The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice by Yaacob Dweck

335a0d7e02b0208-261x361.jpg Author Yaacob Dweck
Isbn 691162158
File size 4MB
Year 2011
Pages 297
Language English
File format PDF
Category religion


The Scandal of Kabbalah Dweck-Scandal.indb 1 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World Edited by Michael Cook, William Chester Jordan, and Peter Schäfer Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. by Seth Schwartz A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean by Molly Greene Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France by Susan L. Einbinder Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and TwelfthCentury Islamic Spain by Ross Brann Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah by Peter Schäfer In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars, and Conversos in Guadalupe, Spain by Gretchen D. Starr-LeBeau The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by David M. Goldenberg Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought by David N. Myers Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe by Elisheva Baumgarten A Jewish Renaissance in Fifteenth-Century Spain by Mark D. Meyerson The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain by Mary Elizabeth Perry Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt by Mark R. Cohen Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence by Elliott Horowitz Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish–Christian Relations in the Middle Ages by Jonathan Elukin The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam by Sidney H. Griffith The Religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews from London to Vienna by David Sorkin American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire by Heather J. Sharkey Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker by Sarah Stroumsa The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice by Yaacob Dweck Dweck-Scandal.indb 2 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM The Scandal of Kabbalah Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice Yaacob Dweck princeton university press princeton and oxford Dweck-Scandal.indb 3 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540 In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 6 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TW All Rights Reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Dweck, Yaacob. The scandal of Kabbalah : Leon Modena, Jewish mysticism, early Modern Venice / Yaacob Dweck.    p.  cm. — (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the ancient to the modern world) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-691-14508-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Modena, Leone, 1571–1648. Ari nohem. 2. Cabala—Controversial literature—History. I. Title. BM526.D84 2011 296.1'6—dc22  2010049226 British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available This book has been composed in Janson Text Printed on acid-free paper. ∞ Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Dweck-Scandal.indb 4 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM For Juliana Dweck-Scandal.indb 5 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM Dweck-Scandal.indb 6 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM A roaring lion: happy, mad, injurious. —Rashi, Berakhot 32a Dweck-Scandal.indb 7 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM Dweck-Scandal.indb 8 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM Contents List of Illustrationsxi Abbreviationsxiii Introduction1 Chapter One Hebrew Manuscripts in an Age of Print  29 Chapter Two Early Modern Criticism of the Zohar  59 Chapter Three Guiding the Perplexed  101 Chapter Four Safed in Venice  127 Chapter Five A Jewish Response to Christian Kabbalah 149 Chapter Six The Afterlife of Ari Nohem  171 Chapter Seven Kabbalah and Scholarship in the Nineteenth Century 201 Epilogue History of a Failure  231 Acknowledgments237 Works Cited 239 Index 273 Dweck-Scandal.indb 9 4/26/2011 2:40:08 PM Dweck-Scandal.indb 10 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM List of Illustrations Figure 1 A page from Modena’s copybook. London, British Library, MS Or. 5395, 5a.  29–30 Figure 2  Title page to Sha’agat Aryeh, copied by Leon Modena. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS Parma 2238, 5a.  40 Figure 3  Title Page to Sha’agat Aryeh, copied by Isaac Levi. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Library, MS 10611, 2a.  41 Figure 4  Title page to Modena’s responsa, Ziknei Yehudah. London, British Library, MS Add 27148, 1b.  48 Figure 5  Title page to the Zohar, Mantua, 1558. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.  59–60 Figure 6  Title page to Azariah de’ Rossi, Meor Enayim, Mantua, 1573–1575. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, St. De Rossi, 983.  94 Figure 7 Azariah de’ Rossi, Meor Enayim, Mantua, 1573–1575, 179b. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, St. De Rossi, 983.  95 Figure 8  Title page to Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, Venice, 1551. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.  101–102 Figure 9  Title page to Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, Krakow, 1592. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.  127–128 Figure 10 Hebrew title page to Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, Sefer Ta’alumot Hokhmah, Hanau, 1629–1631. New York Public Library.  149–150 Figure 11  Title page to Yair Hayim Bacharach, Havot Yair, Frankfurt, 1699. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.  171–172 Figure 12 Hebrew title page to first printed edition of Ari Nohem, Leipzig, 1840. Private collection.  201–202 Figure 13  Title page to Isaac Reggio’s working edition of Ari Nohem. