Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Multiple Forms of Redemption in Kabbalah and Hasidism

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Multiple Forms of Redemption in Kabbalah and Hasidism

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)


THE HISTORY OF THE speculative literary corpora in medieval Judaism reveals a series of borrowings of different modes of thought from the Muslim (and to a certain extent also Christian) sources. Jews absorbed philosophy and the sciences either by resorting to translations of originally ancient Greek and Hellenistic treatises, or by their interpretation and digestion in mainly Muslim sources. This process added new topics to the agenda of earlier forms of Judaism and dramatically restructured a long series of topics in the biblical-rabbinic forms of Judaism. One such restructuring is apparent in the range of new understandings of messianism. The various types of thought that were adopted by some Jewish elites triggered a strong diversification of the older and more popular versions of messianism; this came about through interpretations that were based on speculative assumptions absent from or marginal in earlier forms of Judaism. This is one of the reasons for the emergence of multiple forms of redemption and messianism, generated by adding new layers of understanding messianism upon older ones, thereby enriching the Jewish constellation of messianic ideas.

In some cases, elite figures regarded apocalyptic messianism, with its national and corporeal achievements, as a rather low form of redemption in comparison to the intellectual one. So, for example, we read in an anonymous commentary on Maimonides' thirteen principles:

We and all those who follow the path of truth attain [now], the coming of the redeemer, at any time, and we do not hope for his coming as the vulgar do, since the stupid people are fond of the coming of the redeemer in order to rule over their enemies and become rich from the plunder of their enemies, and to ride their horses and asses, and to lie with their beautiful women, and to consume and drink things that are delightful lor the body, and various delicious things, and become crazy because of the vanities of this world pike] false governing, authority, rank, and grandeur, and other similar vanities, which are necessity of the two souls, the appetitive and vital souls. And those things are necessary for every sage, and would their body be sustained without them they would never desire them ... it is not worthwhile to believe that God blessed be he, will send us the king messiah except in order to fulfill the things that lack in matter of knowledge, sagacity and wisdom, not for anything else, namely this is the true intention, and from it all the other goods will be derived together with the retribution of the rational soul and the retribution of the two [other] souls, as necessary. '

The shift from a political-social type ol redemption, in the vein ol popular apocalyptic messianism, to a spiritual one that may be attained in the present is obvious. The messianic attainments are related to the impact of the "divine influx" on the messiah, described also as "a divine man."2 This influx is evidently a matter of an intellectual process. For this author, liberation from Egypt was intended solely for the reception of the Torah, which is predicated upon making the Jews wise - itself a type of noetic approach.3 Not that the material aspects are totally rejected. As the anonymous author writes in the continuation, material gains are derived from spiritual attainments.4 Thus, we have two forms of messianism: the spiritual-intellectual and the material, the latter depending on the lormer. This subordination of the popular, national messianism to the spiritual one is, indubitably, a more extreme formulation of the Maimonidean axiology." However, the assumption that the exodus from Egypt was intended for the purpose of receiving the Torah tells us another story, according to which corporeal redemption is necessary for intellectual redemption. Significant for this move is the mentioning of the "wise soul" as the first recipient of the redemption, and only subsequently of the two lower souls, which strive to more material forms of retribution (related to the vulgar understanding of the meaning of redemption). …

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