Friday, February 16, 2018

Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem


[Although Scholem’s writings cover a whole range of Jewish mysticism from the Merkavah texts of the early centuries C.E. through Hasidism, he was most concerned with the recovery of the Kabbalah, the secret traditions about the meaning of Jewish life and practice that first emerged in twelfth-century France and Spain and spread throughout the Jewish world.]

In the esoteric tradition of the Kabbalah, the highly ramified mystical tendencies in Judaism developed and left their historical record. The Kabbalah was not, as is still sometimes supposed, a unified system of mystical and specifically theosophical thinking. There is no such thing as ‘the doctrine of the Kabbalists.” Actually, we encounter widely diversified systems and quasi-systems. Fed by subterranean currents probably emanating from the East Kabbalism first came to light in those parts of southern France, where among non-Jews the Catharist, or neo-Manichaean,the movement was at its height.* In thirteenth century Spain it quickly obtained its fullest development, culminating in the pseudo-epigraphic Zohar of Rabbi Moses de Leon, which became a kind of Bible to the Kabbalists and for centuries enjoyed an unquestioned position as a sacred an authoritative text. In sixteenth century Palestine, Kabbalism knew a second flowering, in the course of which it became a central historical and spiritual current in Judaism; for it supplied an answer to the question of the meaning of exile, a question which had taken on a new urgency with the catastrophe of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Fired with explosive fervor in the great Messianic movement centering around Sabbatai Zevi, which even in its collapse provoked a mystical heresy, a heretical Kabbalah, whose impulses and developments, paradoxically enough, played a significant part- long overlooked and becoming clear to us only today – in the rise of modern Judaism.


From the start this resurgence of mythical conceptions in the thinking of Jewish mystics provided a bond with certain impulses in the popular faith, fundamental impulses springing from the simple man’s fear of life and death, to which Jewish philosophy had no satisfactory response. Jewish philosophy paid a heavy price for its disdain of the primitive levels of human life. It ignored the terrors from which myths are made, as though denying the very existence of the problem. Nothing so sharply distinguishes philosophers and Kabbalists as their attitude toward the problem of evil and the demonic. By and large, the Jewish philosophers dismissed it as a pseudo-problem, while to the Kabbalists it became one of the chief motives of their thinking. Their feeling for the reality of evil and the horror of the demonic, which they did not evade like the philosophers but tried to confront, related to their endeavors in a central point with the popular faith and with all those aspects of Jewish life in which these fears found their expression.

Unlike the philosophical allegorists who looked for metaphysical ideas in ritual, the Kabbalists, indeed, in their interpretations of the old rites often reconstituted their original meaning, or at least the meaning they had in the minds of the common people. The demonization of life was assuredly one of the most effective and at the same time most dangerous factors in the development of the Kabbalah, but this again demonstrates its kinship with the religious preoccupation of the Jewish masses. Thus it is less paradoxical than it may seem at first sight that a largely aristocratic group of mystics should have enjoyed so enormous and influence among the common people. It would be hard to find many religious customs and rituals that owed their existence or development to philosophical ideas. But the number of rites owing their origins, or at least the concrete forms in which they impose themselves, to the Kabbalistic consideration is legion. In this descent from the heights of theosophical speculation to the depths of popular thought and action, the ideas of the Kabbalists undoubtedly lost much of their radiance. In their concrete embodiment, they often became crude. The dangers with which myth and magic threaten the religious mind are exemplified in the history of Judaism by the development of the Kabbalah, and anyone who concerns himself seriously with the thinking of the Kabbalists will be torn between feelings of admiration and revulsion.

It was the very boldness of the gnostic paradox in  Kabbalistic cosmology- exile as an element in God Himself- that accounted in large part for the enormous influence of their ideas on the Jews. . .

[God has removed from himself that which we know as the world; that is, evil and the demonic have been purged from original creation- variously conceived- and this is the world. Never-the less, emanations of Creation remain in the world, largely veiled or secret subject to the ‘decoding’ of mystical knowing. This involves various aspects of creation distributed at many levels- sometimes as many as there are verses or letters in the Torah- including a separation of the original unity of the masculine and feminine.  The job of men is the restoration (tikkun)  of the scattered,  occluded emanations of divine ‘light’ from the world to the broken unity of Creation by means of their religious acts, rites and ritual. The homology is not only with Jewish exile but human language itself: the bar that stands between the signifier and the signified, the broken link between what we say about the world and the world as it is ‘out there.’- my inadequate summary of the Kabbalistic situation]


