Christianity. Whether or not this episode had an effect upon the subsequent theories and debates concerning metempsychosis is nearly impossible to determine; indeed none of the later thinkers who treat the subject make mention of this episode and none seem to be aware of its occurrence. Nevertheless, its transpiration and its rarity as an extremely early mention of reincarnation in relation to Judaism stand as important precedents that deserve mention. This is especially the case due to the fact that one thousand and twenty six years later, the Jewish community of the selfsame island would act as the seat of the unprecedented intellectual debate concerning metempsychosis that will be discussed in the first few chapters of this book.
The first Jewish textual reference to the idea of metempsychosis seems to have come about three hundred years after the incident in Crete, within the framework of Karaite Judaism. It has been duly noted by researchers that the prominent tenth-century Karaite authority Jacob al-Kirkisani wrote in his Sefer ha-Orot that Anan ben David, the eighth-century thinker considered by many to be the father of Karaism, not only believed in metempsychosis, but wrote an entire book concerning the subject and garnered the support of many followers who eventually broke off from Karaism. Though Man ben David's treatise on metempsychosis is no longer extant, it seems to be the first known explicit mention of the doctrine within a specifically Jewish text. For his part, Kirkisani wrote against the doctrine, and his negative assertion seems to be against Anan's positive assessment of the concept, as well as that of Man's subsequent group of followers.22 Moreover, Kirkisani's rabbinic contemporary, the tenth century Rabbi Saadia Gaon, opposed the doctrine in his famed philosophical treatise, Emunot v'Deot. There he writes:
And now I say that people from those who are called "Jews" found themselves believing in transmigration, and they call it "relocation," and the idea, in their opinion, is that the spirit of Reuven will live in Simon. and afterwards in Levi, and afterwards in Judah. And some of them, or most of them, maintain that it is the case that the spirit of man will live in a beast and the spirit of a beast will live in a man, and many other illusionary and confused things like these."
According to Benzion Uzziel, Saadia Gaon's mention in the above passage of Jews" who believe in transmigration is a reference to Anan and his ilk, "who are called Jews and who hold this Greek opinion."" Uzziel's assertion as to Saadia Gaon's contention against Anan seems to be correct, since much of Saadia's Emunot v'Deot is a philosophical affirmation of rabbinic Judaism as opposed to competing Karaite trends. This assertion would also make sense due to the fact that there were no known Jewish references to metempsychosis at this time, other than those of Kirkisani and, if we take him at his word, of Man ben David. Whatever the case may be, Saadia Gaon's influential book undoubtedly holds the first known explicit mention of metempsychosis, albeit in a negative light, within a text of the normative rabbinic Jewish tradition. This critique would prove to have an impact upon later Jewish thinkers who debated the idea, including some of those of the Renaissance, to be studied here.
The rabbinic world-view as expressed in the Talmud and Midrash does not develop the concept of metempsychosis at all, and despite Dina Ripsman Eylon's recent citation of Yitzhak Baer that "our ancient sages knew Orphic and Platonic theories, among those the theory of reincarnation,' there seems to be no indication that the Talmudic authorities recognized the idea. Based on Herbert Loewe's A Rabbinic Anthology, both Ripsman Eylon and Mark Verman argue for a rabbinic sensibility to metempsychosis. Specifically, two passages pertain:
Once in seven years God changes his world: the chameleon becomes a great serpent, the head-louse after seven years becomes a scorpion, the horse worm becomes a human worm, the ox worm is changed into another species of vermin, the male hyena becomes female, the fieldmouse becomes a wild boar, the fish vertebra turns into a centipede and the human vertebra turns into a serpent, that is if the owner has failed to bow at modim. ( Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 1:3; 2:3).
A Male Hyena changes into a bat in seven years; the bat changes into arpad (ring-dove?) in seven years; the kimos becomes a thorn in seven years; and the snake becomes a ghost in seven years. The human vertebra changes into a snake in seven years that is to say if the owner of the vertebra has failed to bow at modim. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kama 16a).
Despite the highly metamorphic character of these two rather enigmatic passages, there is absolutely no indication of a reference to metempsychosis. First of all, as Ripsman Eylon herself notes, the word "soul" is not at all mentioned in the above description of the process of transformation. Were these passages related to metempsychosis, which depends specifically upon the concept of the soul, then some indication would probably have been made to that effect. Moreover, mention is made of fish and human 'vertebra,' in seemingly structural relation to centipedes and serpents respectively, and not to fish and humans in and of themselves, indicating a purely physical type of transformation. Finally, absolutely no mention is made of life and death or birth and rebirth, but only to a strict structural system of seven year cycles, far below the life expectancy of the human who would be the purported `owner' of the transformed vertebra and much below the age of one who would be required or expected to bow at modim. Hence, these two rather strange and mysterious passages do not seem to be pointing in the direction of rabbinic knowledge of and support for metempsychosis, and such a reading of them is purely interpretive. Indeed, a clear and positive view of metempsychosis did not make its way into rabbinic Judaism with the Rabbis of the Talmud, but only much later, with the twelfth century Provencal pseudepigraphic Midrash attributed to the first century tanna Nehunia ben ha-Kanah, Sefer ha-Bahir.
Considered by many to be the first work of explicitly kabbalistic thought due to its unique theosophical character, Sefer ha-Bahir is the first known rabbinic style text to have espoused a doctrine of metempsychosis. Since the appearance of Sefer ha-Bahir upon the scene of Jewish thought around 1180, metempsychosis became a central, integral component of kabbalistic thought. Interestingly, Sefer ha-Bahir treats metempsychosis, which it never refers to with an explicit term, as an understood and given doctrine within Judaism, and enigmatically discusses the idea through parables and biblical exegesis.' Although no explicit reference is made to the doctrine within biblical literature, the Bahir, first basing itself upon Psalm 146:10, "From generation to generation," and Ecclesiastes 1:4, "A generation goes and a generation comes," has no problem interpreting the bible in a transmigratory manner. According to the Bahir, "generation" here refers to the same generation that passes through time; one generation passes to another in a never-ending cycle of death and rebirth. The idea of metempsychosis in relation to this idea is especially emphasized in the latter biblical proof-text here from Ecclesiastes 1:4, in which the verb "goes" precedes the verb "comes." That is, a generation that leaves this world subsequently comes back into this world from the realms beyond this world, in a transmigratory fashion.
After the Bahir normalized the concept of transmigration within Judaism and gave it credence by reading it into canonical texts, later generations of Jewish thinkers followed suit. In a standard interpretive process of arcanazation, these thinkers read the enigmatic doctrine of metempsychosis back into the classical canon of Judaism, including the bible itself. Through this process, thinkers would interpret biblical and other canonical texts as though they contained within themselves the secret doctrine of transmigration, seeking legitimacy for the doctrine from these very texts themselves. For example, thinkers from the school of thought of the famed thirteenth century thinker Nahmanides understood the secret of levirate marriage to be contained within what they termed 'sod ha-'ibbur,' the secret of impregnation, which itself related to a very secretive and undisclosed type of metempsychosis. According to the book of Deuteronomy, when two brothers dwell together and one dies without having brought children into the world, it is incumbent upon the living brother to lie with the wife of the deceased brother and to have children with her, in the name of the deceased brother. Starting with Nahmanides, this rather peculiar deuteronomic commandment came to be associated with metempsychosis; the newborn baby was thought to be a reincarnation of the soul of the deceased brother. In the original kabbalistic thought of Nahmanides, this idea was highly veiled, and in the words of Nahmanides himself, "The matter is a great secret from the secrets of the Torah concerning the generation of man, and it is seen by the eyes of those to whom God gave eyes to see."' In other words, it is a secret tradition that explains the human generations throughout the ages, and it cannot readily be revealed, but is left up to the understanding of those who are capable of understanding on their own accord. Nahmanides also perceived the doctrine to be the key to the entire book of Job as implied, according to him, in Elihu's utterances to Job?' Nevertheless, in this case too, according to Nahmanides, the matter is highly secretive, should not be expounded, and can only be understood by the select few.
After the generation of Nahmanides, perhaps due to a desire to unravel the mystery of the secret that enticed by means of its very secrecy, the topic of metempsychosis became more open for discussion amongst kabbalistic thinkers. Among these thinkers, the thirteenth century Isaac of Acco, who sought to synthesize several mystical strands and elements including Sufism, ecstatic kabbalah and theosophical thought, discussed the idea of metempsychosis in his influential work Sefer Me'irat Einayim. Most of the sections of Me'irat Einayim dealing 4 with transmigration are based upon, and attempt to decode the mysteries of Nahmanides. Indeed, in the very first place in which Isaac of Acco discusses the idea, in relation to the death of Abel in the book of Genesis, he directly quotes Nahmanides: "The received secret concerning the matter of Abel is very great." He proceeds, "Alas, I am properly writing a clear clarification for you, with the help of He who is good and who makes good; know that the secret of Abel is the secret of transmigration." In a motif that is later to become prominent with kabbalistic thought, Abel's is the first soul to be transmigrated, and eventually finds its way into the figure of Moses. Isaac of Acco expands upon the idea of metempsychosis in various other ways, and with this declaration and others, and this blatantly stated transmigrational reading of Nahmanides' secret, he opens up the way for further exploration and inquiry into the matter.
Around 1275, the same period in which Isaac of Acco was active, the Zohar made its appearance onto the scene of Jewish thought in Castile, Spain. Later to become the central text of kabbalah, the Zohar is in actuality not a single book, but an entire body of literature. Within the specific portion of this corpus of literature known as 'the body' of the Zohar, which is fundamentally a running mystical midrashic commentary on the weekly portions of the Torah, the discussion concerning metempsychosis takes its fullest form in the commentary on the Torah portion Mishpatim, known as Sava d'Mishpatim. This section of the Zohar contains the discourse of Rav Yeiva Sava, an unassuming old man who appears to be a lowly donkey driver, but who in reality is a remarkable mystic. Rav Yeiva Sava gives a rather elaborate homily concerning the soul, in which the theory of metempsychosis is the most developed of the Zohar; nevertheless, the discussion is limited to deliberations concerning levirate marriage. The theme of metempsychosis as connected to levirate marriage also appears in the Midrash ha-Ne'elam l'Ruth, a separate work from the main body of the Zohar that is printed in a section called Zohar Hadash. This section, which expresses the particularity of metempsychosis for Israel in relation to levirate marriage, was to have a great impact upon subsequent Jewish thinkers. In addition to the Midrash ha-Ne'elam and to the Sava d'Mishpatim, the Ra'aya Mehemna and Tikkunei Zohar portions of Zoharic literature expound upon a theory of metempsychosis as a general law for those who have not fulfilled the commandments within their lifetime. These sections of Zoharic literature, which may have been written by the same authors and which were probably written after the composition of the main body, expand the idea of metempsychosis beyond the peculiar injunction of levirate marriage.
The fourteenth century Italian kabbalist Menahem Recanati based himself heavily upon Zoharic literature and profusely expounded upon the idea of metempsychosis on his own accord. Though the idea is scattered throughout his works, Recanati's main expositions concerning metempsychosis exist primarily in his Sefer Ta'amei Mitzvot in relation to the commandment of levirate marriage, and in his commentary on Genesis 38, which contains the complex levirate story of Judah and Tamar. Hence, for Recanati, as for the body of the Zohar and the Midrash ha-Ne'elam l'Ruth, the commandment of levirate marriage acts as a point of departure for an exposition of the idea of the transmigration of souls. Within the two places in which Recanati exposits, he offers a type of a summary of the idea as it appears within prior kabbalistic sources, basing himself mainly upon the Bahir and upon the Zohar; in regard to the latter, he bases himself especially, though not exclusively, upon the Midrash ha-Ne'elam l'Ruth. Recanati proved to have had a profound effect upon the subsequent course of Italian kabbalah, which relied heavily upon his theories and his citations of the Zohar. Indeed, his works were a main source of Zoharic literature for those within the Italian milieu. Recanati also influenced the likes of David ibn Avi Zimra concerning transmigration, a figure who was the purported teacher of Isaac Luria. Without a doubt, Recanati's reach was wide-ranging, both Ias a transmitter of previous texts and ideas and as an interpreter in his own right.
Another fourteenth century thinker who had a profound effect upon the subsequent course of understanding of the doctrine of metempsychosis within Jewish thought was Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi, also known as Joseph the Long. Active in Spain though of Ashkenazi heritage, Joseph ben Shalom authored an important commentary on Sefer Yetzirah. This commentary ironically gained widespread reputation and dissemination by mistakenly being attributed to, and published under the name of Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquières, the famed twelfth century Provencal halachic authority. Joseph ben Shalom also authored a kabbalistic commentary on Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, which importantly contains his innovative ideas connected to transmigration and change. Nevertheless, this commentary did not receive as wide of a readership or have as large of a sphere of influence as Joseph's commentary on Sefer Yetzirah. Presently, the commentary on Bereshit Rabbah exists in only three known manuscripts, and was published for the first time, from these manuscripts, by Professor Moshe Hallamish in 1985 Notwithstanding the Bereshit Rabbah commentary's lack of popularity and propagation in comparison to the Sefer Yetzirah commentary, it does contain some of the same novel ideas that, through the Sefer Yetzirah commentary, were later to have an effect upon succeeding generations of Jewish thinkers, including those within Italy. Paramount among these is an idea of cosmic transmigration, called by Joseph ben Shalom by the terms sod ha-shelach and din b'nei halof. According to this theory, transmigration is not connected to levirate marriage, or to any specific commandment or transgression. Moreover, it is not limited to the souls of humans. Rather, it is a more universal, cosmic process that involves constant movement and change, both of all existing separate forms and of the entire universe as one.
Joseph ben Shalom's cosmic transmigratory ideas concerning universal and individual movement and change involved a concept of cosmic cycles and circular time. This theory, which was also held in common by Nahmanides and which was linked by both thinkers to notions of soul transmigrations, was derived from the Levitical injunction of shmittot and yovelot. According to Leviticus 25, the land shall be worked for a six year period, with the seventh year as a sabbatical year for the land. Seven of these sabbatical periods should be counted for a total of 49 years, with the fiftieth year as a jubilee, in which all debts shall be forgiven, slaves shall be freed, and all shall begin anew. Based upon chapter Helek of the talmudic tractate Sanhedrin, Joseph ben Shalom, in line with Nahmanides, universalized this idea as it appears in Leviticus and gave it a theosophical character. According to this theory, the universe goes through a process of constant creation and destruction in relation to seven thousand and forty-nine thousand year cycles, respectively, and in relation to the seven lower sefirot in a seven-fold cyclical pattern. Tied to this is a theory of souls, which are constantly collected back to their source in God at the end of these cycles, and which are re-emanated at the ends of the periods of rest in order to revivify the cosmos. This creates a form of transmigration that is cosmic in nature.
