Sunday 27 February 2022

373) Kabbalah – a product of the East or West?


Jews and Sufis shared music traditions


Kabbalah, until just a few decades ago, was generally understood in as originating within a Eurocentric context. It was believed to have emerged essentially from centres like Italy, Provence (southern France), Germany and Spain. In scholarly circles, this was the result particularly of the work by Gershom Scholem,[1] who was convinced of Gnostic origins to Kabbalah: He writes that it is:

surprising that the [Kabbalistic][2] doctrine…was deeply related to Gnosticism, but such are the dialectics of history” (Scholem 1941:286).

Sunday 20 February 2022

372) R. Yitzchak Arama and the subtle demise of Jewish rationalism



Many people, including rabbis, are surprised to discover that the concept of a rationalist Maimonidean Judaism exists. Maimonides’ thought is not the Maimonides of the Mishna Torah compiled around 1180 which many are familiar with (and which, by Maimonides’ own description, was just his summary of the Talmud) - but rather the philosophical Maimonides of the Moreh Nevuchim or Guide of the Perplexed, compiled later in 1190. The personal hashkafa or worldview of Rambam can only be seen in the latter work. Although Rambam passed away about eighty years before the Zohar was first published in 1290, he presented a strong rationalist worldview and deeply opposed the mystical thought that was brewing during his lifetime. The mystics repressed his rationalist ideology during the following few centuries when Kabbalah became dominant (and they continue to do so today), and his rationalist thought was essentially eradicated from Judaism.

Sunday 13 February 2022

371) ‘Tikla’ and the zoharic concept that sin can bring redemption


The potter's wheel gives shape to a lump of clay.


This article, based extensively on the research by Dr Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel[1] as well as Rabbi Moshe Miller[2], deals with the fascinating yet paradoxical notion in the Zohar of sin as a harbinger or precursor of redemption. The discussion revolves around the Aramaic word Tikla, which appears on two occasions in the Zohar.[3]

Sunday 6 February 2022

370) Did the Mitnagdim create a counterpart to the Chasidic model of a Rebbe?


Yoreh Deah with Biur haGra


Mitnagdim, or opponents of the Chasidic movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov in the early eighteenth century, have generally emerged relatively unscathed by accusations of exaggerated veneration of their Mitnagdic rabbinic leaders.[1] This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Alan Nadler[2] explores the notion of a Mitnagdic counterpart to the Chasidic model of veneration of their rebbes.

‘Decline of the generations’ (Yeridat hadorot) - the Mitnagdic argument against Chasidism