Sunday 17 December 2023

456) The power (and strategy) of maintaining secret religious knowledge



Over and above the traditional, theological and Halachic considerations of Judaism, one cannot help but notice an apparent increase in the use of the word ‘power’ that gets appendaged to almost every contemporary religious discourse. If a certain day falls close to Shabbat, for example, there is an extra power to that day. Tzedaka is no longer a mitzva or chiyuv or an important social responsibility, but a means of attaining power. This strategy is often employed by fundraisers. Local Challa Bakes and Amen Parties become powerful antidotes capable of negating crises on an international, universal and cosmic scale. Powerful days, events, times and prayers have taken the place of holy, Halachic and auspicious times and practices. 

Sunday 10 December 2023

455) The three-pronged mystical revolution of the 16th century


Seventeenth century manuscript of Eitz Chaim by R. Chaim Vital


This article based extensively on the research by Professor Rachel Elior[1] and Professor Zvi Werblowsky[2] − examines the three-pronged mystical revolution of the sixteenth century that changed the face of much of subsequent Judaism. 

In general terms, it is true that despite the calamitous events of the fifteenth century which saw the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492: 

“[t]he majority of exiles rehabilitated themselves by pursuing a normal life, conducted according to usual mundane considerations” (Elior 2000:187). 

On the other hand, a smaller but very influential number of Jewish mystics saw the world of the sixteenth century as anything but normative. They turned to Kabbalah and mysticism as the only way to explain the trauma of the expulsion. They believed and taught that the world was on the cusp of an imminent messianic redemption. Instead of engaging with the normative world like the majority of their co-religionists which included scholars and rabbis, they sought to detach themselves from reality as they experienced what they believed were the messianic birthpangs. These circles of mystics were known as Mechashvei Kitzim (Calculators of the End). 

Sunday 3 December 2023

454) Reconstructing the story of a Maimonidean student:



This article based extensively on the research by Dr Reimund Leicht examines the story of R. Yosef ben Yehuda ibn Shimon, a student of Maimonides (1138-1204).[1] He could not have been an insignificant student because Maimonides chose to dedicate his philosophical work, Moreh Nevuchim (Guide of the Perplexed), to him. Very little is known about Yosef ibn Shimon. However, based on available historical evidence, Leicht reconstructs his life story and shows how he may have played a pivotal role in supporting his teacher during the Maimonidean Controversies that broke out after the passing of Maimonides. We are also presented with a fascinating window into some details about Maimonides the individual, and some of his practical directives about rabbinic independence and not teaching Torah for money.