Both din b'nei halof and Joseph ben Shalom's cosmic idea of shmittot and yovelot, along with his Byzantine contemporary Sefer ha-Temunah, which posits a concept of metempsychosis in strong relation to the theory of shmittot, had a profound effect upon the fifteenth century Byzantine kabbalistic texts, Sefer ha-Kanah and Sefer ha-Peli'ah. These books, presumably written by the same author, indeed conflate the Italian kabbalah of Recanati, the ecstatic kabbalah of the thirteenth century Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, Spanish forms of kabbalah, Ashkenazi forms of kabbalah including that of Joseph ben Shalom, and native Byzantine elements, including those from Sefer ha-Temunah. Like Joseph ben Shalom, the author of these Byzantine texts holds to a cosmic type of transmigration related to a cyclical movement of ascent and descent from form to form. He takes this idea a step further and, like the Sefer ha-Temunah, he asserts that we are presently in the shmittah cycle related to the sefirah of Gevurah, stern judgment. In his opinion, due to the harsh character of the present shmittah, new souls do not come into the world, but only old souls transmigrate. He connects this entire cosmic process to the sins and actions of the people of Israel: "When the people of Israel are good and upright, then I will bring new seed from the East," he writes in Sefer ha-Peli'ah, "and if, God forbid, the people of Israel are evil and sin, I will bring them seed that has already come into the world and it will be transmigrated and made dirty."" These Byzantine texts signaled a new synthetic and cosmic direction for a Jewish understanding of metempsychosis, and were to have an important influence upon subsequent developments, including those within the Italian Renaissance milieu.
Such, in brief, were some of the major Jewish textual traditions concerning the idea of metempsychosis, as developed before the Italian Renaissance and as leading up to our present study of the idea. From Saadia Gaon to the Byzantine kabbalistic writings mentioned, these historical developments and texts acted as important precedents and proof-texts for the fifteenth century thinkers to be examined here. As will be shown throughout this study, these texts and ideas, considered by many to be authoritative, would be combined, reworked and reinterpreted in various ways throughout the period under examination here, in order to create new agendas of thought concerning metempsychosis.
An analysis of Italian Renaissance conceptions of the Jewish idea of metempsychosis should consider not only the historical background of the idea itself, but also some of the circumstances that determined Italian Jewish life during the era. David Ruderman has identified at least three factors that are of primary importance in this regard." The first is the fact that Italian Jewish communities during the Renaissance were relatively small and new, and consisted of few families that lacked political influence. The second is the fact that these relatively new Jewish communities were composed primarily of immigrants with diverse cultural backgrounds, from French, German or Spanish lands, or even from other regions in Italy. As will be seen throughout the present study, this diversity in the face of an already weak sense of political influence led to internal conflict, and often bitter struggles for religious and political authority. The third factor pointed out by Ruderman involves the concentration of economic wealth within these fledgling communities, in the hands of a small number of affluent banking families. These families exerted considerable influence over the cultural life of their communities, and major thinkers of the era were aligned to these groups. Thus, for example, we find a connection between Elia ben Hayyim da Genazzano and the banker David ben Binyamin da Montalcino, and between Isaac Abarbanel and Yohanan Alemanno and the wealthy da Pisa family.
The above factors account, in part, for the multifaceted nature of the era. Any serious consideration of Jewish thought during the period of the Renaissance should indeed allow for multivalent voices and for wider complexities as they take form from such factors. Such is the aim of this present study, which goes beyond the three social factors men- 1 tioned above and takes into account several facets of Italian Renaissance thought concerning Jewish and humanist conceptions of metempsychosis. These include the Byzantine connection to Italy through the unparalleled Cretan debate between Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi and Michael ha-Cohen Balbo, the Spanish-Italian connection through Isaac Abarbanel and Judah Hayyat, native Italian developments in Elia Hayyim ben Benjamin of Genazzano and Yohanan Alemanno, and the Jewish-Christian connection through the theories of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino. This study will attempt to give as full a picture as possible by allowing for diversity of opinion and background. What will unify these diverse and varied facets of Italian Renaissance thought within the following pages is not only the common era of the thinkers and, loosely speaking, the common geographical location; it is also the common theme of metempsychosis. By focusing upon this singular topic, the complexity of the multiplicity that is characteristic of the age will be able to speak for itself, while at the same time uniting around this common axis. Nevertheless, in order to understand this unity of complexity in that which we call the "Italian Renaissance," it is important to recognize some of the historical processes concerning the four areas briefly outlined, namely, the connection of Crete, the world of the Spanish exiles in Italy, native Italian kabbalistic developments, and the connection between Christian humanists and the Jewish world.
The Jewish cultural connection between Byzantine civilization and Italian Renaissance society leads through the island of Crete, which was under Byzantine control until 823, and again from 961 until 1204. In the wake of the Fourth Crusade of 1204, the island was sold to the Republic of Venice, under whose control it remained until 1669.45 Although most of the Jews continued to speak the Greek vernacular, which even entered into the synagogue services, with some exceptions, the Jews of Crete became full Venetian subjects with the status of citizens of the Republic. This facilitated a greater mobility for the Jews of Crete between their native island and the Italian peninsula, and it also allowed greater access to the island itself from mainland Italy by the likes of the traveler and chronicler Menahem of Volterra, who reports of activities in Crete around the year 1481.47 In this latter context of arrival to Crete, it is highly important to mention that Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, one of the main figures who took part in the debate in Crete concerning metempsychosis, to be discussed below, first arrived in Venice with his father, where he developed a relationship with the Rabbi Yuda Obernik of Mestre,48 and from there proceeded by himself to the island of Crete. Beyond this, not much is known about the figure of Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, except for that fact that he was possibly the father of Saul ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, an inquirer who would later write a series of philosophical questions to Isaac Abarbanel.
The earliest known Jewish intellectual to arrive to Italy from Crete and to play a significant role was the fourteenth century Shemaryah ben Elijah Ikriti, a philosophically oriented thinker who was active at the court of Robert, king of Naples. Shemaryah's father, Elijah ben Jacob, had been a rabbi in Rome before arriving in Crete in order to fulfill the position of community leader, and Shemaryah had maintained close contact with the Jewish community of Rome throughout his life. Another Cretan to arrive in Italy and to have a major impact there was the fifteenth century Averroist, Elijah Delmedigo. Delmedigo traveled to the Italian peninsula, presumably for medical training, and spent about a decade of his life between Padova and Venice. While there, he taught his Averroistic postulates to several figures, including both Domenico Grimani, known as an ecclesiastical pluralist who later became a Cardinal, and Grimani's humanist friend Pico della Mirandola, with whom Delmedigo set up a patronage and thereby brought his teachings to the Italian Renaissance intellectual fore. A little over a decade after Delmedigo returned to his native Crete, the famed Elijah Capsali followed in his older contemporary's footsteps, and in 1508 made his way to Padova. There, he studied in the yeshiva of the great Talmudist, Judah Minz, and in 1510 returned to Crete where he would eventually become the rabbi of Candia. In 1517 he wrote a chronicle of Venice, entitled Divrei Yemei Venezia, in which he gave an account of the history of the Republic.
Through these famed figures and their connections to Italy, it becomes readily apparent that the island of Crete played no small role for the Jewish community in Italian Renaissance developments and sensibilities. The converse is also the case, that Italian Renaissance developments had an impact upon Cretan Jewish sensibilities. This is exemplified by the extensive correspondence between the Cretan scholar Saul ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, the purported son of Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, and between Isaac Abarbanel, who at the time of the correspondence was residing in Venice.'' Indeed, neither the Jewish communities of Italy nor that of Crete remained wholly insular. While the Jewish community of Crete maintained much of its Byzantine character as a community, it also took part in Renaissance developments typically characteristic of the Italian milieu and engaged in important intellectual exchanges, as exemplified above. In fact, this may have paved the way for the introduction of Byzantine sources into Italian kabbalah in the works of thinkers such as Yohanan Alemanno. Moreover, the syncretistic tendencies of Byzantine sources, not only in works such as Sefer ha-Kanah and Sefer ha-Peli'ah, but also in the writings of Michael Balbo, to be discussed below, may have been a veritable precursor to Italian Renaissance developments of the same nature. This is also the situation for more philosophical, rational understandings of kabbalistic lore, which have characteristically been attributed by scholarship to the Italian environs?' Indeed, as Dov Schwartz has recently noted, Byzantine kabbalists expressed an explicit and overwhelming appreciation for the writings of Abraham Abulafia, and Elnathan ben Moses Kalkish, who wrote his extensive 'Even Sappir in 1367 in either Trebizond or Constantinople, conveyed a patently rationalistic bent in relation to kabbalistic ideas 53 Already prior to the advent of the Italian Renaissance, many Byzantine-Jewish thinkers "offered a combination of philosophy and kabbalah," in the words of Schwartz, "or at least expressed their high regard for mystical lore." )4 Whatever the case may be for trajectories of influence, due to the political and cultural connections and the phenomenological parallels in textual sourcing and reasoning, intellectual activities and developments in Early Modern Crete should not and cannot accurately be perceived as something wholly separate from their Italian counterparts, of which they are actually very much a part. It is with this understanding that the unprecedented debate concerning metempsychosis between Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi and Michael ha-Cohen Balbo will be examined in the first few chapters to follow.
The second broad area of Italian Renaissance complexity which should be understood for the present study involves Spanish exiles who made their way to Italy. Indeed, the cataclysmic event of the expulsion from Spain in 1492 would prove to have a significant effect within the wider fabric of Italian Renaissance intellectual developments. This is not due to the fact of a complete transformation of kabbalistic thought into a fully redemptive system, as Gershom Scholem has claimed, but rather, is due to the relocation of Spanish Jewish intellectuals to new centers of thought, and the mutual flow of knowledge that would come from these encounters. Indeed, not only were these thinkers affected by their new acquaintances with Italian Renaissance developments in thought; they also brought with them traditions and ideas from the Iberian Peninsula, which would be reflected in their thought and which they would sometimes more actively express and defend than when they were in Spain, in an attempt to preserve these ideas and to assert their superiority.
Many important Spanish thinkers made their way to Italy after the expulsion, including Joseph Ya'avetz, Isaac Aramah, and Judah and Isaac Abarbanel. Though none of these were professed kabbalists per se, those such as Joseph Ya'avetz and the Abarbanels were connected to the world of Spanish kabbalah and influenced by it. Indeed, they would often eschew philosophical thought, despite their strong philosophical training, for the assertion of a more faith-based, prophetic type of knowledge as connected to the world of kabbalah. Many historians connect such an anti-philosophic attitude by Spanish Jewish intellectuals to the catastrophic events of 1391. Spurred by the venomous anti-Jewish propaganda conducted by the Archdeacon of Seville Ferran Martinez, the massacres of 1391 destroyed several Spanish Jewish communities and claimed several thousands of Jewish lives.'`' This destruction, which was accompanied by a series of mass conversions to Christianity, led many Spanish Jewish intellectuals to reflect upon their philosophical cultural heritage and to reject it as one of the impetuses of the breakdown in Jewish society. In its place was upheld a stronger sense of fideism, which further embraced and advanced kabbalistic lore as received tradition. Isaac Abarbanel followed suit in this type of "anti-rational" philosophy as laid down by his predecessors, and was perhaps the most influential of the Spanish exiles in Italy. Despite this particularly fourteenth and fifteenth century Spanish trend in his thought, he displays a peculiar connection to the world of Renaissance philosophy as well, which could be attributed to his activity in Italy. This unique mix within this one illustrious thinker will occupy us in chapter three.
In addition to such "anti-rational" Spanish philosophers in Italy as Ya'avetz and Abarbanel, Moshe Idel has noted that at least six Spanish kabbalists stayed in Italy from around 1490 to 1500. These include Isaac Mor Hayyim, Joseph ibn Shraga, Joseph Alcastiel, Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi, Isaac ben Hayyim ha-Cohen, and Judah Hayyat. These thinkers brought with them a very mythical type of kabbalah that was even more devoid of philosophical speculation than their "anti-rational" speculative contemporaries, and that saw itself as pure received tradition in contradistinction to impure foreign bodies of thought. Idel has referred to the last mentioned above, Judah Hayyat, as "the main representative of his generation of Spanish kabbalists,' and he will be the focus of chapter four of this study.
It is important to note that immediately prior to the expulsion, kabbalistic creativity in Spain was scant. Idel notes that the important fifteenth century Spanish kabbalist Shem Tov ben Shem Tov even complained that he could not even find a proper kabbalistic teacher. Indeed, in his seminal Sefer ha-Emunot, Shem Tov writes, "I sought a teacher for myself and I did not find one, until I searched in some of the books of the wise men of the kabbalah, and I occupied myself with them for a long time." Notwithstanding this situation, kabbalah remained important to the intellectual elite as the anti-rational, revealed core of Jewish thought. Indeed, apart from kabbalists themselves, several fifteenth century Spanish philosophers, such as Abraham Bibago, integrated kabbalistic lore into their writings. In most such instances, however, similar to the account of Shem Tov, such lore would continue to be drawn from books and from the textual tradition.
Despite this shift in means of transmission and the greater appropriation of kabbalah by philosophers in the fifteenth century, Spanish kabbalah's tenor would nevertheless remain esoteric and veiled in myth. Central to this esotericism were the continually important writings of the early thirteenth century Geronese thinker Nahmanides and his followers, as well as the later, more mythical Castilian elements of the Zohar, which would achieve quasi-canonical status. Indeed, the appropriation by non-kabbalists of Spanish kabbalistic elements would continue well after the expulsion, as is evinced in the figure of Isaac Abarbanel. Though he professes to be a non-kabbalist, within his writings, Abarbanel freely quotes from sources such as the Bahir and the Zohar. Throughout, he displays a great esteem for kabbalistic discourse in its more esoteric, Spanish form. As will be shown in chapter three, in regard to metempsychosis, Abarbanel integrates aspects of Renaissance Neoplatonism, yet often falls back upon Nahmanidean esotericism. Such seems to be the influence of his prior Iberian sensibilities as they meet the world of Italian Renaissance philosophy.
Apart from philosophical appropriation, Spanish kabbalah as its own specific entity ironically saw a greater flowering of creativity outside of Spain, after the expulsion. This is exemplified in works such as Yehuda Hayyat's Minhat Yehuda, which purports to be a specifically Spanish interpretation of the classical Spanish kabbalistic text that gained its greatest popularity in Italy, Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut. Indeed, Hayyat's work is heavily based on Zoharic writings and explicitly elevates the Zohar to an exalted position. The reason for such a flowering of Spanish kabbalistic literature and the assertion of Zoharic supremacy after the expulsion requires a more detailed analysis, but it could very well be related to the uprooting of Spanish Jewry and the subsequent feeling of a need for preservation. In the case of Hayyat, this process seems to be related to his encounter with variant, Italian forms of kabbalah and a desire to assert the preeminence of the more esoteric, mythical kabbalah of Spain. As will be shown in chapter four, this is paradoxically coupled with a dialectical integration of elements from the "other" form of kabbalah that he seeks to refute in his assertion of Spanish kabbalistic dominance.
The third broad area of Italian Renaissance complexity to be treated here involves that to which Hayyat was responding, namely, native fifteenth century Italian developments in kabbalah. Moshe Idel has noted three central pillars of Italian kabbalah as it took form from its early stage in the thirteenth century until the beginning of the sixteenth century."' These are Abraham Abulafia who, though Spanish, composed most of his works in Italy, Menahem Recanati, who was the first native son of Italy to significantly infuse Zoharic thought into the culture, and the highly influential book Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut. These three figures all share one common characteristic, namely, a predominantly speculative bent with an attenuation of myth. As Idel writes, "the mythical conception of the Divinity which characterized the Zohar and the later works of Gikatilla was either unknown to them or incompatible with their way of thought."" Indeed, the three pillars mentioned are more systematically speculative in nature than the forms of kabbalistic thought that would take hold in Spain, and they seem to share a greater affinity with philosophy.
