- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Jewish Lights; 1 edition (November 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1580234348
- ISBN-13: 978-1580234344
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,789,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Insights into the significance of traditional Jewish mysticism for today's Jews take center stage in this intelligent but esoteric collection of articles from notable Jewish scholars of Kabbalah. Underscoring the relevance of centuries-old Kabbalistic texts and practices are 26 independent contributions divided into six sections including "Discovering God in All Reality"; "Spiritual Growth, Inner Transformation"; "Embodied Spiritual Practice"; "Prayer, Repentance, Healing"; and "Torah, Halakha, Mitsvot." The writers, collectively, look back to Nahman of Bratslav and other past luminaries of Kabbalah and Jewish thought while integrating the observations of contemporary heavyweights like Arthur Green to establish a more relevant and timely understanding of the subject. Rabbi Gordon Tucker invokes A.J. Heschel's writing to delve into how prophecy still lives for those who open their minds to it, and Joel Hecker infuses the ideas of the 18th-century Hasid Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl on sparks of holiness into a modern reflection on the latent spirituality of eating. This volume's focused and deeply religious essays may well be too heavy for dabblers, but will certainly delight scholars in the field. (Dec.)
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"A dazzling collection that displays the concerns and insights that animate the [mystical and Hasidic] texts and traditions…. A spiritual feast of religious meaning for those who enter its pages."
―Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD, president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion
"An illuminating and often moving collection that reflects the breadth and depth of contemporary interest in these texts as guides to Jewish spirituality and practice in our time."
―Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, author, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical
“A landmark collection that deserves to be read and reread. The diverse insights draw the seeker into the wisdom of Judaism in a way that may draw them into the community of practice as well.”
―Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Hasidic Tales: Annotated & Explained and Ecclesiastes: Annotated & Explained
“Illuminates and probes deeply in multiple fields while speaking to engaged spiritual seekers and scholars. Studded with gems, often overflowing with learning and insights. All who want to grow spiritually, live more deeply, to both connect to tradition and renew it will find something to nurture their souls in this book.”
―Rabbi Irving Greenberg, founding president, Jewish Life Network; founding president, Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
“An orchard of spiritual pomegranates, tended by some of today's most gifted Jewish scholars. A delight to read.”
―Jay Michaelson, author, Everything Is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism and God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness and Embodied Spiritual Practice
Top customer reviews
The editors understand Jewish Mysticism as "a particular way of approaching the Torah and the life of mitzvoth" (Torah commandments). They see "hidden jewels" of mysticism in the Torah, "deep mysteries of divinity (and) the dynamics of God's inner life." Mystics, they say, have "a transformed consciousness of God." They feel "the immanent presence of God" for there is "an always-flowing force of light and energy that can be imagined in nearly infinite number of ways." Mysticism has power. It is able "to infuse the life of mitzvoth with spiritual vitality and purpose." The mitzvoth become "a ladder of ascent to divinity and to the individual's deep connection to the Source of all being."
Rationalists, such as Moses Maimonides, would reject all of this and advise people to rely on science and reality, not on feelings and imagination. They say that it is impossible to "know" God or "cleave" to Him. True, the Torah has deeper meanings that more educated people can discern, but these are rational ideas; there is no indication in the Torah that it has mystical teachings; in fact every biblical pronouncement is practical and worldly; the Torah focuses on behavior. Yes, people can speak metaphorically about ascending a ladder, but the ladder they ascend should be the ladder of education and self-improvement, to be all that one can be. It is nice to speak about "spirituality," but virtually impossible to define what it means.
Yet the mystical approach of the editors and their contributors is the worldview of many people. Thus, agree or not, it is important to know these ideas to understand the notions of many people. Besides, even rationalists can find good ideas behind the mystical language and images.
For example, Rabbi Nancy Flam quotes a two page analysis by Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl (died 1797) where he quotes a midrashic homiletical version of the visit by three strangers to the biblical Abraham in Genesis 18. Abraham rises and rushes to welcome the strangers to treat them hospitably, after telling God, who was visiting him, to stay put and not to go away. Rabbi Menahem offers his interpretation of the tale and Rabbi Flam comments on it. She raises and answers many questions, such as: How did Abraham experience God's visit? How and why could he dare leave God and welcome strangers? How could he tell God to wait in a single place when God is everywhere? How should people relate to God? What does "cleave to God" mean?
Another example is Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's take on a one page quote from one of the most famous Hasidic rabbis, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (died 1810). Rabbi Levi asks why tradition states that the prophet Elijah will appear in the future and resolve any unanswered religious questions. Why doesn't the tradition say that Moses the law giver will come and answer questions? After all, it was Moses who gave the law. Rabbi Zalman explains the Hasidic rabbi's response. Moses died over three thousand years ago. However there is a tradition that Elijah never died; he literally went to heaven in a chariot; the chariot trip is not a metaphor for dying. Moses only understood how to apply Torah to life during his lifetime. But people and circumstances change. Elijah, who never died and who is still alive today, knows the current situations of people and the world. What we need, Rabbi Zalman concludes, is "a vision of Judaism that (is) in deep dialogue with the past and responsive to life in the present." This what Elijah represents.
These examples show how this book is informative, thought-provoking, and has good ideas. Thus it is worthwhile reading even for non-mystics and especially for the mystically-minded.
The collection covers a great deal of ground, and the contributors span quite a range of thoughts about Judaism. Each writer begins with an extended passage from a Hasidic source, and then gives a modern take on the passage. Very many of these Hasidic sources are hard to get in English translation.
Readers should not expect consistency in this collection. It is composed of many voices, and should be read, really, in many single settings. Like many Jewish texts, there is a give and take among many points of view.