The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences

The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences

The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences

The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences

Synopsis

Author of more than fifty books, winner of the 1997 Israel Prize, Joseph Dan is one of the world's leading authorities on Jewish mysticism. In this superb anthology, Dan not only presents illuminating excerpts from the most important mystical texts, but also delves into the very meaning of mysticism itself.
Dan takes readers through the historical development of Jewish mysticism, from late antiquity to the modern period. He explores the Kabbalah, the esoteric tradition that delves into the secrets delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and the emergence of Hasidism, and much more. He presents the great texts, from Hekhalot Rabbati, "The Greater Book of Divine Palaces," set in the temple in Jerusalem; to the apocalyptic vision of Abraham Abulafia in the thirteenth century; to the Zohar, perhaps the best-known volume of all. For each piece, he offers an extended introduction that deftly places the work in the context of its time and its antecedents. Equally important, in his opening essay, he addresses the paradoxes inherent in Jewish mysticism, noting for instance that "mystical" is a Christian concept, one that poorly describes the relevant strains of Judaism, and that a mystical approach to religious truth springs from a deep doubt that language can communicate divine truth.
"Mysticism is that which cannot be expressed in words, period," Dan writes. In this remarkable volume, he guides us through that seemingly impenetrable barrier to show how the inexpressible has been expressed in some of the most profound and challenging writing in existence.

Excerpt

An anthology usually is a selection of texts from a welldefined whole. This is not the case with this volume. Jewish religious culture does not contain a distinct subdivision of “mystical texts” from which such a selection can be made. The term mysticism does not have a Hebrew equivalent, and the concept, which developed in Christianity since the third century, has never been defined within Judaism. Using this term consists of the imposition of a foreign category by modern scholars on the vast body of Jewish spiritual literature, declaring— each scholar following his own individual definition— some texts as analogical to what in Christianity is regarded as “mystical.” The works presented here are exactly that: Using my own definition of mysticism, which is explained in the introduction, I have selected texts that I believe express, analogically, the religious attitudes and experiences that in a Christian context are regarded as mystical.

The common identification of the kabbalah— which is an authentic, internal Jewish religious phenomenon—as “Jewish mysticism” is completely wrong. The kabbalah is a Jewish esoterical tradition of contemplation of divine secrets, believed to have been given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, which includes spiritual expressions of a variety of disciplines and characteristics. Some of these can be analogically categorized as mystical, but most are not, while at the same time there are many Jewish spiritualists who wrote mystical works who were not kabbalists. This anthology should not be regarded as a selection of kabbalistic texts. About half of . . .

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