Examples of this affinity between the pillars of Italian kabbalah and philosophy abound. Abulafia, who wrote no less than three commentaries on the philosophical summum of Judaism, The Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides, emphasizes an intellectualist kabbalah throughout his writings, which sees unio mystica as the highest goal. Recanati, though steeped in the Zohar, stresses an instrumentalist view of the sefirot and usually neutralizes the mythical elements of Zoharic thought. Finally, Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut systematizes its thought in an unprecedented manner for a kabbalistic work, writes in Neoplatonic terminology, such as that of unity and multiplicity, and seems to take a nominalist approach to the workings of the godhead. Through such writings, kabbalah comes to lose its more theosophical-theurgical value and takes on a more markedly philosophical tenor. Such was the general state of kabbalah as it took form upon the Italian Peninsula. This is in part due to the force of influence of the kabbalistic thinkers mentioned, and in part due to the fact that works such as the Zohar were relatively unknown in Italy until the last decade of the fifteenth century. During this period, copies of it were brought to Italy by refugees from the Iberian Peninsula.' Nevertheless, by that time, the philosophic approach to kabbalah had already had over two-hundred years to take root and had already developed in its own unique manner." Thinkers coming from Spain and other areas had no choice but to contend with the likes of Elia Genazzano and Yohanan Alemanno, two thinkers who were both raised on, and representatives of native trends.
It is important to note that this philosophical approach to kabbalah meshed with the Renaissance ideal of comprehensive learning. According to this principle, the studia humanitatis, which consists of the five academic disciplines of grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy, aims to create a homo universalis, a universal man who is well-rounded in all of the important areas of human scholarship. Jewish scholars of the period borrowed this idea and framed the homo universalis by the Hebrew phrase hakham kolel, which denoted a scholar who excelled in several areas of both Jewish and secular learning and who sought the attainment of comprehensive intellectual perfection!'" Under this type of rubric, kabbalah was utilized in an eclectic fashion and was commingled with material drawn from other systems of thought. This was possible due to its philosophical nature as it had taken root in Italy. Viewed as a type of speculative lore like Aristotelianism or Platonism, kabbalah was most often studied autodidactically by Italian Renaissance thinkers from books such as those of Abulafia, Recan and Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut. In this manner, it was given over to a degreeo hermeneutical freedom and was ultimately seen as an ancient theoretic science, interpreted through variant means. Chapter five will discus this perception of kabbalah as an ancient science alongside other forms of speculative thought in the writings of Genazzano. Genazzano's wide range of humanist learning will become apparent, as will his unique understanding of the interplay between kabbalah and philosophy in relation to the idea of metempsychosis, which views the former as a more solidly grounded strand of ancient speculative lore than the latter. Chapter six will display Alemanno as an outstanding representative of the Italian philosophical syncretic tendency. Somewhat of a hakham kollel himself, Alemanno utilized an unprecedented number of variant kabbalistic sources in the shaping of his own ideas on metempsychosis; chapter six will analyze this unique usage, along with Alemanno's own neutralization of the mythical elements within these sources in a successful attempt to form a more philosophical reading of the kabbalistic idea of metempsychosis.
The final strand that makes up the complex fabric of Italian Renaissance thought, to be examined in this study in relation to conceptions of metempsychosis, involves the world of Christian humanists and their relation to the Jewish world. Indeed, Jewish thought developed in an unprecedented manner in Italy of the Renaissance period due to the fact that many of the most creative Jewish thinkers, including Alemanno, were in direct communication with leading figures of Christian Renaissance thought. Ruderman and Idel have both noted that for the first time in the history of Western thought, postbiblical Judaism was openly seen by important Christians as representing a valuable dimension of the human experience, resulting in a number of Christian intellectuals taking instruction from Jews.'' This situation has to do with the same mode of thought within the Italian Jewish camp that holds that kabbalah is but one of several pertinent systems of speculative lore that should be studied alongside others in an attempt at achieving a comprehensive program of learning. This idea, which relates back to the prism theologia tradition that was staunchly supported and upheld by both Pico and Ficino, allowed for mutual exchange and in mind that this blurring of boundaries does not It should be kept a blurring of otherwise rigid boundaries.
indicates a sense of sudden tolerance,
affability, and an eradication of animosities between Jews and Christians
during the Renaissance.
Indeed, the two final subjects of study here, Pico and Ficino, attest to
In the case of Pico, there are clear indications that through he was in fact seeking missionary tools with which tendency. convert the Jews. In his Heptaplus of 1489 he clarifies h to Hebrew his purpose. There he states concerning his learning of the Hebrew tradition, "Whatever we detect foreign to the truth of the Gospels we shall refute to the extent of our power, while whatever we find holy and true we shall bear off from the synagogue, as from a wrongful possessor, to ourselves, the legitimate Israelites." In the case of Ficino, there is an indication of the opposite tendency, namely, that through the proper use of Platonic philosophy, the Jews can be refuted. In a letter to Domenico Benivieni describing disputations between two Jews against the Christian convert Flavius Mithridates at Pico's house, he writes concerning the Jewish intellectuals: "[It does not] seem that they will be easy to refute unless the divine Plato enters the debate, the invincible defender of the holy religion."' In both cases, the blurring of boundaries serves a polemical purpose. In the case of Pico, the purpose is to erase sharp distinctions, to appropriate (or to re-appropriate, as he sees it) that which he views to be positive, and in the process, to win over converts. In the case of Ficino, the purpose seems to be to assert the primacy of Christianity through Plato, who perhaps by no coincidence, was used during the period by autodidacts such as Alemanno in order to interpret kabbalistic thought. In an interesting reverse, which will be shown in chapters seven and eight respectively, in the case of metempsychosis, Pico does not relate to kabbalistic thought at all but rather relies upon the Neoplatonic interpretations of Plotinus, while Ficino does appropriate some ideas from kabbalah.
Scholarship has as indeed considered this blurring of boundaries from the an image of Jews who borrowed from humanist culture, from the angle of Jews who taught their own specific lore to humanists, and from the angle of humanists such as Pico, who appropriated such ideas into their own systems of thought. The baptism of Jewish ideas from the side of Christians and the giving of a brit to humanist ideas from the side of Jews, as well as polemics from both sides, have also been considered. More recently, scholars have attempted to provide an even wider picture by allowing for even more blurred boundaries; this is through the realization of an oftentimes greater continuum of thought than has been previously been realized, between the Jewish and the Christian worlds of the Renaissance." This type of scholarship does not attempt to whitewash the tensions or differences, which indeed exist, but it does attempt to allow for greater complexity to show through in understanding the multi-streamed, dynamic flow of ideas and concepts. Such is the aim of the analyses of Pico and Ficino in the present study. Sometimes, as will be shown in the case with Pico on metempsychosis, a blatantly "Jewish" influence is peculiarly absent. This is despite the fact of his being steeped in kabbalistic learning. Other times, as will be shown with Ficino, kabbalistic thought comes to bear in seemingly peculiar Plotinian contexts concerning metempsychosis. This is despite his usual greater reliance upon Plato, and his scant display of kabbalistic knowledge in other places in his writings. In each of the two chapters on Pico and Ficino, the concept of metempsychosis will be sketched out in its wider philosophical context. This is not always in relation to particular Jewish or kabbalistic precedents, and is in order to allow for a fuller picture of the idea as it filters between Jewish and humanist thought of the Italian Renaissance. Together with the Cretan, Spanish-Italian, and native Italian kabbalistic threads, this last, humanistic thread will contribute to a fuller fabric of our understanding of Italian Renaissance kabbalah and Jewish philosophy as it relates to the idea of metempsychosis.
According to Aviezer Ravitzky, Jewish philosophy "is a philosophy which deals with a certain problem (or more precisely, with a certain type of problem), namely the confrontation or encounter of the non-philosophic Jewish sources and the non-Jewish philosophic sources.
Under this definition, much of the speculation of Jewish thinkers in fifteenth century Italy, including by those traditionally thought to be more "traditional" kabbalists such as the Spanish thinker Judah Hayyat and the particularistic scholar Elia Hayyim ben Binyamin of Genazzano, can be considered to be Jewish philosophy. Even if filtered through prior Jewish sources, the usage of theories such as Neoplatonic emanationism and Aristotelian intellection in order to advance ideas of biblical, prophetic and kabbalistic supremacy indeed involves the "problem" of encounter about which Ravitzky writes. Interestingly, the thought of non-Jewish philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino, who evoke the Jewish kabbalah in support of their philosophic doctrines, can be seen to be working by the same type of movement, though from the reverse angle. Within this schema, a process of blurring begins to take place, in which inside and outside begin to become indistinguishable in the philosophical project.
In a recent study on the subject, Giuseppe Veltri notes the contradictio in adjecto inherent in the term "Jewish philosophy," and states: "The more a Jewish approach to philosophy is emphasized, or denied, and thus becomes a prominent object of academic debate, the more radically it forces the question as to the essence, identity, and continuity of Jewish culture as compared to culture in general."" The present study takes this perspicacious argument for contradictio in adiecto into account, and indeed seeks to plumb the depths of identity, continuity, and Jewish cultural formation as compared to "culture in general" during the Renaissance, not by forcing the question, but by allowing for its varied expressions through the thinkers examined. Indeed, much of the discussion of many of the thinkers discussed here centers around specifically kabbalistic questions such as the nature of the sefirot, and many, including professedly non-kabbalists such as Isaac Abarbanel, invoke sources such as the Zohar and the Bahir. This, together with the primacy accorded to the received tradition, indicates a strong kabbalistic element in their thought, and a strong vie for a particularly Jewish sense of ascendancy. Taken together with the intellectual exchanges between Jewish and Christian elites, such as those between Yohanan Alemanno and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, with the appropriation and transformation of kabbalistic ideas by the likes of Ficino, and with the exchanges between Jewish elites from variegated cultural backgrounds, such as those between Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi and Michael Balbo, this gives rise to a complex, polychromatic picture of Jewish thought in fifteenth century Italy. This goes beyond Jewish" philosophy, and also beyond "kabbalah."
In the words of Elliot Wolfson, "it is misleading to view kabbalah ... as singular and monolithic; it is rather a polymorphous entity informed by distinct patterns and structures conveyed in symbolic and mythical images." To this should be added the assertion that it is misleading to view general Jewish thought in fifteenth century Italy in monolithic terms, and that the kabbalah of the era was a polymorphous entity conveyed not only in symbolic and mythical images, but by philosophical speculation and parlance as well. Instead of a resort to reductive terms of taxonomical typologies, which, according to Moshe Idel "risks producing conceptual and historical misunderstandings," it is more accurate to allow for voices of diversity and complexity regarding general fifteenth century Italian Jewish thought, and regarding ruminations on metempsychosis specifically. In this context, it is important to heed the warning of Idel that "without being able to discern differences among the different schools and models, and without attempting to understand the manner in which they were harmonized in a totalizing system, how they encountered one another, how they were ordered, hierarchically or otherwise, and without accounting for tensions and frictions that characterized their coexistence in the same writings, the study of Jewish mysticism will remain a relatively sterile history of ideas or themes.' Due to the inherent complexities of fifteenth century Italian Jewish thought, an analysis of the dynamic idea of metempsychosis during the period allows for a move beyond sterility and into the dynamic picture of the multifaceted nature of Jewish thought itself.
Contributing to the complexities of the dynamic idea of transmigration that go beyond mere typologies is the very sociological fact of migration ,itself. Italy during the period under examination, including Candia, which was then under Venetian rule, acted as a nexus point for the Levantine, Sephardic, Ashkenazic and native Italian Jewish communities due to its location as a major hub of migration patterns.'" Such a position led to an influx and a more fluid exchange of various ideas as developed in disparate cultural landscapes. That which Moshe Idel terms "the mobility factor"" in the constant reshaping of Jewish thought, that is, the movement of intellectuals between distinct centers of ideation, led to new confrontations, novel assertions of older ideas, and fresh syntheses between variant ideas. As has been mentioned, two of the thinkers to be treated in this book, Isaac Abarbanel and Judah Hayyat, were prominent Spanish scholars who arrived upon Italian soil, prompting such assertions and interpretations that may very well have gone undeveloped in written form had they not come into contact with alternative modes of thought. Whatever the case may have been had they been able to remain in their Iberian environs, there is no disputing what indeed was. Though Abarbanel passed most of his life in Iberia and arrived in Italy at the age of fifty-five, most of his works were written in Italian lands, including all of those that discuss the mystical doctrine of metempsychosis: his messianic trilogy, the completion of his seminal commentary on the book of Deuteronomy, and his most important philosophico-mystical work, Mifalot Elohim. In the case of Judah Hayyat, he explicitly affirms that his arrival in Mantova and the bequest of "notable wise men" from that community were the stimuli behind the writing of his famous commentary on Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut, entitled Minhat Yehudah. As such, the evidence seems to support the "mobility factor", as opposed to any specific typology, in the development of the writings of these two thinkers.
Prior to the expulsion from Spain, Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, a man of "Ashkenazic stock who had joined the exile of Jerusalem in Spain' made his way to the island of Crete, upon which he waged an intellectual battle concerning metempsychosis against a community leader of the old guard, Michael Balbo. In this case too, the "mobility factor" and the clash of cultural and intellectual ideals seem to have played a major part in the development and production of literary activity, both from the side of the "mobile" Ashkenazi and from the side of the resident Balbo. Apart from the strict mobility of thinkers as in the above cases, the influx of texts from variegated centers of thought also shaped the thought processes of scholars. This is the case not only for the above mentioned thinkers, but for theorists such as Elia Hayyim da Genazzano and Yohanan Alemanno, who were also influenced by the flow of information to and from Christian elites, who themselves in turn were also affected by these exchanges. This influx and complex flow of ideas makes Italy an important nexus of examination in the multifaceted development of Jewish thought, with metempsychosis as a good point of departure from which to gage the multifarious ideas, opinions and ideational changes.
Notwithstanding the need for extreme reticence in terms of grand narratives and rigid typological classifications and the need to allow for variant voices, it is important to note that patterns of distinction in thought, though not hard and fast, do exist between centers, between schools of thought, and between individual thinkers. Without recognizing this, scholarship runs the risk of becoming amorphous. Hence, there is a need for a delicate balance. Sometimes cultural divergences are due to the texts available to a given community or to a specific thinker, sometimes they are due to divergences in halachic standards as will be seen in the case of the debate in Candia, and sometimes they are due to political and cultural situations, such as Yohanan Alemanno's expanded praise of the virtues of Florence and of Lorenzo de Medici," j under whose watchful eye he operated. Yet other times, differences in thought may be attributed to personal proclivities and alliances. In the case of late fifteenth century Italy, it is important to note that Zoharic literature was not accorded as central of a status as it elicited in Spain or would later appreciate in much of the Ottoman empire, parts of North Africa" and Safed. It is also important to mention the fact that in most Italian Renaissance cases, the Zohar's usage and invocation were filtered through the writings of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century Italian kabbalist Menahem Recanati, who often mitigated the mythic elements and inclined to a more philosophical understanding.
This has to do, in part, with a paucity of Zoharic texts;'' according to Robert Bonfil, the evidence of extant fifteenth century Italian book-lists clearly shows that "the entire Zoharic corpus—the Zohar, Tikkunei ha-Zohar, Midrash ha-Ne'elam, Midrash Ruth, etc. is found only in one isolated case.' It also has to do with a vie for intellectual hegemony, according to which the prophetic, philosophical kabbalah of Abraham Abulafia struck roots on Italian soil already in the latter part of the thirteenth century."' Under such conditions, kabbalah came to be viewed in many Italian circles as a speculative type of lore that was studied auto-didactically from extant texts, and that was interpreted more freely that its strictly Zoharic counterpart, on the basis of philosophic and other forms of knowledge." It is from this background that more eclectic interpretations of ideas such as metempsychosis, as based on wider sources and theories, were able to burst forth and to test the boundaries of Jewish knowledge in their confrontation with diverse modes of thought, not only within the world of Jewish discourse, but with non-Jewish ideas as well.
