Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Luzzatto's Lost Chest

Moses Hayim Luzzato was born in Padua, Italy, in 1707.  From an early age he ran afoul of various Jewish authorities, most notably for his writings, which possessed a distinctly messianic tone, and implicated him and his followers in the drama of the coming of the messiah.  In the years following the Shabbetai Zevi heresy, these were very suspect activities indeed. 

Luzzatto was forced to recant his mystical and messianic teaching by his enemies, and his writings were confiscated and placed in a wooden chest, never to be found again.  But he could not be dissuaded from his mission.  A maggid, a divine being, compelled him to work in these suspect areas, and he moved from Italy, constantly in search of a place that would be more suitable for his somewhat unorthodox ideas.

Alas, you will find none of this controversy in his The Way of God, Derech HaShem.  Here, Luzzatto takes on some of them more middle of the road topics in Jewish theology, spending time on such well-worn areas as The Creator, The Purpose of Creation, the Purpose of Humans, Human responsibility, Providence, the soul, prophecy, and other topics.  He mostly sticks to prevalent mainstream rabbinic interpretations of these topics.  In one notable section on theurgy, a practice nearly akin to magic, where the adept tries, through rites and rituals, to manipulate divine entities, does he tread dangerous water.

Beyond that, The Way of God is a pretty standard presentation of a modified medieval view of Judaism, just on the cusp of modernity. It seems Luzzatto’s most controversial books are still in that lost chest.

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