Kabbalistic Revolution

Kabbalistic Revolution: Reimagining Judaism in Medieval Spain

Hartley Lachter
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 260
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh18h
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  • Book Info
    Kabbalistic Revolution
    Book Description:

    The set of Jewish mystical teachings known as Kabbalah are often imagined as timeless texts, teachings that have been passed down through the millennia. Yet, as this groundbreaking new study shows, Kabbalah flourished in a specific time and place, emerging in response to the social prejudices that Jews faced.

    Hartley Lachter, a scholar of religion studies, transports us to medieval Spain, a place where anti-Semitic propaganda was on the rise and Jewish political power was on the wane.Kabbalistic Revolutionproposes that, given this context, Kabbalah must be understood as a radically empowering political discourse. While the era's Christian preachers claimed that Jews were blind to the true meaning of scripture and had been abandoned by God, the Kabbalists countered with a doctrine that granted Jews a uniquely privileged relationship with God. Lachter demonstrates how Kabbalah envisioned this increasingly marginalized group at the center of the universe, their mystical practices serving to maintain the harmony of the divine world.

    For students of Jewish mysticism,Kabbalistic Revolutionprovides a new approach to the development of medieval Kabbalah. Yet the book's central questions should appeal to anyone with an interest in the relationships between religious discourses, political struggles, and ethnic pride.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6876-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: KABBALISTIC WRITING IN LATE THIRTEENTH-CENTURY CASTILE
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Jewish esoteric discourse that developed between the late twelfth and late thirteenth centuries known as Kabbalah had a profound influence on the history of Judaism, as well as on the intellectual history of the West. The kabbalistic worldview, which claims a secret oral tradition stemming from the revelation at Sinai that reveals the mysteries of the Godhead and the the urgic impact of Jewish ritual, became a dominant paradigm according to which many Jews conceptualized the meaning of Jewish life. In the last three decades of the thirteenth century, a remarkable and unprecedented proliferation of kabbalistic texts and discourse...

  5. CHAPTER 1 MASTERS OF SECRETS: CLAIMING POWER WITH CONCEALED KNOWLEDGE
    (pp. 15-44)

    Late thirteenth-to early fourteenth-century Castile saw the development of a very open ethos with regard to disseminating esoteric discourse. Moshe Idel has referred to this creative moment as a “window of opportunities”¹ during which highly creative kabbalistic literature was composed and circulated, which he has aptly referred to as “innovative Kabbalah.”² While Castilian kabbalists still accepted the notion that some secrets cannot be fully divulged, they defined the boundaries of what can be put down in writing much more capaciously than some other kabbalists, especially those living and writing in Catalonia. Many of the kabbalistic texts written during this period...

  6. CHAPTER 2 SECRETS OF THE COSMOS: CREATING A KABBALISTIC UNIVERSE
    (pp. 45-68)

    Medieval kabbalistic texts expend considerable energy describing the process of creation and the nature of the connection of the physical cosmos to God. As noted above, creation is identified in rabbinic literature, along with the descriptions of Ezekiel’s chariot vision, as one of the esoteric topics that can only be taught to individual, worthy students.¹ Drawing upon this identification of the account of creation as one fraught with esoteric implications, medieval kabbalists provide extensive discussions regarding the emergence of being and the establishment of the cosmic order. This important area of kabbalistic discourse, however, constitutes more than a theoretical engagement...

  7. CHAPTER 3 SECRETS OF THE SELF: KABBALISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY AND DIVINE MYSTERY
    (pp. 69-99)

    According to a passage inAvot de R. Natan, “one man is equal to the entire work of creation.”¹ A prominent position taken by Jewish thinkers and writers since the Bible is that humanity occupies a central place in the universe and is the reason for the creation and continued existence of the cosmos. In this chapter we will explore how the kabbalistic depictions of the human self relate to the paradox of the cosmos that we examined in the previous chapter. We will see that the self, according to the kabbalists, is the place where the most transcendent and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 JEWISH BODIES AND DIVINE POWER: THEURGY AND JEWISH LAW
    (pp. 100-129)

    As we have seen, medieval Kabbalah embraces a dynamic conception of the divine. Classical kabbalistic theosophy consists of a complex interweaving of symbolic associations between the tensefirotand Hebrew words, biblical names and terminology, letters, colors, directions, heavenly bodies, and the human anatomy. Kabbalists also embrace the idea, referred to by scholars as “theurgy,” that human actions can influence the divine.¹ According to the kabbalistic worldview, Jews who properly perform the mandates of Jewish law reinforce the harmony and contiguity of thesefiroticsystem.² Those Jews who commit transgressions cause disharmony in the Godhead and interrupt the divineshefa...

  9. CHAPTER 5 PRAYER ABOVE AND BELOW: KABBALISTIC CONSTRUCTIONS OF THE POWER OF JEWISH WORSHIP
    (pp. 130-158)

    Of the many facets of Jewish law, the requirements of prayer are among the most prominent in terms of their impact on daily experience.Halakharequires that men pray three times per day. Where possible, men are to conduct their prayers in aminyan, or quorum of ten males at least thirteen years of age. As a communal ritual, prayer in the Middle Ages involved a shared public manifestation of Jewish identity. As they gathered for the requiredshaharit(morning),minha(afternoon), andma’ariv(evening) services, Jewish men in medieval Iberia, by force of Jewish legal requirement, openly performed their...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 159-162)

    The development of kabbalistic discourse at the end of the thirteenth century can be regarded as a revolution in some important respects, though, perhaps in keeping with what one might expect from a kabbalistic phenomenon, ironies and qualifications are certainly in order. As we have seen, the kabbalists were at once boldly creative and emphatically conservative. While they introduced a novel way of imagining Judaism, they did so in a manner that reinforced rather than undermined the traditional forms of Jewish life and law. And though they advanced their ideas on the basis of esoteric claims to revelatory knowledge, they...

  11. POSTSCRIPT CULTURAL LOGICS: KABBALAH, THEN AND NOW
    (pp. 163-166)

    One of the greatest ironies in the history of Jewish mysticism is that the esoteric tradition of Kabbalah has in the early twenty-first century become one of the most widely known aspects of Judaism. Many people in the Unites States and elsewhere are more familiar with the term Kabbalah than other, arguably more exoteric features of the Jewish tradition. The intriguing reason for this is that, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Kabbalah has come to be embraced by a wide range of people in a manner unconnected to the traditional forms of Jewish law. This phenomenon is...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 167-214)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 215-240)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 241-244)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-246)