Ancillary effects of the more "universalistically" perceived confrontation of concepts and the testing of ideational boundaries, which had strong implications for Italian Renaissance ruminations on metempsychosis, were particularistic contentions of superiority and the assertion of national boundaries." From the side of internal Jewish dispute, this involved claims to greater authenticity, usually from those coming from outside of the "native" milieu, as will be shown with Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi in Crete and with Judah Hayyat in Mantova. From the side of interactions with the non-Jewish world, it entailed subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle polemics favoring the viability of Jewish particularity in the face of the blurring of separatist boundaries and the opening up of kabbalah and Jewish thought to the non-Jewish world. As David Ruderman has written, "In this context of a new universal image of human experience, Jews were pressed to respond creatively to a dramatically new intellectual and spiritual challenge. Clearly, one major way to justify themselves and their own distinctiveness was to evoke a renewed image of the superiority of Jewish culture.'" One way of affecting this was to deem the kabbalistic doctrine utilized by the likes of Pico della Mirandola and his Jewish and convert cohorts to be inauthentic to the Jewish spirit, as was done by the prominent Jewish Averroist Elia Delmedigo in his seminal Behinat ha-Dat. Another way was to endeavor to limit kabbalistic speculation to its more particularistic, esoteric lore, as was attempted by Judah Hayyat and later by Moshe Cordovero of Safed in his criticisms of Italian kabbalah. Or, as Ruderman suggests, "one could remain solidly within Jewish culture by expanding the character of Judaism to include magic, Neoplatonism, and the prisca theologia, as Yohanan Alemanno had done." At the heart of these variant approaches stood a perceived need for national expression, a need that would make its way into reflections on the doctrine of metempsychosis.
It is important in this context to note that "nation" in the view of these thinkers does not constitute the modernist definition of theorist Benedict Anderson as "an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." This is not only due to the fact that these thinkers operated in a world and context prior to the establishment of the modern nation-state, but also because of the fact that for these thinkers, earthly political sovereignty held a position of secondary importance, at best, in their own understandings of national constitution. Nevertheless, Anderson's definition offers a valuable and interesting periscope from which to view such pre-modern ideas, in that the imagining of origins and of a sense of community does play a major role. Indeed, according to Anderson, the religious community, based on a commonality of language, acts as a fundamental precedent to modern and contemporary notions of nationality: In the Jewish case, this not only constitutes the Hebrew language, but halachic standards and the common symbolic narratives of the sacred canon as well. It is around such issues that Italian Renaissance debates concerning metempsychosis were waged and it is through such means that particular ideas concerning metempsychosis were formed. As such, an exploration into these debates and ideas not only hinges upon national sensibilities, it sheds light upon the pre-modern "imagined community" of the Jewish people, both in the face of non-Jewish society and in the face of disparate Jewish communities.
Fifteenth century Italy witnessed notable developments in notions of metempsychosis, partly due to a turn in philosophical psychology to more homocentric notions, partly due to an influx of texts, ideas and scholars and the meeting-points of various cultures, and partly due to a struggle for the assertion of national and cultural identity. Many other factors were involved as well, such as the exotericization of previously esoteric modes of thought, and indeed, no single factor stands at the crux of the process of these developments. Rather, the picture remains as complex as the doctrine of metempsychosis itself. What is certain is that in late fifteenth century Italy, the fluid doctrine of metempsychosis advanced to a position of theoretical prominence. Aided by the greater acceptance of both prior kabbalistic concepts and Neoplatonic thought, which were both esteemed elements ofprisca theologia in Italian Renaissance Jewish and Christian camps alike, the doctrine of metempsychosis began to be taken seriously, even by those outside of the strictly mystical camps. As such, by turning to this increasingly popular doctrine of individual continuity in all of its complexities, greater light can be shed upon the dynamics, complications and consequences of Italian Renaissance thought, both Jewish and Christian analogously, concerning the creation of man in the divine image and the resulting uniqueness of his distinctive soul.
Man and Theogony in the Lurianic Cabala by Daphne Freedman (Gorgias Press) After the establishment of the Zoharic corpus amongst leading rabbis, no major changes took place in Jewish esoterism until the middle of the 16th century, when in Safed (in Upper Galilee, Palestine; present-day Zefat, Israel) a religious centre of extreme importance for Judaism was established, which was mainly inspired by teachers coming from families expelled from Spain. Until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492) and during the two generations that followed it, the Kabbalistic literary output had certainly been abundant, in Spain till the expulsion as well as in Italy and the Middle East; but it was primarily a matter of systematizing or even popularizing the Zohar or of extending the speculation already developed in the 13th century; there were also some attempts at reconciling philosophy and Kabbala. It should be noted that even the traditionalist theologians adopted a careful and rather reserved attitude toward Kabbala.
The tragedy for Judaism of the expulsion from Spain and of the forced conversions to Christianity that preceded it by a century, and which would become even more extensive in Portugal shortly afterward, deeply marked the victims. These events, accentuating the already existing pessimism in response to the situation of the Jewish people dispersed among the nations, intensified the messianic expectation.
This expectation does not seem to have been unrelated to the beginnings of the printed transmission of Kabbala—the first two printed editions of the Zohar date from 1558. All these factors, joined with certain internal developments of speculative Kabbala in the 15th century, prepared the ground for the new theosophy inaugurated by the teaching of Isaac ben Solomon Luria, who was born in Jerusalem in 1534, educated in Egypt, and died in Safed in 1572; although his teaching is traditionally associated with Safed, he spent only the last three years of his life there. Luria -- also known as the "Ari Zaal," or "Divine Rabbi Isaac," -- was, and remains to this day, unarguably the greatest Kabbalist in world history. Luria wrote very little; his doctrine has been transmitted, amplified, and probably somewhat distorted through the works of his disciples, of which the main one was Hayyim Vital (1543–1620), who wrote 'Etz Hayyim (“Tree of Life”), the standard presentation of Lurianic Kabbala.
The theosophy of Luria, whose novelty was proclaimed by its creator and perfectly realized by the esoterists who held to the Zoharistic Kabbala (organized and codified precisely in Safed, during the lifetime of Luria, by Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, 1522–70), is of extreme complexity in its details, although basically it is but one more attempt to reconcile divine transcendence with immanence and to bring a solution to the problem of evil, which the believer in the divine unity can recognize neither as a power existing independently of God nor as an integral part of him.
The theosophic vision of Luria is expressed in a vast mythical construct, which is typologically akin to certain Gnostic and Manichaean (3rd-century dualistic) systems but which strives at all costs to avoid dualism. The details of Luria's Kabbala are quite complicated that his doctrine of SheviretHaKelim, or "Shattering of the Vessels," was at their core and profoundly influenced all subsequent Kabbalistic theosophy. The idea of Sheviret HaKelim states that the Universe (i.e., the Unity of God) was shattered at the moment of creation. The essential elements of this myth are: the withdrawal (tzimtzum) executed by the divine light, which originally filled all things, in order to make room for the extradivine; the sinking, as a result of a catastrophic event that occurred during this process, of luminous particles into matter (qelippot, “shells,” a term already used in Kabbala to designate the evil powers); whence the necessity of saving these particles and returning them to their origin, by means of “repair” or “restoration” (tiqqun). From this cataclysm, "Holy Sparks" flew off in all directions, some returning to their Source, others falling into the world of "things" and "beings." Thus, as the Baal Shem Tov states, "In all that is in the world dwell Holy Sparks, no things is empty of them; in the actions of men also, indeed even in the sins he does, dwell Holy Sparks of God."
Thus, the Kabbalistic notion of Tikkun Olam, or "Repair of the World," is based on the principle that all things and actions in the world, no matter how seemingly trivial, are saturated with Holy Sparks, yearning to return to the state of premundane unity from which they fell at the creation of the world. This must be the work of the Jew who not only lives in complete conformity to the religious duties imposed on him by tradition but who also dedicates himself, in the framework of a strict asceticism, to a contemplative life founded on mystical prayer and the directed meditation (kawwana) of the liturgy, which is supposed to further the harmony (yihud, “unification”) of the innumerable attributes within the divine life. The successive reincarnations of the soul, a constant theme of Kabbala that Lurianism developed and made more complex, are also invested with an important function in the work of “repair.” In short, Lurianism proclaims the absolute requirement of an intense mystical life with, as its negative side, an unceasing struggle against the powers of evil. Thus it presents a myth that symbolizes the origin of the world, its fall, and its redemption; it gives meaning to the existence and to the hopes of the Jew, not merely exhorting him to a patient surrender to God but moving him to a redeeming activism, which is the measure of his sanctity. Obviously, such requirements make the ideal of Lurianism possible only for a small elite; ultimately, it is realizable only through the exceptional personage of the “just”—the ideal holy Jew.
Lurianic mythology represents an intensely personal view, in which earlier cabalistic symbolism is used to express new and original ideas. The lurianic system as a whole can be seen as a single metaphor for a new relation between man and the deity that is not yet fully realized. The cabalistic myths of his sources express the reality of the relations of being in the lurianic corpus. The lurianic system seeks to reformulate the relation of man and god, concentrating on the way that the being of the deity is revealed in humanity. The main protagonist of the lurianic myth is the deity itself, beginning with the initial contraction and culminating in the divine - human that evolves in the course of the restoration of the flawed creation. The revelation of the deity is expressed in terms of the human processes of life and death and the relation of humanity and the divine is largely relocated in the realm of human sexuality. The lurianic view implies a mutual dependence humanity and the divine, because humans are seen as the revealed aspect of the deity and the deity as the transcendent aspect of humanity.
Daphne Freedman study Man and Theogony in the Lurianic Cabala explorers this central dialectic between the divine and human encounter moving towards a resolution of evil in a world of good. Always the divine is the central actor in this timeless and timely drama that speaks to the mystery of the divine-human intimate relation. From my flesh I shall see God, is an integral part of the capitalists creed, Luria lays the emphasis on the flesh. The contradictions and difficulties that arise from this unbridgeable gap between the divine in the human are explored in the doctrine of the female waters, in which the adsorption of the human into the transcendence of the divine is, at the same time, the destruction of the simply human. Only in the annihilation of the individual is the experience of the transcendent accessible to the Mystic; only the annihilation of the human provides the Mystic with the possibility of influencing and nourishing the divine with the female waters required for the union. It is at the extreme limits of the human that the divine and the human become inextricably entangled.
Friedman continues by exploring the nature of the restoration and indeed, union, of the configurations reaching high into the infant stages of the emanation as dependent on female waters provided by human life. In this sense here God is not absolute in that God is completely transcendent and cut off from the human experience. The way that this idea is usually formulated in a Lurianic corpus is that the human is the “exterior of the worlds.” The Lurianic view of the essential dynamism of the divine implies a reciprocal and essential relation ship between the human and the divine where the Mystic can be understood as a function of the divine and the divine is a psychological function of the human. Human beings are revealed as aspects of the deity, and the deity is the transcendent aspect of humanity.
As the relationship between the divine and human is a reconfigured, the opposition between immanence and transcendence, like the opposition between life and death, is no longer seen as mutually exclusive but as the expression of complementary facets of the same process. While the immanence of God is concrete and all pervasive, transcendence is the single defining characteristic of the divine. The tension between these opposed polarities reveals them to be an inalienable unity in which each relies on the other for its significance.
Luria made a consistent attempt to reformulate the symbols of zoharic kabbala in his own terms. His own symbols depend for their meaning on the kabbalistic doctrines that informs them and gave birth to them but, the same time, have taken them in a new direction. Repeatedly, with every doctrine that is reinterpreted an integrated into the Lurianic corpus, the brunt of the reinterpretation is the same: the sexual symbolism that concerns the consciousness of knowledge which enables humans to procreate, and which, following the Zohar, is responsible for the renewal of the creation after the breaking of the vessels. This consciousness was the subject of the struggle between the opposing forces at the creation of the world, a struggle which still continues. Lori is reformulation of the earlier kabbalistic doctrines in human terms is consistent and repeated. The human terms that he feels are most suited to express the relationship of the human to the divine are sexual in nature. Perhaps, with Freud, he sees sexual agency as the primary human process. Luria had at his disposal a rich vein of anthropomorphic symbolism on which she could profitably draw. He used it to represent the divine but also to describe the contiguity between the divine in the human. Luria's thought can be compared to the Freudian understanding in the sense that the multiplicity of human experience is reduced to a single cluster of sexual symbols that runs essentially unchanged throughout the system from the beginning of the emanation to the smallest historical detail. The revelation of the deity is no longer expressed solely in terms of the Neoplatonic theory of emanation but principally and a dynamic terms of the human process of life and death and the opposed polarities which are revealed in the human spirit.
The obvious difference between Freudian psychology and the Lurianic Kabbala is that for Freud, although it is sexuality which expresses the strongest relationship between the subject and the object, sexuality is not a vehicle but an instinct, an impersonal biological phenomenon. While the Lurianic kabbala has a similar reduction of sexual symbolism and a similar awareness of the force and centrality of the role of sexuality, Luria is not describing an impersonal instinct, in the Freudian sense. The sexual symbolism in the Lurianic corpus cannot be understood in isolation from the tradition in which it arose; it depends for its intelligibility on the understanding of sexual symbolism found in the earlier kabbala.
The Lurianic kabbala as a whole demonstrates the drive toward the creation of a unified and coherent system; notably absent from the interests of the Zohar; which embraces a rich diversity of views and approaches. In trying to find a reason for this heroic attempt to combine such disparate doctrines, it is impossible to resist the supposition that Luria was endeavoring, consciously or not, to forge a synthesis that would express the definitive religious conception of his time.
Freedman’s study provides a conceptually vital summary of the sexual reconciliation of opposites in Lurianic kabbala as also restoring or reconciling the gulf between the human and the divine, and the nature of evil in this world. Freedman manages a graceful account of this important innovation in kabbala theory.
Luminal Darkness: Imaginal Gleanings from Zoharic Literature by Elliot Wolfson (One World) Since 1945, scholarship and interest in the ancient tradition of Kabbalah have reached unprecedented heights. What originated as an esoteric ritual, secretly studied by a select elite, is yielding increasingly widespread interest.
Renowned as one of the world's most astute interpreters of Kabbalistic texts, Elliot Wolfson offers an illuminating and original presentation of Kabbalah. Combining its wisdom with Western philosophical heritage from Plato to Heidegger and beyond, synergy guides his elucidation of the fundamentals of Jewish mysticism and shapes his taxonomy of Kabbalistic thought.
A deeply dialectical thinker, Wolfson holds seemingly paradoxical tenets in tandem: Medieval Judaism and American modernity; the 'tradition' of Kabbalah and postmodern philosophy; sexual body and human spirit; ontological truth and religious imagination; revelation and occultation; good and evil; left and right—none of these, he writes, are diametrically opposite. Rather, they are dialectical poles with which to think and through which to intuit, tools to gaining a deeper understanding of the Jewish mystical tradition and its meaning for the twenty-first century.
