Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic, by Perle Epstein


Perle Epstein presents a fairly complete picture of Jewish mysticism in Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic.  

She moves about from Abraham Abulafia’s system of breathing and visualization, to the Merkavah mystics of the first century, to the German Chassidim, or Pietists, who fasted and rolled naked in the snow. She is especially enamored of the Safed group of mystics who surrounded the Holy Ari in the fifteenth century, seeing it as a high water mark of Jewish mysticism never to be repeated. 
Espstein is especially harsh on modern Hasidism.  She has good things to say about the early years of the movement, but not much else for the last two-hundred years.  The book ends on this sour note.  Written in 1978, she despairs of how little Kabbalistic material there is for modern Jews to consume.  Of course, this has changed dramatically in the last 30 years.  She laments the paucity of materials, centers, movements in 1978; now she may not like the crass commercialization of Jewish mysticism.  It is hard to say.

Perhaps Judaism needs as much mysticism as it can muster.

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