Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic

By Moshe Idel | Go to book overview
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Appendix A :
Psychologization of
Theosophy in Kabbalah and

One of the main scholarly explanations for the shift from Lurianic Kabbalah to Hasidism is the psychological interpretation of Lurianic theosophy offered by the Hasidic masters. 1 Indeed, there are numerous examples of such a psychological orientation in the writings of most of the eighteenth-century Hasidic figures. 2 However, though this is an indisputable fact, a deeper understanding of this phenomenon would take consideration more than one factor. In other words, in addition to the inner drive of the Hasidic masters to interpret their sources in a particular manner, we must also take into account extant Kabbalistic trends, which may have contributed to the Hasidic emphasis on the reflection of the divine attributes within man, thus reducing to a certain extent the novelty of Hasidism.

First, it is a fact, pointed out recently, that at least in one case, that of qatenut and gadelut, a psychological interpretation is inherent in the Lurianic sources. 3 Second, psychological interpretations of theosophical-hypostatic entities are found since the thirteenth century in two different Kabbalistic schools, a fact that requires a substantial qualification of the sharp distinction between the psychological understanding of the theosophical system of Hasidism and that of the early Kabbalah. In other words, just as magic and ecstasy, which were already in existence in Kabbalistic thought, were given a much more prominent role in Hasidism, so also the psychological understanding of Kabbalah was already present in certain earlier sources without coming to the fore. In the absence of an appropriate recognition of these facts, it will be difficult to understand one major aspect of Hasidic hermeneutics.

The psychological understanding of the whole range of Jewish canonic texts as allegories of the inner life of the mystic and his spiritual achievements is much more common than the experiential reading described above. 4 This fact was indeed prominent in the eyes of the opponents of Hasidism among the Kabbalists, who protested against this transformation of divine attributes into human ones. 5 Although this accusation might be considered an indication that the Hasidic move constitutes an innovation, this argument is part of an assault that does not pay attention to historical truth; it is similar to what occurred


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