An insightful collection of seminal essays, Luminal
Darkness reveals the unmistakably poetic nature of this important
scholar's creative process, and delineates the evolution of his
thinking on the role and importance of the Zohar in Kabbalistic
Excerpt: As these essays amply reveal, there are many ways into the elaborate thought and writing of Elliot R. Wolfson. Those readers familiar with Wolfson's corpus will recognize in this collection of essays many of the themes that have structured Wolfson's thought from the late 1980s, when he first began to publish. Here we can catch, as if in the peripheral corners of the mind's many eyes, shimmering glimpses of those philosophically coded sefirot that have given such a complicated, if still quite definite, shape to the imaginal body in which, and out of which, Wolfson thinks, feels, intuits, creates, teaches, and writes. They are all here: the logical and rhetorical structures of esotericism that irresistibly force a revelation out of every occultation and another subsequent concealing out of every revealing; the deep structural unity of eroticism and asceticism and the ethically ambiguous psychosexual patterns of repression, symbolic transformation, and sublimation that charge them with sacred meaning; the essentially hermeneutical nature of kabbalistic mysticism whereby the divine is revealed and experienced in and as the act of interpretation; the complicated gender dynamics of kabbalistic symbolism with its ocular phallocentrism, male androgynes, ontological erasures of the feminine, gender transformations, and homoerotic communities and theologies; the rich, not to mention terribly honest, appropriation of "the evil inclination" within both the mystical paths of the medieval kabbalists and the hermeneut's ethical struggle with these same traditions; and the unmistakable poetic nature of the scholar's creative process and scholarly writing.
What binds all of these intellectual structures together? Is there some deeper unity to the many sefirot that give shape and form to Elliot R. Wolfson's thought? I will not foolishly venture any definite answer here, but I would like to suggest, as a means of introducing his work as represented in this volume, that Wolfson's writing can fruitfully be approached, if never quite fully grasped, as both radically embodied and profoundly dialectical, the latter which some may want to translate as "paradoxical:' A word about each of these patterns may be in order here.
The twentieth-century study of mysticism was a varied and rich affair, but more often than not, it was also a more or less disembodied one. Many scholars and innumerable popular writers wrote a great deal about oneness, common cores, and perennial philosophies (remarkably variously conceived), about historical contexts and epistemological issues, about the structuring roles of language and doctrine, about the ambiguous legacies of mystical ethics, and about the roles of violence, psychopathology, and trauma in inducing mystical states of consciousness.
These are all very important issues, and I do not want to dismiss them here, but I do want to suggest that something was lost, or never quite found, in that century-long discussion, something that has always and everywhere (my own sexual perennialism begins to show itself) grounded and given shape to mystical literature – the human body. Readers can read such important and ideologically diverse writers as Evelyn Underhill, William Stace, Huston Smith, Fritjhof Schuon, Steven Katz, and Robert K.C. Forman and never quite realize that writers whom we now call "mystics" had and still have physiologies, genders, sexualities, sexual organs, sexual orientations, erotic fantasies, and sexual desires and fears. Some of the early and later psychologists of religion (Sigmund Freud, James Leuba, and Sudhir Kakar come immediately to mind) are real exceptions to this general neglect, but they stand out by virtue of their insistence on that which most others sought to deny, or at least benignly ignore, namely, the indubitable fact of embodiment.
What makes the written corpus of Elliot R. Wolfson so remarkable is that even as it rivals, if not surpasses, the philosophical sophistication of any other writer on mysticism in the past century, it also dramatically affirms both the presence and structuring power of such basic things as penises and vaginas. Indeed, much of his thought is structured, like the kabbalistic literature itself, around these very sexual organs and their elaborate transformations in the male mystical imagination of the kabbalistic world. As much as one may want to do so, one cannot escape the phallus in the writing of Elliot R. Wolfson. It is there in the highest reaches of the kabbalistic Godhead, and so it is there in Wolfson's writing on these imaginal conceptions of the Godhead.
This simultaneous insistence on both the philosophical sophistication and the sexual dimensions of kabbalistic mystical thought is intimately related to what is perhaps an even deeper structure of Wolfson's thought – its dialectical nature. Like other successful creative thinkers, Wolfson is capable of holding in his mind's eye what other thinkers would resist or unconsciously ignore as incompatible opposites. Medieval Judaism and American modernity; the "tradition" of kabbalah and postmodern philosophy; the sexual body and the human spirit; ontological truth and the religious imagination; revelation and occultation; good and evil; left and right –none of these are true opposites for Wolfson. They are all dialectical poles to think with and intuit through to a deeper level of understanding. If anything, these poles are exaggerated, not to ultimately affirm one or the other ("modernity is bad," "the true mystic knows no sexual desire," "mysticism and evil are mutually exclusive terms," etc.), but to force a deeper insight into that which grounds them both. For the modern or postmodern interpreter of mysticism, the fruits of such a coincidentia oppositorum are rich indeed. We can think about anything here, and in our own (post)modern terms. Continental and feminist philosophy, hermeneutics, psychoanalytic theory, and contemporary ethical reflection thus enter a vigorous dialogue with texts that are both bizarrely other and yet somehow strangely familiar to us. We need not look away from the graphic sexual nature of mystical experience, from the consistent ethical violations of antinomian traditions, or from the disturbing gender implications of androcentric systems of thought. We can embrace it all in the dialectics of encounter, honesty, and mutual criticism.
Both other and familiar – that is the dialectical nature of any kind of comparative thought, be it comparison traditionally conceived in the history of religions, where two different historical traditions or figures are juxtaposed and compared, or here, in a more subtle fashion, where a medieval mystical tradition is understood through the figures and categories of contemporary critical theory. In both cases, a fusion of horizons is effected and something genuinely new, a tertium or third, appears in the middle, in what we might call the hermeneutical union of the two. This, quite frankly, is what I find to be the most remarkable aspect of Wolfson's work – its uncanny ability to spark comparative and theoretical insights in readers who come from entirely different disciplines or practices. I work, for example, primarily with Christian materials and on early modern Indian Tantric traditions, mostly in Bengal, and yet I am continuously overwhelmed when I read Wolfson's work on medieval kabbalah with the task of scribbling thoughts to myself in the margins of the pages. Ideas come too quickly and in such abundance that it becomes difficult to read. The content and the context are clearly Jewish and medieval, but the ideas transcend both content and context to embrace what we can accurately call a developing theoretical and comparative vision. Elliot R. Wolfson "gets it." He knows. And he can communicate, somehow, this gnosis to his attentive and properly prepared readers.
"On the path two become three." This is what Wolfson penned
to me in a copy of his Abraham Abulafia. I took it then as a gnomic
epigram that encapsulates the essentially dialectical nature of his
thought, the mystery of comparison and hermeneutical practice, and
the potential profundity of human friendship and deep communication.
The reader of these essays is free to take it differently. That too
is part of the mystery of comparison and reading; the "two become
three." --Jeffrey J. Kripal
As I sit to write this brief introduction to the essays I have called Luminal Darkness: Imaginal Gleanings from Zoharic Literature, three books that I have been working on, more or less, since 1995 – though the seeds obviously were planted long ago through arduous plowing of the fields of classical and medieval rabbinic literature, including, especially, kabbalistic texts, and works of general philosophy, particularly, hermeneutics and phenomenology – are making their way into the world. The books in order of birth – gestation has proven to be concomitant, thus rendering the books comparable to triplets in the womb – are Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination (Fordham University Press, 2005); Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death (University of California Press, 2006); and Venturing Beyond – Law and Morality in Kabbalistic Mysticism (Oxford University Press, 2006).
The essays gathered in this book span a period from 1986 to 1999, formative years in my development as scholar, thinker, and writer. Since the time these studies were researched, composed, and published, the field of zoharic studies has continued to evolve. A critical turn, as experts in the discipline well know, was the publication of Yehuda Liebes's essay – delivered originally as the inaugural address of the fourth international conference on Jewish mysticism sponsored by the Scholem Centre for Kabbalah Research in the Jewish and National University Library, Jerusalem, sometime in February 1988, as I recall – on how the zoharic compilation came to be, shifting the focus thereby from single to group authorship. There is little question of the importance of this moment in the history of the academic study of zoharic literature. That achievement stands, and likely will continue to stand, and for this we remain indebted.
Without diminishing this contribution, two observations of a critical nature come to mind. First, as I have pointed out in one of the essays included in this collection, published in 1998 but written in 1995, as revolutionary as Liebes and other scholars in the discipline have presented his thesis, it builds on previous scholarship. I have no intent here of providing a thorough survey of the scholarly discussion of this topic to legitimate my claim – this could be the work of a student seeking a dissertation topic – but let me say in general terms that other scholars have ruminated over the possibility that the Zohar is an anthology whose literary components evolved over a period of time and consequently incorporate a variety of voices that, for lack of a better term, might be considered members of a "zoharic circle." Indeed, this very term – as well as the cognate mentioned above "zoharic literature" – is to be found in works of scholars before Liebes, though some in the field consider these to be innovations of Liebes. It is acknowledged unreservedly that the latter has carried the supposition of a circle further than previous scholars, boldly challenging Scholem's thesis that Moses de Leon is the sole author of the bulk of zoharic literature. This cannot be denied.
One notable scholar has raised doubts in print about the thesis of Liebes–Charles Mopsik of Paris. His essay invoked a response on the part of Liebes and a counter-response, which have contributed to the discussion and clarification of the issues. Additionally, serious work on the compositional and redactional evolution of zoharic literature has been undertaken by a number of scholars, most prominently, Ronit Meroz, Boaz Huss, Daniel Abrams, and Pinchas Giller. I will not undertake an analysis of the important contributions of these scholars, but let me simply say that they have moved the discourse along to the next phase. It matters little whether we can ever – being led by philological and textual tools of historical scholarship – ascertain an answer to the question "How was the Zohar Written?" – the title of Liebes's seminal lecture. The crucial point is that the question has been articulated, and as such, has reframed the picture, demanding a refocusing of interpretative vision.
In these essays, one will discern a shift in my own thinking, reflective of the more general consensus as it has been changing over time. In the early studies, "Left Contained in the Right: A Study in Zoharic Hermeneutics" (1986), "Light Through Darkness: The Idealof Human Perfection in the Zohar" (1988), and "Beautiful Maiden without Eyes: Peshat and Sod in Zoharic Hermeneutics" (1993), I was operating with a sense of a unified textual whole (excluding, of course, Ra'aya Meheimna and Tiqqunei Zohar, following Scholem's suggestion), as if there were a literary consistency that justified referring to it, and its author, in the singular. The other essays, "Forms of Visionary Ascent as Ecstatic Experience in the Zoharic Literature" (1993), "Coronation of the Sabbath Bride: Kabbalistic Myth and Ritual of Androgynisation" (1997), "Re/membering the Covenant: Memory, Forgetfulness, and the Construction of History in Zohar" (1998), "Fore/giveness on the Way: Nesting in the Womb of Response" (1998), "Occultation of the Feminine and the Body of Secrecy in Medieval Kabbalah" (1999), all derive from what I would call now a middle period – writings from the third period have yet to appear. The middle period is marked by leaning in the direction of a group, of seeing the zoharic work as a lattice woven from different textual threads that wind round the spool of several centuries, reaching a crescendo in the sixteenth century as the links between Palestine, especially Jerusalem and Safed, and kabbalists in Italy helped secure the publication of the first printed editions of the Zohar.
In this period, I assume, one can discern organizing patterns in spite of the obvious multiple voices. In more recent work, I have tended to refer to "zoharic homilies," a term that I use to convey the sense of literary discreteness, leaving open the question of the authorship of these homilies. Being occupied with other matters, philosophic and hermeneutic, I have not focused on the textual issue, that is, the manner by which the fabric of the gathering of these homilies has been woven together to create the semblance of a garment. The curious thing, however, is that one can discern different voices speaking from within the weave of the fabric, and this does not disrupt the possibility of discerning iteration that renews itself indefinitely, a unifying factor that allows for difference, to think the other without assimilating the other to the same, achieving indifference, in the Levinasian sense.
To be perfectly candid, there are formulations in the early essays that I would alter now, but they have been allowed to stand as they are not, I trust, entirely irredeemable. On the contrary, the hermeneutical belief briefly laid out in the conclusion of the previous paragraph provides a way to redeem these studies, as it were, to render their exegetical claims still relevant. If we can imagine a principle of anthologizing that unifies through multiplicity, indifferent to difference, then we can continue to presume it legitimate to speak or write of a distinctive viewpoint that may be classified as zoharic kabbalah. I am no longer comfortable speaking of "the Zohar," but I would maintain that it is possible to think of this as a discrete literary-historical phenomenon, though we will have to expand the imaginal boundaries of each of these classifications. The matter of locating this temporally and spatially is a huge undertaking that would require separate phenomenological/hermeneutical studies. As it happens, many of the pertinent issues, especially as regards the former, are discussed in the trilogy of books I have written. I might even consider now working on another volume on the temporal spa tialization and spatial temporalization that may be elicited from zoharic homilies. Perhaps one day I will produce such a work, though, in some respects, this collection can profitably be characterized in those very terms.
If I were to isolate a current running through the different studies, it would be the search to resolve the ontological problem of identity and difference, a philosophic matter that has demanded much attention in various contemporary intellectual currents, to wit, literary criticism, gender studies, post-colonial theory, social anthropology, just to name a few examples. Indeed, it is possible to say, with no exaggeration intended, that there has been a quest at the heart of my work to understand the other, to heed and discern the alterity of alterity. Thus, I have sought to comprehend configurations of the other without and the other within, the two main foci of my work on gender and the Jewish–Christian interface in kabbalistic sources. What has inspired the quest for me has been the discernment on the part of kabbalists that the ultimate being-becoming becoming being – nameless one known through the ineffable name, yhwh – transcends oppositional binaries, for, in the one that is beyond the difference of being one or the other, light is dark, black is white, night is day, male is female, Adam is Edom.
Yet, even the matter of utter simplicity is more complex, for, as I argue at length in the chapter in Language, Eros, Being entitled "Differentiating (In) Difference: Heresy, Gender, and Kabbalah Study," there are at least two ways to account for the coincidence of opposites in Ein-Sof and/or the first of the sefirotic emanations,
Keter, either as an identity that effaces or as a mirroring that upholds difference. The moral demands of the day clearly privilege the latter; what is needed above all else is a way of thinking that acknowledges sameness, or belonging-together, as Heidegger would have put it, which fosters, rather than undermines, difference, a genuine sense of indifference that affirms the identity of the non-identical and thereby moves beyond the dialectical identity of identity and nonidentity. The theoretical value of applying feminist theory to the critical study of zoharic literature, and kabbalah more generally, is that it compels one to scrutinize repeatedly the question of difference. Indifference to this question, which unfortunately is evident on the part of a number of scholars who work on this matter, runs the peril of mistaking the same for the different, the consequence of which would be masking the different as the same. In my work, I have sought to walk the path between mistaking the same as different and masking the different as same, envisioning the task to behold the same difference that begets what is differently the same. As the ancient voice of wisdom describing the way in the Dao de jing put it,
the myriad things.
