Thursday, January 1, 2009

AJS Conference Day Two Session Three (Sixteenth-Century Kabbalah and its Aftermath)

Mor Altshuler
"Tikkun Leil Shavuot of R. Joseph Karo and the Epistle of Solomon ha-Levi Elkabetz"

The tradition of tikkun leil Shavuot, of studying all night on Shavuot, comes from the Zohar where the practice is associated with the Rashbi circle. In essence playing out the revelation of Moses at Sinai. The first historic tikkun that we have evidence of was practiced by R. Joseph Karo, R. Solomon Elkabetz and their circle in Salonika. According to Elkabetz, the voice of the Torah came out of Karo. The voice identified itself as the Shechina in exile; God had left her and her children had abandoned her for idols. The revelation of the Shechina takes them from Moses at Sinai to Joshua conquering the land of Israel. Soon afterwards there was a plague in Salonika. Karo lost his wife. This eventually led Karo and Elkabetz to moving to Safed and establishing the golden age of Safed Kabbalah.

Zohar Raviv (University of Michigan)
"Rabbi Moses Cordovero's Sefer Gerushin: Contemplation, Devotion, and the Negotiation of Landscapes"

R. Moses Cordovero's Sefer Gerushin has not been heavily studied. Lawrence Fine has done the most extensive study of it to date and he only gives it a page and a half. The main theme of the book is the exilic existence of the Shechina and how one relates to it. The book advocates the practice voluntary exile in order to enact the exile of the Shechina. By doing it specifically in the Galilee one is literally following in the footsteps of the Rashbi. One should do what was done in the Zohar in the specfic place done there. Codovero advocated a practice in which a living mystic would lie on the grave of an ancient sage whereby the person would become the Shechina and the ancient sage would take on the persona of Yesod. Underlying all this was the premise that if one understands the divine structure once can force God to do certain things.

Eitan P. Fishbane (Jewish Theological Seminary)
"Identity, Reincarnation, and Rebirth in the Writings of R. Hayyim Vital"

Belief in the afterlife and ressurection is a basic part of many religions. R. Hayyim Vital's Shar ha-Gilgulim is about the search for ones place and function in the redemptive restoration of the primal cosmic order. The identity of the person is the soul that travels from body to body. Isaac Luria's great ability was that he could identify the identity of his students' souls and understand their purpose. (See Lawrence Fine's Physician of the Soul) The actions of a person can have a cosmic affect. The intentions of a person, while having sex can affect the children born. A father's energy can make a child wild or lazy.

Lawrence B. Fine (Mount Holyoke College)
"Spiritual Friendship in Jewish Mystical Tradition: The Bet El Contracts"

There is a difficulty in studying the history of friendship. Friendship is something so universal that it is easy to ignore. One has to recognize that the concept of friendship differs from place to place. Friendship also has to be distinguished from other social realities. There is the prescriptive (what friendship should be) and the descriptive (what friendship is).

The Bet El circle is an example of community friendship. Bet El did not go the way of Hasidism; it remained an elitist and not a popular movement. They signed a pact as a group to love one another and to share in each other's merits. Members of the group were not to praise another too highly and everyone was to treat each other as equals. This pact has its precedent in the circle of David ibn Zimra. Among the people included in this pact was Isaac Luria. To go further back one can point to this model as being rooted in early Christian and early rabbinic thought.

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