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This chapter traces recurring topics of the entire modern period and its academic treatment, summarizing the differences between subperiods, briefly pointing at domains for further research, and outlining current scholarly trends. Modern Kabbalah has consistently returned to the Lurianic corpus and to the general themes of gender, messianism and experience. It can be divided into three phases: early, high and late modernity. A crisis of authority posed by Sabbateanism and blended with a more general religious crisis distinguishes the early modern period. This was in turn resolved through the high modern canons of the eighteenth century, an era of stabilization and proliferation of Kabbalah. The rapprochement between Kabbalah and philosophy characterizes the late modern period, along with its messianism, modernism and globalization. Possible areas for future research include a survey of the commentaries on Luria, a treatment of the modern kabbalistic exegesis of a handful of earlier binding sources and a discussion on the role of technology — both in the facilitating and propagation of Kabbalah, and as a theme in kabbalistic discourse.
While examining the theological, ideological and sociological dimensions of the Sabbatean messianic movement, and sketching its major figures, the chapter is aimed at uncovering less famous kabbalistic schools and movements in the seventeenth century. These go beyond the continued editing, formulation and influence of Safedian Kabbalah, with the philosophically oriented interpreters of Kabbalah in Italy being of special interest. Against the backdrop of the general crisis of the century and particularly the growing insecurity of European Jewry, the development of nationalistic Kabbalah, especially in Prague, especially its focus on the Land of Israel, is examined. The role played by Musar (self-perfection) literature and magic in popularizing Kabbalah, the reception of Christianized Kabbalah amongst elites in several Protestant countries complement the picture of the growing sway of this lore during the course of the century. However, the very success of Kabbalah also generated a range of critical responses, expanding from Italy into northern Europe (including non-Jews). Tellingly, these included cautions against its early study found in central legal codes.
Despite the Holocaust and the dislocation of the Jewish communities of the Near East and north Africa, the twentieth century was the apex of kabbalistic life and writing. The chapter begins with the urban renaissance of Kabbalah in pre-Holocaust Europe, and then moves to the emerging center in mandatory Palestine, which later became the leading kabbalistic center of Israel. Here an analysis of the nationalistic doctrine of Rabbi Kook and the Socialist doctrine of Rabbi Ashlag is joined with an examination of the development of the kabbalistic Yeshiva, as the leading institutional form of traditional Jewish learning and practice today. Alongside this development, the development of Jewish mystical life in the United States receives special attention. Beyond the Jewish world, the transformation of Kabbalah into a leading player in the post-war global mysticism, especially in the form of the New Age movement, is followed. In this context, the impact of kabbalistic images and themes on cultural life is examined. Naturally, Scholemian academic Kabbalah, seen here as part of its history rather than just as the study of its history, is given its due place.
This chapter examines modern Kabbalah’s autonomous yet continuous relationship with premodern Kabbalah. Its autonomy is attributed to various external factors such as new technologies, geopolitical and ideological shifts, vernacular developments and dramatic historical events. These factors are evident in the self-consciousness of modern kabbalists and reflected in a shift toward larger fraternal groups, as well as increasingly disseminated personal, exoteric styles of writing. The continuity is presented through a synopsis of medieval Kabbalah, which addresses a few continuous themes: exegesis, which includes a discussion of the commitment to certain sacral texts as well as its theosophy (primarily the sefirotic system), theurgy, gender and magic (albeit with some reservation). This synopsis concludes with a comparative reflection addressing medieval Kabbalah’s relationship to Christianity and Islam. The author closes by stressing that modern kabbalists inherited not a doctrine but a series of complexities and debates, which, fueled by the dynamic processes of modernity, accounts for the richness and vastness that is modern Kabbalah.
The chapter follows the transformation of kabbalistic life that took place in the sixteenth century, especially in Safed. The Ottoman context (including Sufi influences) is addressed. The main circles covered here are those of R. Yosef Karo, R. Moshe Cordovero and (most extensively) R. Itzhak Luria. The examination of theurgical-mythical themes continues here, alongside new psychological theories of the soul and messianic visions of both history and cosmos. Views of femininity and sexuality are explored, as well as the psychology of the mystical fellowship as a new social form and accompanying techniques and experiences, forming what the chapter's conclusion describes as a mystical culture. In the literary domain, particular emphasis is placed on the roles of print and exegesis (especially around the Zohar), as well as poetics. The interrelationship of all these innovations accounts for the staggering complexity of the Safedian doctrine (accounting for the intensive commentary it received in later generations). One of the main contributions of the chapter is that of familiarizing readers with the unique terminology of this system.