Elliot R. Wolfson
Venturing Beyond: Law and Morality in Kabbalistic Mysticism by Elliot R. Wolfson (Oxford University Press) Review pending. Are mysticism and morality compatible or at odds with one another? If mystical experience embraces a form of non-dual consciousness, then in such a state of mind, the regulative dichotomy so basic to ethical discretion would seemingly be transcended and the very foundation for ethical decisions undermined. Venturing Beyond - Law and Morality in Kabbalistic Mysticism is an investigation of the relationship of the mystical and moral as it is expressed in the particular tradition of Jewish mysticism known as the Kabbalah. The particular themes discussed include the denigration of the non-Jew as the ontic other in kabbalistic anthropology and the eschatological crossing of that boundary anticipated in the instituition of religious conversion; the overcoming of the distinction between good and evil in the mystical experience of the underlying unity of all things; divine suffering and the ideal of spiritual poverty as the foundation for transmoral ethics and hypernomian lawfulness.
In the course of this work, Wolfson explores several issues that address the relationship of mysticism and morality in the specific history of medieval Jewish esoteric lore and practice, conventionally called by both practitioners and scholars kabbalah, a term that denotes 'tradition'. It should go without saying that kabbalah is not monolithic in nature; on the contrary, it is better described as a collage of disparate doctrines and practices cultivated by elite rabbinic circles from the Middle Ages to the present. It is a commonplace in contemporary scholarship to distinguish between two major typological trends of medieval kabbalah, theosophic and ecstatic." The latter is focused on the cultivation of meditative practices centred around the divine names and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet that lead to prophetic and unitive states of consciousness, whereas the former is concerned primarily with the visual contemplation of the ten sefirot, the hypostatic potencies that collectively constitute the configuration of the Godhead. Wolfson notes, however, that this classification runs the risk of oversimplification. Careful scrutiny of the relevant texts indicates that kabbalists whom we dub as `theosophic' were capable of ecstatic experiences of union, and that kabbalists labelled 'ecstatic' presumed that esoteric gnosis imparted theosophic wisdom. Moreover, shared traditions about the secret names of God, and particularly the most sacred of these names, YHWH, the sefirotic potencies as the means and end of mystical communion, and the theurgical interpretation of ritual, bridge the presumed gap separating the proposed schools of kabbalah.
For the purposes of this study, Wolfson concentrates the analysis on the multi-layered corpus of Zohar, the major sourcebook of theosophic symbolism that has informed the variegated evolution of kabbalistic thought and practice. In each of the chapters, he ventures considerably beyond the historical bounds of zoharic literature, exploring the topics of philosophical inquiry in Lurianic, Sabbatian, and Hasidic sources as well. Nevertheless the initial paths of inquiry arises from Wolfson’s engagement with zoharic material, for the latter provided the symbolic language that exercised a profound influence upon subsequent kabbalists. The literary units that make up the fabric of zoharic literature were composed and began to circulate in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, although it seems very likely that the final shaping of this material into the form of a book took place in the sixteenth century, at the time the material was being prepared for print in Mantua and Cremona. A growing consensus in the field of kabbalah study is that the different strata of Zohar, composed in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, were products of a fraternity of kabbalists who assembled in the region of Castile. Consistent with other Jewish mystical and pietistic fraternities of this period, the zoharic circle was elitist in its composition. The extant historical documents provide us with relatively sparse biographical information about the Spanish kabbalists who belonged to this circle. Nevertheless, from the style and substance of the relevant texts, we may conclude that they were either rabbinic leaders or had been trained in the talmudic academies and hence were well versed in classical Jewish learning. We can assume, moreover, that these kabbalists availed themselves of the religious institutions that served the rest of their extended communities. In that respect, it is doubtful that kabbalists were separated from the society at large, even though there is good reason to assume that they belonged to small fraternities made up exclusively of fellow practitioners. One must suppose that to some degree these circles functioned autonomously, laying claim to a secretive knowledge that explained the essence of Judaism but that was not readily available to all Jews in an equal manner.
The particular themes that Wolfson discusses include the denigration of the non-Jew as the ontic other in kabbalistic anthropology (Chapter 1) and the eschatological crossing of that boundary anticipated in the institution of religious conversion (Chapter 2); the overcoming of the distinction between good and evil in the mystical experience of the underlying unity of all things (Chapter 3); divine suffering and the ideal of spiritual poverty as the foundation for transmoral ethics and hypernomian lawfulness (Chapter 4). While this list by no means exhausts all of the pertinent questions that pertain to an analysis of ethics and mysticism, an exploration of these topics does provide an entry into this critical but relatively neglected field of inquiry. The few scholars who have written on the theme of mysticism and ethics in the case of Judaism have analysed sources that fall under the rubric of sifrut musar, which is typically translated as 'ethical literature'. It is Wolfson’s contention that this locution has been determined by an internal consideration alone. That is to say, the issue of ethics in Jewish mysticism has been cast exclusively from the standpoint of treatises that stem from different cultural settings but that nevertheless all equally present a pietistic worldview promoting strict adherence to rabbinic ritual.
In the course of history, sundry currents of a mystical nature have enhanced the ideological framework of rabbinic pietism. Three examples of this phenomenon that began to have a discernible impact in the thirteenth century are: Sufi-like mysticism that fostered the experience of intellectual conjunction; the esoteric theology promulgated by the Rhineland Jewish pietists based on the meditational techniques of letter-combination and vocalization of the divine names, leading to the imaginary visualization of the divine glory; and the theosophic symbolism of the sefirotic kabbalah related to the contemplative vision of the imaginal body of God. All three religious movements produced treatises that are classified as sifrut musar, texts that sought to address the spiritual needs of the Jewish population at large by promoting an intensified rabbinic religiosity with particular emphasis on matters of social justice. Similar claims have been made for the kabbalistic-ethical literature that evolved in the sixteenth century, especially in the school of the Safedian kabbalist Moses Cordovero, and continued to flourish in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
No previous scholar, to the best of Wolfson’s knowledge, has asked the harder question concerning the appropriateness or inappropriateness of applying the term 'ethical' to this material. To answer this query, one must probe more critically into the anthropology underlying these pietistic texts, related to such issues as the attitude of Judaism to other religious cultures or towards women. That there is a strong ethos tied to the notion of ethnos, a distinctive sense of custom correlated with a specific portion of the human community, communicated in these compositions is not in question. As a number of scholars have noted, one of the most important features of the kabbalah is that it provided a rationale for normative observance by ascribing cosmic significance to every one of the traditional commandments, and thereby furnished a powerful motivation to impel Jews to follow the path of nomian observance. If this is the standard by which we evaluate the appropriateness of using the term 'ethical' to characterize the pietistic sources influenced by the kabbalah, then we are justified in speaking of kabbalistic ethics. If, however, we move from a sense of ethos to the ethical, then we must evaluate whether or not these texts exemplify a perspective that is indeed moralistic in nature.
In our time there has been a marked increase of interest in mysticism and the occult, which in part can be explained by a dissatisfaction with conventional forms of Western monotheism (particularly in Christian and Jewish congregations of different denominations) and the consequent quest for authentic religiosity (or spirituality as it is often called). Given the alluring power of the mystical, it is all the more imperative to test the mystical phenomenon as it has been articulated within different historical contexts by its ethical implications.Falling short of a moral standard may not challenge the validity of the mystical dimension of a specific tradition, but it does render that tradition problematic as an ideal that would regulate the belief and behavior of a religious community. These reflections on mysticism and ethics in the history of kabbalistic speculation, therefore, should be seen as more than an academic exercise in historiographical scholarship. They are nothing less than one individual's attempt to pierce beneath the veil of an admittedly seductive symbolism to determine the ultimate ethical meaning of a particular mystical path. The critical investigation of the primary literary sources provides an opportunity for an alchemical transmutation of the tradition by means of which the cultural dross may be discarded. That which remains submerged, however, never stands a chance of being cast aside and, consequently, the stone can never be turned to gold.
Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death by
Elliot R. Wolfson (Taubman Lectures in Jewish
Studies: University of California Press) This highly original,
provocative, and poetic work explores the nexus of time, truth, and
death in the symbolic world of medieval kabbalah. Demonstrating that
the historical and theoretical relationship between kabbalah and
western philosophy is far more intimate and extensive than any
previous scholar has ever suggested, Elliot R. Wolfson draws an
extraordinary range of thinkers such as Frederic Jameson, Martin
Heidegger, Franz Rosenzweig, William Blake, Julia Kristeva,
Friedrich Schelling, and a host of kabbalistic figures into deep
conversation with one another. Alef, Mem, Tau also discusses Islamic
mysticism and Buddhist thought in relation to the Jewish esoteric
tradition as it opens the possibility of a temporal triumph of
temporality and the conquering of time through time.
The framework for Wolfson's examination is the rabbinic teaching that the word emet, "truth," comprises the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, alef, mem, and tau, which serve, in turn, as semiotic signposts for the three tenses of time--past, present, and future. By heeding the letters of emet we discern the truth of time manifestly concealed in the time of truth, the beginning that cannot begin if it is to be the beginning, the middle that re/marks the place of origin and destiny, and the end that is the figuration of the impossible disclosing the impossibility of figuration, the finitude of death that facilitates the possibility of rebirth. The time of death does not mark the death of time, but time immortal, the moment of truth that bestows on the truth of the moment an endless beginning of a beginningless end, the truth of death encountered incessantly in retracing steps of time yet to be taken--between, before, beyond.
With this creative philosophical and religious study on the interrelationship between truth, death, and time, Wolfson continues to create a new form of academic hybrid discourse that blends insights from the esoteric kabbala with philosophical speculations derived from a host of top-flight thinkers. Though the tone of these lectures is rigorously academic, regaled with subtle allusions, ironic wordplay, excessive citation from a stellar cast of contemporary and arcane sources and authorities, Wolfson is not without a playful and even poetic adventuresomeness, that is willing to dabble between the in accident of abstractions in the metaphor of images. To these initial three lectures in this published version, Wolfson has added two hefty introductory chapters. The first outlines the philosophical sources that have shaped his hermeneutical understanding of time, and which generally necessitates a temporal understanding of the nature of hermeneutics the second offers a conception of temporality, culled from a wide range of kabbalistic texts, that serves as a backdrop for the specific analysis is in the three chapters on alef/past, mem/present, tau/future. Elliott takes most of his textual reasoning from two main kabbalistic anthologies which can be viewed as the limits of kabbala stick literary activity from the 12th and 13th centuries: Sefer ha-Bahir and the Sefer ha-Zohar. His choice of these texts is deliberate: the mesh radical disposition exhibited in the Bahiric parallels in the so zoharic homilies provides a particularly useful prism through which to consider a narratological conception of temporality that defies the doctrinaire distinction between truth and appearance, reality and imagination.
Wolflson is exploring the realm between the signifier and the signified, which in postmodern times has enjoyed an erasure following the evaporation of certain essences. The impossibility of certainly locating presence “-- the rallying call postmodern hermeneutics -- is inseparable from the impossibility of absence in his match as there can be no presents but in the presence of absence, just as there can be no absence but in the absence of presents.” In the third chapter which was the first of lectures, Wolfson explores the paradox of beginning: to begin, and beginning needs to have to began to be the beginning it is to be, but if this is so, then he would not be and beginning it must be if it is the beginning of what it is to be. Here we have the mystery of doubling as encoded in the opening letter of the first verse Genesis begins Torah, beit. This is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the cipher for the number two. Beginning is symbolized by beit, but before beit there is alef, the mystery, pele. (Rabbinic anagram).
The central point for Wolfson is to show how time can be the means of conquering time. Starting with the symbolic world of the medieval kabbala, it is not confined himself to one work or historical epoch but rather develops a thematic approach based on the three Hebrew letters to point to the space of a timeline. Following the imaginative thinking of his kabbala stick sources, Wolfson seeks to articulate an ontology of time that is a grammar of becoming. The correlation of truth and divinity underscores the truth, which embodies its hermeneutical constellation of the triadic temporality, is a mark of the divine eternally becoming in time. This is a formulation that is still too dichotomous, as the divine becoming is not an event in time but the eventuality of time, an eventuality instantiated in the momentous or rupture of the moment where life and death converge in the coming to be of that which endures everlastingly and the endurance of that which comes to be provisionally. This insight becomes the central truth for Wolfson that time manifestly concealed in the time of truth, the beginning cannot begin if it is to be the beginning, the middle that re/marks the place of origin and destiny, and the and is that figuration of the impossible disclosing the impossibility of figuration, the finitude of death that facilitates the possibility of rebirth, the closure that opens of the opening that closes. In many ways, Wolfson attempts to show us that the kabbalistic tradition fosters an understanding of the radical becoming of time-being in its being-time, and interruptive narration that militates against the feasibility of constructing a contemporaneous myth in which past, present, and future converge in an absolute that is all-in-all. In other words, the time of death bespeaks not the death of time, but time immortal, the moment of truth that bestows on the truth of the moment an endless beginning of a beginningless end, the truth of death encountered incessantly in retracing steps of time yet to be taken – between, before, beyond.
Obviously, Wolfson's musings are so embedded in the kabbalist tradition and in contemporary thinking, especially in postmodernist abstract jargon, that only someone well-versed in the literature will find his insights especially illuminating and playfully insightful and poetic.
Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics And Poetic Imagination Eliot Wolfson (Fordham University Press) This long-awaited, magisterial study—an unparalleled blend of philosophy, poetry, and philology—draws on theories of sexuality, phenomenology, comparative religion, philological writings on Kabbalah, Russian formalism, Wittgenstein, Rosenzweig, William Blake, and the very physics of the time-space continuum to establish what will surely be a highwater mark in work on Kabbalah. Not only a study of texts, Language, Eros, Being is perhaps the fullest confrontation of the body in Jewish studies, if not in religious studies as a whole.
Elliot R. Wolfson explores the complex gender symbolism that permeates Kabbalistic literature. Focusing on the nexus of asceticism and eroticism, he seeks to define the role of symbolic and poetically charged language in the erotically configured visionary imagination of the medieval Kabbalists. He demonstrates that the traditional Kabbalistic view of gender was a monolithic and androcentric one, in which the feminine was conceived as being derived from the masculine. He does not shrink from the negative implications of this doctrine, but seeks to make an honest acknowledgment of it as the first step toward the redemption of an ancient wisdom.
Comparisons with other mystical traditions—including those in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam—are a remarkable feature throughout the book. They will make it important well beyond Jewish studies, indeed, a must for historians of comparative religion, in particular of comparative mysticism.
Reincarnation in Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism (Volume 25) by
Dina Ripsman Eylon (Jewish
Studies Series: The Edwin Mellen Press) There is a popular
misconception that Judaism does not advocate and endorse the idea of
Reincarnation in Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism does much to
dispel this fallacy. Reincarnation entered the mainstream of
medieval European Jewish thought in the 13th century. By the 17th
century it had become so pervasive that R. Manasseh b.
The centerpiece of Eylon’s study is the seminal kabbalistic work
Sefer ha Bahir. This dense and difficult text was viewed by Gershom
Scholem, the pioneer of the academic study of Jewish mysticism, as
the earliest existent work of the Kabbalah.
Embedded within the midrash-like homilies of the Bahir are a
number of allusions to the afterlife of the soul. Although Scholem
identifed these as referring to the concept of reincarnation, Eylon
offers the first systematic and methodical analysis of these texts.
