Start your review of Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Write a review Shelves: religion "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" tells the history of Jewish mysticism following the advent of Christianity which Gershom Scholem considers to have been the first and still the most catastrophic Jewish mystic movement. Scholem, who defines mysticism as a religious practice which emphasizes the direct experience with God through ecstatic prayer rather than the structured study of religious texts, considers Rabbinic Judaism, which stresses instead the Talmudic study of the Torah, to be the only "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" tells the history of Jewish mysticism following the advent of Christianity which Gershom Scholem considers to have been the first and still the most catastrophic Jewish mystic movement. Scholem, who defines mysticism as a religious practice which emphasizes the direct experience with God through ecstatic prayer rather than the structured study of religious texts, considers Rabbinic Judaism, which stresses instead the Talmudic study of the Torah, to be the only legitimate form of Judaism. The purpose of his book is to demonstrate that Jewish mysticism was consistently based on bad theology, illegitimate texts and faulty logic.
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Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York, Schocken Books, From Moses Mendelssohn to Julius Guttmann, the philosophers of Judaism have hesitated to admit that any kind of mysticism could be valued as a legitimate offspring of the purity of monotheistic Jewish thought. To all these interpreters of Judaism mysticism seemed disturbingly linked up with obscurantism, superstition, mythological fancies, with conjuring magic and questionable theurgical practices.
Mendelssohn, anxious to demonstrate that Judaism was not a less but perhaps an even more enlightened and rationally acceptable religion than Christendom, tried to emphasize how very far Judaism had progressed from the belief in primitive myths, in magic, occultism and—mysticism. The leading Jewish scholars of the 19th century firmly clung to this belief in the enlightened rational character of Judaism, although Kant—in opposition to his friend Mendelssohn—had already, in the 18th century, rejected all the rational theoretical demonstrations of the existence of a personal God; and enlightened radicals, from Ludwig Feuerbach to Sigmund Freud, have denied that any belief in God is rationally acceptable.
The Jewish interpreters of Judaism tried on the one hand to appease at all costs the world of modern rationalism—which, in its most marked tendencies, cannot be religiously appeased—and, on the other hand, they rejected the help offered by modern religious non-rationalism.
The writer of the present review was amazed when he once became aware of this fact: In his book on Franz von Baader und die Philosophische Romantik, in , he had to place special emphasis on why in the great German mystic Baader and even in Hegel and the Christian friends of both, far more appreciation and understanding of the Cabala was to be found than in most of the Jewish interpreters of Jewish literature and philosophy.
Especially in Germany, Martin Buber and later, under his influence, Franz Rosenzweig broke resolutely away from the old schemes of a merely rationalistic interpretation of Judaism. The periodical Der Jude edited by Buber assembled in its pages quite a number of younger authors who all bore witness to this change of the times.
Among these contributors to Der Jude was the greatest historian of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Gerhard Scholem, who now presents to the English reading public the second, revised edition of his principal work: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. This volume is the imposing scholarly achievement of a whole life almost exclusively devoted to one great task: the analysis and modern evaluation of the development of Jewish mysticism.
The immense wealth of historical phenomena analyzed by Scholem is grouped under seven headings. In the chapter on Merkaba mysticism and Jewish gnosticism he deals mainly with the Lesser Hechalot and the Greater Hechalot books, mystical tracts written and edited between the 2nd and 6th centuries C.
Along with the descriptions of all the preparations of the soul and the mystical richness of its visions, these writings contain, according to Scholem, the oldest chiromantic document preserved from antiquity.
In the same chapter Scholem also treats such tracts as Shiur Koma Measure of the Body of God , the books of Enoch Enoch being the mythical shoemaker whose every stitch, according to a medieval legend, connected the upper and lower worlds , the Sefer Yetzira Book of Creation probably written between the 3rd and 6th centuries, and the Sefer Habahir.
Certainly their metaphysical speculations—like those of Christian gnosticism on the same centuries—are often rather primitive, enigmatical, and abstruse. The eminence of this branch of mysticism reveals itself most in the unique emotional power and vigor of its ideas.
Perhaps nowhere in world literature are there more impressive images or more grandiose pictures of the majesty of God and of the impenetrable aura of sublimity and solemnity that surrounds the creator of an infinite universe of glory. For no matter whether the reader is a theist, pantheist, or atheist, this Merkaba mysticism has, to a large extent, the lure of great and profound poetry.
In my opinion, the magnificence of language and vision in the hymns and tracts of Merkaba mysticism go beyond anything in this field save the few tracts of Dionysius the Areopagite, that strange Byzantine mystic who exercised such an overwhelming influence on Christian mysticism in the Middle Ages.
It was essentially an ideal of simple religious devotion, of a serene and altruistic mind possessing ascetic sovereignty over mere wordly pleasures. In the glowing warmth of its feeling and in what was often the stoically defiant independence of its inner moral energy, this Jewish thought seems to me much closer to Meister Eckhart and later Christian mysticism in medieval Germany than Professor Scholem has observed.
Blavatsky and the present day, the speculations of the Zohar or their derivatives have held an extraordinary sway not only over Jewish mystics but often even more over Christian thought. The Zohar evidently combines in a particularly successful manner theosophic speculation and older elements of Jewish mystic vision with ethical reflections on the nature of evil and on the relation of love and mercy to sternness of judgment and anger, in God as well as in man—questions into which mysticism generally showed a much profounder insight than most types of oversimplifying rationalistic ethics.
It is with an imposing arsenal of philological, literary, and historical arguments that Scholem asserts in the end, with rather far-reaching self-assurance, that the bulk of the Zohar must have been written in Castile in Spain by Moses de Leon between the years and The bold and profound symbols and ideas of Isaac Luria, and their far-reaching implications, also receive most illuminating treatment.
For generations to come, I think, no one should feel entitled to judge Jewish—and Christian—mysticism without having gone to school with this work.
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, by Gershom G. Scholem