Kabbalah’s impact as a catalyst on mass social movements, effect on European intellectual life, quantitative vastness and global reach, and its qualitative complex diversity in theosophical systems, techniques, experiences and conflicts cannot be overstated. Nonetheless, the serious treatment of these topics has been limited to specified studies. This book represents the first attempt to provide modern Kabbalah with a comprehensive history, beginning from the mid-sixteenth-century spiritual revolution that took place in the Galilean town of Safed, up until the present day. The implications of the book include the need to place modern Kabbalah within its own context both as autonomous from but also continuous with earlier periods, as well as within a broader Jewish and extra-Jewish historical context. It will offer an account of central schools, figures, works and themes, and a treatment of recent and contemporary developments. Moreover, it will provide a critical history of scholarship in various languages but will prioritize the texts themselves, reflecting their prominence in Kabbalah. Finally, it will point toward areas for further research in the study of modern Kabbalah.
Commencing with the Hasidic world, the chapter places it in geopolitical context, focusing on the rise of the Habad movement and the intergenerational change around the Napoleonic Wars. Besides striking personalities and radical teachings, aspects of lifestyle are considered. Naturally, the chapter turns to transformations within the opponents of Hasidism. The interplay of moderation of theological positions and the persistence of asceticism is addressed, yet the leading drama is the emergence of the Musar movement, which displaced overt kabbalistic concerns. The narrative then shifts to Ottoman Palestine, describing the immigration of both the Hasidim and their opponents, to this emergent center, later revisited through the history of the local Sephardic kabbalists. Moving beyond the Jewish world, the academic and literary reception of Kabbalah in Western and Central Europe is examined, alongside the reception of Idealist philosophy amongst kabbalistic writers. In conclusion, messianism is posited as the common denominator of the highly divergent streams of the century's kabbalistic creativity. In this context, the beginnings of American Kabbalah are addressed.
The eighteenth century is defined as the definitive period of modern Kabbalah, echoing revolutionary changes in Europe and America. The natural focus here is on the first three generations of Hasidism, as the first enduring kabbalistic social movement. Magic and sociology join theology and ideology to convey the richness of the movement. Extensive analysis is also devoted to the movement's opponents, spearheaded by R. Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna. The chapter's main innovation is the extensive treatment of R. Shalom Shar‘abi (Rashash) and the hegemony that he and his close students established in Near Eastern communities. Here the stress is on the three-dimensional depiction of the kabbalistic universe, and the accompanying doctrines of relativity, interchangeability, temporality and nominalism. Another innovation is the exposure of lesser known circles. The chapter concludes with discussions of the role of Kabbalah in the general and Jewish philosophical wave, as well as a summary of general characteristics of the century's Kabbalah, such as individualization, greater focus on everyday life and a search for totality.
Jonathan Garb's A History of Kabbalah: From the Early Modern Period to the Present Day is a lucid and sophisticated account of the multifaceted nature of Jewish mysticism, focusing on its development from the spiritual revolution that took place in Safed in the sixteenth century until the present. Opening the secrets of the kabbalah to a wider audience, Garb judiciously argued that how important the mystical and esoteric tradition has been in Jewish history and in the cultural and intellectual life of Europe more generally. One of the more methodologically innovative aspects of Garb's book is his contention that kabbalah became a major factor in the religious life of Jews in the modern age due to print and others forms of rapid communication, a process that has magnified significantly in recent years due to the digital revolution. Informative and provocative, A History of Kabbalah will surely be of interest to a wide readership.
This essay is part of a series of studies tracing central themes in the history of modern Kabbalah. While classical Jewish studies have generally focused on late antiquity and the Middle Ages, currently one can discern a shift towards a far greater concern with the modern period, in which most of the Kabbalistic literature that has reached us was actually composed. Furthermore, rather than being a residual and soon-to-disappear relic, as in Gershom Scholem's secular-Zionist narrative, Kabbalah is increasingly being portrayed as a vibrant stream within the very process of modernization. As we shall see, adopting this new perspective requires abandoning the meta-narrative of modernity as secularization, and joining the growing body of work known as post-secular. The apparent history of modern Kabbalah is certainly more readily accessible than its nebulous origins, due to developments such as the print revolution and the current rapid digitization of Jewish books. However, following the guiding premise of this volume and the conference upon which it is based, I shall address here its hidden history, whose very existence may not be obvious to all scholars of this lore. This term has three meanings. First, I believe that I have exposed a subterranean current, as it were, which runs below the stream of modern Kabbalistic transmission. The very exposure of the secret is indebted to its partial disclosure in contemporary Kabbalistic writing, as part of the more general process of the exotericization of Kabbalah during the last and current centuries. From here we shall follow the textual record almost exclusively.
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