She provides a comprehensive presentation of the pertinent
selections from the Bahir, as well as the Rabbinic sources of this
An important aspect of Eylon’s study is a protracted discussion
of reincarnation in the classical world. In contradistinction to
Scholem, who denied that reincarnation is found in Rabbinic
literature, Eylon expands upon obscure Talmudic sources first noted
by Herbert Loewe in 1938. Eylon presents passages that seem to
affirm the reincarnation of animal souls. She effectively draws
parallels between this material and the Greek philosophical
Eylon also offers a first-rate overview of reincarnation in
Gnostic literature. Focusing primarily on the Nag Hammadi corpus,
she presents a wealth of interesting sources. This not only
establishes a background for the dissemination of the doctrine, but
it helps situate the Bahir as a Jewish expression of a gnostic
Eylon admirably succeeds in presenting a readable and informative discussion of a key aspect of the Jewish mystical tradition. This is especially praiseworthy, owing to the scope and complexity of the material. Anyone who is interested in the fascinating topic of reincarnation will greatly profit from consulting Reincarnation in Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism.
Kabbalah and Alchemy: An Essay on Common Archetypes by Arturo Schwarz (Jason Aronson) The author, Arturo Schwarz, points out that both alchemy and Kabbalah are frequently distorted in popular as well as scholarly literature. The real concern of alchemy is not to transmute lead into gold, but rather, through the investigation of the self, to evolve from the state of ignorance (symbolized by lead) to that of awareness (symbolized by gold). As Schwarz points out, "this drive toward self-awareness is also basic in the teachings of the major kabbalists." Schwarz goes on to explain that in both systems "one of the major instruments of understanding our inner self is love, both physical and spiritual." Through a careful analysis of the use of sexual imagery in both systems, Schwarz builds his fascinating and eye-opening thesis that alchemy and kabbalistic tradition share profound similarities.
Kabbalah and Alchemy is far more than a study that clarifies the true nature of both esoteric systems. As Arturo Schwarz writes, "Kabbalah and alchemy were instruments of an initiatory form of knowledge that sought to illuminate the way toward liberation from life's contingencies and contradictions." Schwarz, to select just one example, establishes the intimate correspondence between the allegorical significance of metals and the spiritual value of the Sephirot.
Kabbalah and Alchemy, which includes forty‑four graphic illustrations, will surely have a significant impact on our understanding of both alchemy and Kabbalah, and the now apparent interconnection between the two.
Kabbalah: The Splendor of Judaism by David M. Wexelman (Jason Aronson) applies Kabbalah to everyday life activities such as business, pleasure, and politics. David M. Wexelman shows readers that the meaning of success in life and the way to world peace are made possible by the wisdom in the Kabbalah.
This volume is primarily derived from the work of Rabbi Chaim Vital entitled The Fruit of the Tree of Life. In traditional Jewish circles, the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the "Ari") are considered to be from as high a source and prophecy as the teachings of Elijah the Prophet and Moses. Rabbi Chaim Vital is the major transmitter of the teachings of the Ari.
The author writes: My interest in the Kabbalah brought me from America directly to the holy city of Safed, where once lived the holy Arizal. In Safed I studied the first year with the Breslov hasidim, under the leadership of the son of Rabbi Gedalya Koenig, of blessed memory, who was the leader of Breslov in his generation. I spent my evenings at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, where I became accustomed to study the Zohar and the Tikunei Zohar. These books are the foundation of the Kabbalah, the gateway to the redemption. In Meron I made the acquaintance of many great kabbalists, including Rabbi Daniel Frish, the kabbalist of our age, author of Explanations on the Zohar and Tikunei Zohar, which have opened up the wellsprings of Kabbalah. I became a student in the school of Kabbalah and halachah of the renowned scholar Chassid Vishnitz and kabbalist Rabbi Meir Stern, Shlita, the Rabbi of the Tomb of Rebbe Shimon.
Six years ago our family moved from Safed to Jerusalem, where I was accepted as a student in the Yeshiva Chaim Vital of Rebbe Pincas, an old Sephardic kabbalist who is occupied day and night with the learning and practice of the intentions of the Kabbalah. In his classes Rebbe Pincas has covered all the volumes of the Kabbalah of the Arizal with its many interpretations, such as the explanation called "River of Peace" of Rebbe Sholom Sharabi. I cannot say in this short time that I have reached the level of comprehension of Kabbalah of these great saints, or the level of their holiness. However, they have given me the foundation and knowledge to write this book. Being an American, a speaker of English, I felt that it was my purpose to bring the English‑speaking world authentic literature on the Kabbalah. The markets have become filled with trash that has distorted the concepts of Kabbalah and profaned God's name. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was the first to spread the Kabbalah in English. In the beginning it was very difficult for him. Jewish publishers were not willing to accept English writing on Kabbalah, so he was forced to publish the Kabbalah through secular authors. He later became more respected in the Jewish world, and today after his death, his works fill the shelves in all the big bookstores in the Jewish world. His books are enlightening to English readers interested in the deep understanding of the Torah. Other authors have followed him, such as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg‑the latter has been one of my teachers and has fostered my development and maturity in the learning and understanding of the Kabbalah. I have used many of his thoughts in these books.
This book, Kabbalah, is primarily derived from the work of Rabbi Chaim Vital called The Fruit of the Tree of Life. The divine intentions that were handed over from the Arizal to Rabbi Chaim Vital are from as high a source and prophecy as the teachings of Elijah the prophet and Moses our teacher. The word of the Arizal is the word of the living God and his Kabbalah is the Torah given on Mount Sinai. My intention in writing this book is to be an intermediary, to connect English readers with the wisdom of the Kabbalah, so that they may appreciate the greatness of God's Torah. In order to accomplish this task, I have summarized through my own comments the practical meaning of these intentions in reference to the personal realization of the soul. In the Tkunei Zohar, in the section Petach Eliyahu, which is translated and commented on at the end of the book, it is explained that the heavens and earth were created to relate to man the supernal unities above. The knowledge received from the Arizal about the supernal unities and intentions of each mitzvah is the giving of the Living Torah from above to below, like water that flows from Heaven. The completion of the task of receiving the Torah is the work of servants of God‑to understand these higher unities and to unite them below through taking them into the heart. The servant of God looks up to the heavens, from below to above. A most essential part of understanding God and His supernal unities is to understand and relate to them through our own selves. Knowing our own secrets opens up the secrets of the supernal worlds. Selfrealization is one goal of the study of the Kabbalah. The other goal is God‑realization. These two knowledges, the upper and lower knowledges, are woven one within the other.
With God's help, each person should achieve both selfrealization and God‑realization and merit freedom from all doubts in the unity of God and faith. We should all be crowned with the supernal crown of Atik Yomin.
May Hashem forgive me for any accidental errors in these texts due to typesetting, proofreading, printing, or my own ignorance. Kabbalah is called Hod or splendor. It is the splendor of Judaism. From this the title, Kabbalah; The Splendor of Judaism, is derived.
Kabbalah and the Art of Being by Shimon Shokek (The Smithsonian Lectures: Routledge) introduces Kabbalah as a spiritual Jewish way of living and suggests that the central ingredient in the spiritual teachings of Jewish mysticism is to be found in the Kabbalistic theme of Creation.
This book looks at the treasures of the doctrine of Jewish mysticism of the last millennium, known as Kabbalah, from existential and psychological points of view. It examines some of the major and profound components of Kabbalah as they emerge from the complex descriptions of the classic texts of the Jewish mystics, the Kabbalists, who created and crafted a new religious and spiritual force in the Jewish faith. This study does not reject the accepted scholarly assumption that divides the major trends in Kabbalah into the theosophical/theurgical and the ecstatic, but it is not based on this scholarly assumption. For the goal of this book is not to present a Kabbalistic historical or conceptual survey of the major schools of Jewish mysticism. Nor is it to divide Kabbalah into theoretical mysticism as opposed to experiential mysticism, and thus separate the unifying elements that tie together the various ingredients of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. Instead, this book aims at looking into the teachings of Kabbalah as a religious phenomenon and a way of life; it aims to explore Kabbalah as the exemplary teaching of the mystical Jewish wisdom that has shaped the spirit of the Jewish people for centuries; that taught the Jew how to survive in strenuous times, how to become an actualized and fulfilled human being, and how to flourish and live a complete and healthy life. Thus, this work asks the following questions: What is that "thing" which is depicted in the spirit of the Jewish mystics and Kabbalists that enraptures the hearts and the minds of the Jewish people? How and why have the ideas of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah been integrated into the lives of the Jewish people and shaped their identity and spirituality? What is the secret behind the fascination of Kabbalah that has caused it to become the major force of Jewish spirituality, and, what is the nature of the truth behind its reality? Can we understand Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah, which is after all the creation of the human spirit, in light of contemporary psychological theories? And finally, can Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah be considered as an art of being, a practical wisdom of the sages that has opened a new path of spiritual and psychological life for the Jewish people?
These questions lead eventually to an individual search, for, when a student of Kabbalah enters into the mystery of the pardes, the domain of the spirit, there necessarily emerges a personal relationship between the subject and the object; between the person and God, who are separate in the beginning of their relationship but can be inseparable as one reveals himself to another. The reader who studies this book will discover that the end of this book is already in its beginning, since according to Kabbalah every reality is composed of a dialectical ontology comprising an entity and its opposite simultaneously. I will return to this point in its own chapter below. Here and now I am determined to present a primary Kabbalistic point of departure that, I believe, can serve as the existential and psychological foundation for the core teachings of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah; I call it the Kabbalistic creation myth,
If all the mystical, scholarly, and scientific knowledge were to be shattered and destroyed and only one sentence passed on to the succeeding generations of humanity, what statement would contain the most significant information from the world of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah? I believe it is the Jewish creation myth, that all things come from the One, depend on the One, wish to imitate the One, and yearn to return to the One. The Neoplatonic quality of this statement embraces the "stem cell" of the major teachings of Kabbalah; for in Kabbalah everything stems from this belief, whether physical or metaphysical, concrete or abstract. Most importantly, the Kabbalistic creation myth determines in Jewish spirituality the character of the two major "partners" in the "partnership" of existence: God and Man. And thus, every aspect of the creation myth should be studied, for it is the key to the understanding of the true essence of Kabbalah.
Since "all comes from the One and all returns to the One," all Jewish mystics and Kabbalists agree that the center point of Kabbalah, which is cleaving to God, knowing Him, and uniting with Him, must be contemplated through the study of the relationship between God and the creation.' I therefore wish to begin with a few remarks that may shed some light on the relationship between God and creation in Jewish mysticism and other religions. This will illuminate the crucial assumption that the pneuma of the Kabbalistic teachings is rooted in the distinctive meeting point of the Divine and the universe.
However, I invite the reader to look not only at the creation itself, but also at the Godly intent that led to the creation. The classic descriptions that reveal the notion of creation in Kabbalah do not concentrate on the cosmology only but rather on the cosmogony and theogony. Cosmology, cosmogony, and theogony ought to have an in-depth discussion, but I will limit my explanation of these terms and say here only the following: cosmology describes the acts that occur at the time of the creation, cosmogony describes the processes that led to the creation, and theogony describes the rise of awareness in God's mind even before the rise of the processes that led to the creation. Thus, theogony is the birth of God's consciousness: it is the genesis of genesis and the initiation of His intent in creation that pre-existed the genesis of the creation of the world. Indeed, exploring the processes that led to the creation and the intent of
God before the creation of the world is a task involving risk. Our Rabbis warned us in the Mishnah not to speculate about anything regarding what preceded the creation of the world: "Whoever speculates upon four things, a pity for him! He is as though he had not come into the world: What is above? What is beneath? What is before? What is after? The Jewish mystics and Kabbalists did enter, however, into a long path of investigation in this obscure area: what is before the creation has become one of the most sensitive issues among the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah. Thus, the mystery of creation has become the central theme in the texts of the medieval classic Kabbalists of Provence, Gerona, Safed, and even among the masters of Hasidism of the last three centuries. These Kabbalists and Hasidic masters arrived at some fascinating and startling conclusions: a small part of their heritage is what I wish to share with the reader of this book.
Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge: Conversations with the Torah by Michael Rosenak (Westview) Viewing education through the prism of the Torah, Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge takes the reader through the stages of learning, growth, and self-development that characterize human lives. The journey begins with education as it happens in the home, moves on to the institutions of society, especially schools, and then on to the questions of identity and commitment which constitute the hidden agenda of "informal educational networks." The self-education of the individual is explored: When does one "grow up"? What is really worth knowing? How does one cope with memories, illness, and anticipations of what lies ahead? This book examines some of the millennial conversation in an attempt to discover an educational philosophy in the Torah that can be relevant to life in the contemporary world.
Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge is divided into an Introduction, followed by four parts, each dealing with a different avenue of educational initiation and encounter. In Part 1, my concern is with the parent-child relationship. I suggest that "the beginning" of that relationship, with its happy but also fearful anticipation, may well bring parents to inquire about beginnings: Where did "we" begin and who were our first parents? What were the hopes of these ancestors, and what did they anticipate for us? Perhaps more crucially, what did later generations, upon becoming parents themselves, think about their first parents?
This concern leads, in Chapter 1, to an exploration of quite diverse characteristics that midrashic and philosophical literature have "found" in Abraham and Sarah. I present diverse models for thinking about what we want our children to become.
In Chapter 2, I look at the kind of educational encounters the home can initiate by observing the "four children" the Passover service draws out of the Torah. Two of them, the "wise" and the "wicked," seem greatly concerned with what is going on at this festive family affair, whereas the other two, the "simple" and the " - questioning," are mildly or not at all interested. The distinction between the first pair and the second suggests that the "wicked" child
is a more promising hype than the "simple" questioner. Here I also discuss how the education of the home is essentially different from that of the school.
The issue of trust in a mysterious, often confusing, and at times incomprehensibly cruel world, is the subject of Chapter 3. What is the sense of Abraham's "walking together" with Isaac to the binding and anticipated sacrifice of his son? What kind of a father is he? Who is the God he serves? Is there anything educational about all this? Psalm 73, attributed to Assaf, an educational personality of King David's time, sheds some light on the significance of "holding hands" in times of trouble.
Chapter 4 treats of what in Jewish tradition is the "evil inclination," which often seems to sabotage education and to undermine the "good inclination," which parents and teachers wish to foster. To illuminate the question of "nature versus nurture," I examine some midrashic attitudes towards Esau, the Bible's best-known "problem child." Was he born problematic, or was he miseducated? Must we view Isaac and Rebecca as unsuccessful in the education of their older son or as victims of his evil inclination?
Finally, if we think of parental education not only as getting children to do things right, but also as guiding them toward thinking and solving unanticipated problems, can the language and literature of Torah be helpful, or is it too narrowly normative to make room for novelty and innovation? In Chapter 5,1 examine the question of how children can learn to make decisions against the backdrop of an impending disaster: of (Israel's) being caught between Egyptian chariots behind them and the menacing waters of the Red Sea in front, immediately after the Exodus. The desperate question, What shall we do now? is not what the Israelites anticipated when joyfully leaving Egypt. Our biblical text and the midrashic commentary on it help us to discuss some crucial questions. How can children be prepared for addressing deliberative issues intelligently within a normative tradition? How can they become responsible through the guidance of trustworthy mentors?
The issues discussed in Part 1 seem to belong primarily in the home. But even in the best of times-and for family life these are not the best of times-the community too is entrusted with teaching its language through the literature that sustains its collective life. Examples of how the community teaches its literature is the focus of Part 2.
As Part 1 opened with family "beginnings," so Part 2 begins with the community's teaching, through Torah, about the beginning-of the "world." For this language-literature of beginnings to make sense to the young, it must be related to the manner in which children understand beginnings. This issue is explored in Chapter 6, with an assist from the medieval commentator Rashi. He teaches us to be concrete when initiating children into our world, even at the expense of theological finesse.