It lies in the very nature of mysticism as a specific phenomena within historical systems of religion that two conflicting tendencies should converge in it. Since historical mysticism does not hover in space, but is mystical view of a specific reality, since it subjects the positive contents of a concrete phenomena such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam to a new mystical interpretation without wishing to come into conflict with the living reality and traditions of these religions, mystical movements face a characteristic contradiction. On the one hand, the new view of God and often enough of the world, cloaked in the  deliberately conservative  attitude of men who are far from wishing to infringe on, let alone, overthrow tradition, but wish rather to strengthen it with the help of a new vision. Yet, on the other hand, despite this attitude of piety towards tradition, the element of novelty in the impulses that are here at work is often enough  reflected in a bold, if not sacrilegious, transformation of the traditional religious contents. This tension between the conservative and the innovationist or even revolutionary runs through the whole history of mysticism. Where it becomes conscious, it colors the personal behavior of the great mystics. But even when in full lucidity they choose to take the conservative attitude toward their tradition, they always walk the steep and narrow path bordering on heresy.


. . .we have seen how the Jews built their historical situation into their cosmology. Kabbalistic myth had ‘meaning’ because it sprang from a fully conscious relation to a reality which, experienced symbolically even in its horror, was  able to project mighty symbols of Jewish life as an extreme case of human life pure and simple. We can no longer fully perceive, I might say, ‘live’;, the symbols of the Kabbalah without considerable effort, if at all. We confront the old questions in a new way. But if symbols spring from a reality that is pregnant with feeling and illuminated by the colorless light of intuition, and if, as has been said, all fulfilled time is mythical, then surely we may say this: what greater opportunity has the Jewish people ever had than in the horror of defeat, in the struggle and victory of these last years, in its utopian withdrawal into its own history, to fullfil its encounter with its own genius, its true and ‘perfect’ nature?



* see http://johnshaplin.blogspot.com/2013/02/preface-to-montaillou-langue-doc.html


3 comments:

  1. You see the structure of the interaction between the mystics innovative 'new meaning' for old myths and symbols and the conservative traditions in which he encounters and molds them in the Iranian Revolution. Actually, though Khomeini's vision of Utopian' fulfilled time' suggested that the Republic- the people acting through their representatives- would be the final arbiter on all religious questions, this was more or less ambiguously stated and the Republic itself was hedged with the creation of a Guardian Council of 'licensed clerics', and the creation of a Revolutionary Guard.When the conflict that arise between the two views- which amount to a dispute the intent of the Constitution as approved by the great mystic himself- prove exceptionally difficult, they are mediated by an 'Expediency Council'. Old traditions in a new vessel, new visions in an old vessel. But at least they got they got rid of the god-damned King.

    Every mysticism is particular to the religion from which it arises, in response to popular feeling.

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  2. هل تبحث عن شركة متخصصة فى خدمات التنظيف بالطائف بافضل المعدات والسوائل وثقة تمة فى العمل ودقة فى النتائج كل هذه المميزت توفرها شركة الخليج الشركة الافضل والامثل فى الخدمات المنزلية بالطائف وبما اننا الشركة الافضل والامثل بدون منافس سوف نسعى لتوفر افضل الخدمات باقل تكلفة وبقدر كبير من الاهتمام والدقة عزيزى اينما كنت فى اى منطقة ا وحى تابع لمدينة الطائف اتصل بنا وسوف نصلك فى الحال شركة الخليج للخدمات المنزلية شركة تنظيف منازل بالطائف
    شركة تنظيف فلل بالطائف
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بالطائف
    شركة تسليك مجارى بالطائف
    شركة رش مبيدات بالطائف
    شركة مكافحة نمل ابيض بالطائف
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بالطائف
    شركة عزل اسطح بالطائف
    شركة عزل خزانات بالطائف

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  3. نقدم لكم بعض الخدمات فى الاعمال المنزلية الممثله فى التنظيف الشامل للمنزل ومكافحة الحشرات وعزل الاسطح وكشف تسربات المياة ونقل الاثاث بكل انوعه كل ذلك يساعد فى الحصول علي مظهر رائع بواسطة افضل الفنيين والمتخصصين فى هذا المجال باستخدام احدث المعدات.
    شركة عزل اسطح بابها
    شركة كشف تسربات بابها
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بابها
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بابها
    شركة عزل اسطح بخميس مشيط
    شركة كشف تسربات بخميس مشيط
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بخميس مشيط
    شركة تنظيف منازل بالطائف
    شركة نقل عفش بالطائف

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