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Reggio 34, 1a  Dweck-Scandal.indb 11 212 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM Dweck-Scandal.indb 12 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM Abbreviations Autobiography Letters AJS Review BT HUC HUCA JHI JJTP JNUL JPS JQR JSJT JSQ KH KS LBIYB MGWJ PAAJR REJ RMI SUNY SV Dweck-Scandal.indb 13 The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena’s Life of Judah, trans. and ed. Mark R. Cohen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). Igrot Rabi Yehudah Aryeh mi-Modena, ed. Yacov Boksenboim (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 1984). Association for Jewish Studies Review Babylonian Talmud Hebrew Union College Hebrew Union College Annual Journal of the History of Ideas Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy Jewish National and University Library/National Library of Israel Jewish Publication Society Jewish Quarterly Review Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought Jewish Studies Quarterly Kerem Hemed Kiryat Sefer Leo Baeck Institute Year Book Monatsschrift für die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentum Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research Revue des Études Juives La Rassegna Mensile di Israel State University of New York Studi Veneziani 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM Dweck-Scandal.indb 14 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM The Scandal of Kabbalah Dweck-Scandal.indb 15 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM Dweck-Scandal.indb 16 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM Introduction “Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is science.” Thus Saul Lieberman, the great Talmudist of the twentieth century, introduced Gershom Scholem to his colleagues at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Lieberman’s apocryphal and oft-quoted remark testifies to the modern Jewish ambivalence toward Kabbalah, successfully overcome only by Scholem’s scientific scholarship. No one did more to perpetuate the narrative of Scholem’s rescue of Jewish mysticism from the condescension of his scholarly predecessors than Scholem himself. Enlightened scholars of the Jewish past had persisted in casting Kabbalah as primitive, antimodern, and irrational. In a word, nonsense. The demands of responsible scholarship required careful and considered criticism of Kabbalah, a task Scholem identified with the trajectory of his own career. In the preface to the first edition of Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, he reflected: “More than twenty years have passed since I began to devote my life to the study of Jewish mysticism and especially of Kabbalism. It was a beginning in more than one sense, for the task which confronted me necessitated a vast amount of spade work in a field strewn with ruins and by no means ripe as yet for the constructive labours of the builder of a system.”1 For all its sarcasm, Lieberman’s quip only reinforced Scholem’s carefully cultivated posture as the heroic founder of historical scholarship on Kabbalah. This book explores the substance and subsequent history of Leon Modena’s critique of Kabbalah in seventeenth-century Venice as a challenge to Scholem’s foundational narrative. A rabbi and a preacher in the Venetian ghetto, Modena witnessed the transformation of Jewish society, culture, and institutions through the spread of Kabbalah. In 1639 he took the unprecedented and dangerous step of subjecting this newly dominant spirituality of early modern Judaism to meticulous analysis. Part religious polemic, part cultural criticism, and part epistolary treatise, Modena’s Hebrew exposition entitled Ari Nohem (The Roaring Lion) addressed a society saturated with Kabbalah, a condition that he sought desperately, and with utter futility, to change. Modena argued against the antiquity of Kabbalah by subjecting the origins of kabbalistic texts to rigorous analysis. He 1  Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1941), vii. On Lieberman’s remark and its variants, see Abe Socher, “The History of Nonsense,” AJS Perspectives (Fall 2006): 32–33. Dweck-Scandal.indb 1 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM 2  •  Introduction indicted the growing cults of personality that had formed around prominent kabbalists, and he objected to the proliferation of kabbalistic practices in the synagogue and in the study house. This book tells the story of Modena’s Ari Nohem, its composition in the ghetto of Venice and its criticism of Venetian Jewish culture, its circulation in manuscript in the ensuing centuries and its appearance in print in the early nineteenth century. In this story, the critical history of Kabbalah emerged and developed alongside the spread of mystical belief and mystical praxis. Modena’s counterhistory formed an integral part of the history of Kabbalah in the very period it was coming to dominate Jewish life.2 The Spread of Medieval Kabbalah: An Early Modern Cultural Revolution In the centuries before Modena subjected it to withering criticism, Kabbalah carried a range of meanings for Jews and Gentiles. A Hebrew term one can render as “tradition” or “reception,” Kabbalah referred to a mode of reading, a library of texts, a series of concepts, and a range of practices. As a mode of reading, Kabbalah encompassed a set of interpretive assumptions adopted by an initiate in the course of approaching a sacred text. Kabbalists assiduously applied these methods of exegesis to the most sacred of texts, the Bible, and relied on mystical symbolism to uncover its theological content.3 In the thirteenth century the Jewish biblical exegete Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides) repeatedly used the phrase “by way of truth” in his biblical commentary to indicate the kabbalistic interpretation of a particular passage.4 Two centuries later and to very different effect, the most celebrated Christian kabbalist of the Renaissance, Pico della Mirandola, repeatedly drew on kabbalistic modes of exegesis in arriving at his theological theses.5 Although they maintained opposing esoteric truths, Pico and Nahmanides both employed kabbalistic hermeneutics to arrive at them. Kabbalistic exegesis was most frequently applied to the Bible and 2  For revisions to Scholem’s portrait of prior scholarship, see Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 1–10; Daniel Abrams, “Defining Modern Academic Scholarship: Gershom Scholem and the Establishment of a New (?) Discipline,” JJTP 9 (2000): 267–302; David N. Myers, “Philosophy and Kabbalah in Wissenschaft des Judentums: Rethinking the Narrative of Neglect,” Studia Judaica 16 (2008): 56–71. 