Chapter 7, like the previous one, is centered on a single "portion of the week," but one seemingly far less interesting or relevant. It is the section of Leviticus that details the garments worn by the High Priest. In the tradition of the Bible of the Synagogue, I connect these splendid garments of Aaron, in contradistinction to the undistinguished apparel of Moses, to the conception of "honor" suggested by a team of sociologists, and juxtapose it to their conception of "dignity." What may we learn from these priestly clothes, from Moses' "informal" dress, and from the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, if we wish to help our children move toward dignified autonomous lives that are yet endowed with socially significant meanings and "honor"? Truly a midrashic enterprise.
Chapter 8 addresses the issue of Jewish law, the halakhah, a focus of Jewish literature, and a window to its language. Following midrashic sages, and with an assist from the contemporary moral philosopher, John Kekes, I relate diverse legitimations of the halakhah to diverse understandings of human character. Here we come upon the polemical question whether the "halakhically educated" child is a curious one or a conformist.
Chapter 9, which closes Part 2, is a midrashic and historical-sociological journey through ways of understanding two verses in Deuteronomy that state succinctly "what God asks of you." If at first it seems quite simple to educate children to be "ideal persons," the task, once analyzed and explored, appears impossible. What do commentators, ancient and modern, have to say about it? Is the community to educate each person to only one aspect of the educational ideal? And if that seems overly organic and hierarchical, what other options are there?
In Part 3, the problem, which arises within the home but is intractable without the community and its public presence, is how, in the face of other, sometimes "idolatrous" languages and sometimes pagan literatures, shall we defend ours? Can the integrity of Jewish identity be maintained without parochialism and closed mindedness? What is there in the language and literature of Judaism that mandates apartness and even seclusion? Conversely, which options and even demands for empathy, participation, and fellowship do we find there? What is really "inside" and what "outside" for the educated Jewish person?
Four chapters are devoted to this issue. In Chapter 10, we find ourselves in a seemingly simple world of "we" and "they," of Jacob and Esau. Jacob here is zealously concerned with self-defense, with keeping away from Esau, even when, and perhaps especially when, that stranger-brother seems "nice and cultured." The question arises, Is that paradigm of segregation and alienation still tenable in the open society of today? Or has it perhaps been horribly reconfirmed by the Holocaust?
Chapter 11 treats of the opposite phenomenon: Joseph's brothers, and even his father, have been invited to Egypt by Pharaoh who gave them "the land of Goshen" for their settlement, and they learn to feel very much at home there. Joseph and his sons develop a dual identity, an insider-outsider set of languages. Even portents of impending slavery do not suffice to get the family to return to Canaan, to really go home. Later, too, in the Greco-Roman world as well as in our own, we find Diaspora appearing as a normal component of Jewish life. Is it, then, hypocritical to teach love for the Land of Israel and prayers for a speedy return to it?
In speaking of "our" vis-à-vis "their" language, we tend to assume that "ours" is always particularistic, whereas the "general" culture is universalistic. But that assumption is based on the axiom that Jewish tradition is zealously solicitous about Jewish identity at the expense of universalism and in almost sneering disregard of it. In Chapter 12,1 examine this view through the prism of the Noah story and take issue with it. I argue that the messianic aspect of Torah makes universalism an internal value. Jewish education, I submit, must teach covenantal commitment as a universal as well as a particular imperative.
Chapter 13 addresses an academic challenge to the conversation of Torah: The universal world of the university sponsors research into the holy literature of Judaism, the Torah, armed with a rhetoric of suspicion. Does that make the university "them," as in the JacobEsau model? Or is it possible to maintain the faith of Judaism without alienation from scientific inquiry? In educating young people to blanket denials of modern research into biblical texts, are we creating a false model of authenticity that, for the sake of wholeness, denies comprehensive intellectual and spiritual development? I suggest a tentative and personal approach for linking tradition to modern biblical scholarship.
Part 4 brings us to those later stages of life in which all education is, in fact, self-education. Neither the home nor the community can now tell us what to do or who we are, though we have been shaped, given a language, by both. Yet we must now understand that "putting it all together" is our responsibility, and that the ways we do so are our choices.
To begin this part, I return, in Chapter 14, to the family of Jacob, specifically, to the "spoiled brat" of the family, Joseph. How did this fascinating figure, many years after leaving his family, earn the title of "Joseph the righteous"? What happened? When did he achieve moral maturity? Is it possible for a person to change? In looking at these questions, I have recourse to the model of "four perfections" as the predominant thinker of the Jewish Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides, depicts them.
Then in Chapter 15,1 return to Jacob himself. How did he learn, in his own old age, to make his peace with the memory of his father Isaac, who blatantly favored his brother, Esau, over him? How we cope with what we remember is a significant feature of who we are. It is, like the growth for which we are ourselves responsible, an aspect of teshuvah, "returning," "getting somewhere" in the search for ourselves.
The family, the community, and the school are involved in our infirmities and illnesses, but in a profound sense, we are left alone with them. The way that Midrash and biblical exegesis deal with the Torah's laws of leprosy and the leper is a blatant example of how sages and exegetes interpret the holy text to convey a message that is innovative yet within the rhetoric and the spirit of the language. The delicate balance between the community's tendency to stand in judgment over the ill and the understanding that it does not deserve to do so initiates the exercise in social relations and self-knowledge that is the subject of Chapter 16.
The subject of dying is one usually ignored by modern education and considered by contemporary adult society an unmentionable accident. The midrashic discussion of Moses' death at age one hundred and twenty, in conjunction with some halakhic literature, leads me to suggest what might be meant by being "one hundred and twenty years old." How do texts of Torah view death and how they relate it to life? The way the texts of Torah and Midrash consider this anthropological issue and some ramifications of it for education are the subject of Chapter 17.
Underlying the concept of self-education is the developing ability of individuals and communities to decide what and who they are. This ability involves philosophical acumen and practical competence to determine what is really worth knowing, not because it is useful in achieving other ends, but because this knowledge defines us and gives us a perspective for seeing things whole. Learning "for its own sake" begins in the home, continues in the humanistic segment of schooling, yet eventually becomes a personal quest. In the classic Jewish idiom the question is, What does Torah lishmah, "Torah for its own sake," mean? With an assist from a contemporary philosopher of education, M. A. B. Degenhardt, I examine in Chapter 18 how this concept can guide curriculum scholars and teachers and allow learners to discover, perhaps after the passage of many years and far from the educational limelight, what the intrinsic learning that they know as "Torah for its own sake" is.
My postscript brings us back explicitly to the mysterious trees
that give this book its name. I note that each of the issues raised
in this book has something to tell us about the questions: How does
the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil stand together with the Tree
of Life? Is restraint indeed linked at the roots with
self-realization? How much obedience and how much autonomy
characterize the well-educated person? In the spirit of the book, I
conclude with questions like these.
Sepher Rezial Hemelach: The Book of the Angel Rezial by Steve Savedow (Weiser) is one of the most important Kabbalah text ever produced, and likely the original source for most modern literature on Hebrew angelic hierarchy and mythology, as well as Biblical astrology and gematria. The translation is very readable and from what I can tell by my own Hebrew edition, quite accurate.
Excerpt from translator’s preface:
According to Hebrew legend, the Sepher Rezial was presented to Adam in the Garden of Eden. It was given by the hand of God, through the medium of the angel Rezial. It is, therefore, suggested that this is the first book ever written. The text is an extensive compendium of ancient Hebrew magical lore, and quite probably the original source for much traditional literature on angelic hierarchy, astrology, qabalah, and Gematria.
There is very little published bibliographical information available on the Sepher Rezial. It is noted in the bibliography of Gustav Davidson's Dictionary of Angels that the Sepher Rezial is sometimes titled Raziel ha-Malach, and credited to Eleazer of Worms. Davidson mentions a Hebrew edition, published in 1881, and an English manuscript in the British Museum. The bibliography of Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition notes a 1701 edition of Raziel ha-Malach published in Amsterdam, and "a German rabbinic script that does not correspond throughout with the printed text, but often contains a more complete text." Trachtenberg further states: "Sefer Raziel, probably compiled in the 13th century and containing much Geonic mystical material (so potent were its contents considered that mere possession of the book was believed to prevent fires)."
In Appendix IV of Aryeh Kaplan's translation of Sefer Yetzirah, Kaplan notes 25 various 19th-century editions of Sepher Rezial. He also notes that Eliezer (ben Yehudah) Rokeach of Worms (Garmiza) lived in the years 1160-1237.
There is certainly no evidence to support the theory that the Sepher Rezial was actually written over 5000 years ago. There are however, references to the Sepher Rezial in several scholarly texts establishing a certain amount of validity to its claim to antiquity, dating it at least as far back as the 13th century. There have been various quotes printed from Sepher Rezial in a few English texts on Hebrew folklore, such as the Trachtenberg book mentioned earlier, and Myths and Legends of Ancient Israel by Angelo Rappaport. (For the record, no English edition was cited in either of these books' ample bibliographies.) Also, diagrams from Sepher Rezial were printed in Davidson's Dictionary of Angels, Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition, and David Goldstein's Jewish Folklore and Legend.
The introduction of the ancient Hebrew grimoire, The Sword of Moses states that ". . . the so-called Sefer Raziel, or the book delivered to Adam by the angel Raziel shortly after he had left Paradise. It is of composite character, but there is no criterion for the age of the component parts. The result of this uncertainty is that it has been ascribed to R. Eleazar, of Worms, who lived about the middle of the 13th century. One cannot, however, say which portion is due to his own ingenuity and which may be due to ancient texts utilized by him. I am speaking more particularly of this book as it seems to be the primary source for many magical or, as it is called now, a cabbalistical book of the Middle Ages."
Trachtenberg states, "The long list [of magical incantations] in such a work as Sefer Raziel are proof of the arduous training that the novice in magic must undergo if he would learn how to direct all the memunium [Hebrew for "in charge of" or "appointed to"] of air, wind, date, time, place, etc., which can control a situation at a given moment. " In Folklore in the Old Testament, J. G. Frazer notes, "He (Noah) learned how to make it (the ark) from a holy book, which had been given to Adam by the angel Raziel, and which contained within it all knowledge, human and divine. It was made of sapphires, and Noah enclosed it in a golden casket when he took it with him into the ark, where it served him as a time-piece to distinguish night from day, for so long as the flood prevailed, neither the sun nor the moon shed any light on the earth."
Sepher Rezial is also mentioned briefly in James Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. "The Book of Raziel, said to have been taught to Adam by the angel Raziel, and also to Noah, is a compilation, probably by various writers. It has affinities to the Shiva Koma and Sword of Moses. According to Zunz, Raziel was the work of Eleazer of Worms. It describes the celestial organization, and gives directions for the preparations of amulets."
In the first section of this book is the Book of the Vestment. Therein are works of the book, of how it was given to man by Rezial, the angel, and how to be guided therein. Also, the names of the seasons, and the names of the Malachim ministering in every season and every month and every day. Also, the names of the heavens and Earth, and every spirit and angel ministering over every sign of the zodiac, and the angels of the seven planets in every season, and days of the week.
In the second section is the Book of the Mighty Rezial. The corrected doctrine is sweet as honey dropped from the honeycomb. Also, the work of Merkabah and words of wisdom. All words are properly corrected and suitable to be revealed to the worthy. Also the works and actions of the Malachiem, and knowledge of winds and rains and such things.
In the third section is knowledge of the 72-fold name and the actions of the letters and vowel signs.
In the fourth section is the Book of Noah. The actions of the greatest works are written. Also, of the work of Berashith and prayers to rise up in exaltation.
In the fifth section is the Book of the Signs of the Zodiac. Also the charms [Qomeya'avoth] over all things, tried and proven. Also the 22-fold name and 42-fold name, and their actions.
It is required to establish and make known, not to speak the most holy names aloud. Only regard them in the heart, even in prayer. It is written in the Gemara, worship the Lord the true God in all hearts. The prayers are difficult to learn. Much sleep is required to learn the meanings of the letters. Remember the holy names, as required to prepare, but do not speak them aloud.
It is also required to prepare, by rabbinical consecrations and devotions not printed in this book, for a period of ten years. These are not printed here, as a wise man said it is not appropriate to print them in this holy book. Knowledge against knowledge hinders understanding. The rabbinical, combined with that printed here, are united as one. Forsake them and be cursed by all plagues foretold in the Torah of Moses. It is established, those not keeping every commandment of the Torah are accursed. Forsake one commandment and sin unintentionally, the foolish are accursed. Let it be known the knowledge is reserved for those prepared by rabbinical consecrations and devotions. The scholars of Earth are favored in the eyes of the Lord.
Now it is time the transcription is printed. I have copied it letter by letter, with special attention to the most holy names, and also the names of the Malachim. I proofread it four times, letter by letter. If there are any errors, I beg the Lord to forgive me. It is now prepared to be printed and bound by Isaac Ben Checheber Abraham, Amsterdam.”
critical text compiled, edited, translated with commentary by A.
Peter Hayman (Mohr Siebeck) Sefer Yesira is a short, enigmatic text
that has fascinated scholars since it first emerged into the light
of day in the early tenth century. It was initially understood to be
a philosophical text that had descended by oral tradition from
Abraham himself. Consequently it was commented on by many of the
major figures in the Jewish world in the early medieval period.
Subsequently it was understood as a mystical text and became a
crucial influence on the medieval mystical movement (the Kabbalah).
More than seventy kabbalistic commentaries on it are known. It
continued to be of interest to Christian kabbalists at the time of
the Renaissance and to scholars of Judaism and mysticism to the
present day. Peter Haymans study provides the first comprehensive
critical edition of this text. The texts of the earliest manuscripts
of the three main recensions of Sefer Yesira (the Short, Long and
Saadyan Recensions) are printed in synoptic columns with a critical
apparatus, drawn from nineteen selected manuscripts, at the bottom
of each column. There is an English translation of each of the
recensions followed by a commentary discussing the variant readings
of the manuscripts and the text of Sefer Yesira presupposed in the
earliest commentaries on it. Both in the introduction and the
commentary an attempt is made to reconstruct an early form of the
text from which the later recensions have developed. There are four
appendices setting out what parts of the text are attested in each
of the manuscripts and in what order, a hypothetical reconstructed
text and the text of the tenth century
The volume is designed for questions of textual variation and the never presents a straightforward translation. Some Hebrew would be helpful to follow the details of the arguments. Considering the importance of this text for the development of kabbalah this work deserves close attention.
Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation by Moshe Idel
(Yale University Press) In this wide-ranging discussion of Kabbalah-from
the mystical trends of medieval Judaism to modern Hasidism-one of
the world's foremost scholars considers different visions of the
nature of the sacred text and of the methods to interpret it. Moshe
Idel takes as a starting point the fact that the postbiblical Jewish
world lost its geographical center with the destruction of the
temple and so was left with a textual center, the Holy Book. Idel
argues that a text-oriented religion produced language-centered
forms of mysticism. Against this background, the author demonstrates
how various Jewish mystics amplified the content of the Scriptures
so as to include everything: the world, or God, for example. Thus
the text becomes a major realm for contemplation, and the
interpretation of the text frequently becomes an encounter with the
deepest realms of reality. Idel delineates the particular
hermeneutics belonging to Jewish mysticism, investigates the
progressive filling of the text with secrets and hidden levels of
meaning, and considers in detail the various interpretive strategies
needed to decodify the arcane dimensions of the text.
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