3  Moshe Idel, “PaRDeS: Some Reflections on Kabbalistic Hermeneutics,” in Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys, ed. John J. Collins and Michael Fishbane, 249–68 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995). 4  Elliot R. Wolfson, “By Way of Truth: Aspects of Nahmanides’ Kabbalistic Hermeneutic,” AJS Review 14 (1989): 103–78. 5  Chaim Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandola’s Encounter with Jewish Mysticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989). Dweck-Scandal.indb 2 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM Introduction  •  3 particularly the Pentateuch, but a range of medieval and early modern thinkers used Kabbalah to interpret later authoritative texts such as the Talmud and other classics of rabbinic literature. Some went so far as to engage in kabbalistic readings of more recent works, such as Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed.6 The term Kabbalah was also used to refer to the objects of religious study. Medieval and early modern readers designated a range of texts such as Sefer ha-Bahir (The Book of Illumination), Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), and Pardes Rimonim (The Pomegranate Orchard) as kabbalistic works even if these books or their authors did not always use the term Kabbalah to describe them. By far the most celebrated work of Kabbalah was the Zohar (The Book of Splendor). Rather than a single book, the Zohar comprised a corpus of texts, most of which consisted of a running commentary on the Pentateuch. Written in the thirteenth century in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, it combined exegesis of individual verses with parables, homilies, and stories. Much of this commentary recounted the wondrous deeds of Simeon bar Yohai and his colleagues and purported to describe Jewish life in Roman Palestine of the second century. Rabbinic authorities attributed the Zohar, like Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer ha-Bahir, to an ancient author and assumed that its kabbalistic content represented ageold Jewish esoteric traditions.7 Both as a mode of exegesis and a library of texts, Kabbalah reverted to a set of ideas and motifs. For example, some kabbalists used the concept of the sefirot, or the spheres, to refer to a division of the Godhead into multiple entities or emanations.8 Others employed the notion of gilgul, or the transmigration of souls, to explain what happened to a person’s soul after death.9 Another important concept was devekut, which described the initiate’s special relationship to knowledge of the divine.10 Kabbalists disagreed, often passionately, over the precise meaning of these and other seminal concepts. Not all kabbalists employed the notion of the sefirot to refer to the Godhead, and many of those who did argued about their nature, division, and order. Important as these disagreements were, Kabbalah had 6  Moshe Idel, Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); Idel, “Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and the Kabbalah,” Jewish History 18 (2004): 197–226. 7  Boaz Huss, Ke-zohar ha-rakia: perakim be-hitkablut ha-Zohar uve-havnayat erko ha-simli (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik and Ben-Zvi Institute, 2008); Daniel Abrams, “The Invention of the Zohar as a Book: On the Assumptions and Expectations of the Kabbalists and Modern Scholars,” Kabbalah 19 (2009): 7–142. 8  Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, chap. 6. 9  Gershom Scholem, “Gilgul: The Transmigration of Souls,” in On The Mystical Shape of the Godhead:Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah, 197–250 (New York: Schocken Books, 1991). 10  Gershom Scholem, “Devekut, or Communion with God,” in The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality, 203–27 (New York: Schocken Books, 1995). Dweck-Scandal.indb 3 4/26/2011 2:40:09 PM

Author Yaacob Dweck Isbn 0691162158 File size 4MB Year 2011 Pages 297 Language English File format PDF Category Religion Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare The Scandal of Kabbalah is the first book about the origins of a culture war that began in early modern Europe and continues to this day: the debate between kabbalists and their critics on the nature of Judaism and the meaning of religious tradition. From its medieval beginnings as an esoteric form of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah spread throughout the early modern world and became a central feature of Jewish life. Scholars have long studied the revolutionary impact of Kabbalah, but, as Yaacob Dweck argues, they have misunderstood the character and timing of opposition to it. Drawing on a range of previously unexamined sources, this book tells the story of the first criticism of Kabbalah, Ari Nohem, written by Leon Modena in Venice in 1639. In this scathing indictment of Venetian Jews who had embraced Kabbalah as an authentic form of ancient esotericism, Modena proved the recent origins of Kabbalah and sought to convince his readers to return to the spiritualized rationalism of Maimonides. The Scandal of Kabbalah examines the hallmarks of Jewish modernity displayed by Modena’s attack–a critical analysis of sacred texts, skepticism about religious truths, and self-consciousness about the past–and shows how these qualities and the later history of his polemic challenge conventional understandings of the relationship between Kabbalah and modernity. Dweck argues that Kabbalah was the subject of critical inquiry in the very period it came to dominate Jewish life rather than centuries later as most scholars have thought.     Download (4MB) Jewish Poet and Intellectual in Seventeenth-Century Venice Mystical Tradition: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Kabbalah For Dummies The Letter of Aristeas: ‘Aristeas to Philocrates’ or ‘On the Translation of the Law of the Jews’ Jewish Exegesis and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria Load more posts

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